As a college freshman, I was excited to make the cut in my first Creative Writing course. I was the youngest student in a class full of juniors and seniors. My goal, even then, was to write commercial book-length fiction – particularly Romance and Fantasy novels.
When my Creative Writing professor learned that I was planning to major in Journalism – and that my long-term career goal was to write Romance – his attitude toward me became coldly condescending. For the first time in my life, I earned grades other than an “A” on my writing assignments. After acing Advanced Placement English to get into a Creative Writing course, those C- grades were devastating.
I didn’t understand why my professor was singling me out as a journalist, and worse, as a fiction writer, by reading my assignments aloud and encouraging other students to deliver derisive critiques. Finally, I approached this professor after class. I demanded to know why he was treating my work differently than the work of other students.
My professor made it clear that he considered any journalist or writer of commercial fiction (Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers, Westerns, and Horror) inferior to writers of literary fiction. He sneered when he told me, “You write like a Romance novelist.”
I remember biting my tongue, taking a deep breath, and letting his comment sink in. Despite this man’s off-putting behavior, it occurred to me that he was paying me a compliment. After all, I wanted to write like a Romance novelist. I wanted to be published in commercial fiction!
So I asked him, “Is my writing style well-suited for Romance?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “Your writing style should get you published in Romance.”
“That’s all I need to know,” I told him.
I dropped that class the next day.
When I am asked me why I’m so passionate about helping commercial fiction writers live their publishing dream, I found myself thinking about that Creative Writing professor. I wish I could tell you that he was a bad apple. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that there is an enormous schism between commercial writers and the individuals who consider themselves “literary” writers – and the problem isn’t just at that school.
As recently as six months ago, a young woman from a college in Hawaii called me. She reads Romance novels and dreams of becoming published in that genre. She confided her hurt and confusion because a Creative Writing professor whom she respected and admired had disdained to become her advisor. When I asked why this professor had rejected her application, this aspiring commercial author told me, “My professor said she wanted to concentrate on serious writers.”
I reminded that young woman that commercial fiction writers – like J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, Robert Jordan, and Orson Scott Card -- have carved out respected careers, are read by millions of adoring fans, and are making more money writing “pop fiction” than some Creative Writing Departments, in some institutes of Higher Learning, are allotted for their annual budgets!
Success really is the best revenge.
On the bright side, I’ve received nothing but outpourings of kindness from published, commercial fiction writers. When I lived in Houston, Texas, I was blessed to meet great talents who took time away from their own writing projects to read my manuscripts, suggest improvements, and answer my questions. If you read Romance, you’ll recognize many of their names: Susan Wiggs, Barbara Dawson Smith, Christina Dodd, Jennifer Blake, Arnette Lamb, and Jackie Weger.
After I moved to Austin, I was invited to join a critique group that included Harlequin authors Patricia Wynn, Cara West, and Pamela Ingram.
I am absolutely certain that I would NOT be published today if these published authors had not given so generously of their time and knowledge – not just about writing, but about the business of writing: how to choose a literary agent, how to pitch a book to an editor, how to work with cover artists, how to promote a novel.
I vowed that I would someday give back to the writing community the way that my published mentors had given to me. That’s why I created my website, WritingNovelsThatSell.com. And that’s why I’m so passionate about educating commercial fiction writers to discern the difference between a story critique that is based on fundamental “Rules of Writing,” and a story critique that is based on personal bias or Urban Myth.
My mission is to help aspiring authors live their publishing dream. Don’t ever let anyone crush yours! In the words of Melvin Chapman, “What great feat has been accomplished by the one who told you it could not be done?”
Keep the faith, and keep writing!