Confessions of an Editor: I wrote a romance – and got rejected!

By Tessa Shapcott, Executive Editor

In my time as an editor, there have been some watershed moments: as an editorial assistant, I typed an extra zero into an advance on an author’s contract and nobody noticed until it had been signed…later (in the days before computers), I left a top author’s manuscript carefully balanced on the edge of an office waste-paper bin and the cleaner threw it away…and then there was the possibly career-limiting moment when, after a dinner, I shared a taxi back to the hotel with some suits from Harlequin and had to halt the journey to get out and be sick…all over myself (the wind was in the wrong direction)…

But the most meaningful was when I decided to write a romance and get it published – I had been senior editor of Harlequin Presents, the world’s best-selling romance line, so surely it would be a walk in the park…wouldn’t it?

I’ve rejected many manuscripts in my time and I’ve always tried to be a sensitive editor, to put myself in the writer’s shoes, to help her understand her manuscript’s strengths and also the flaws that ultimately mean it wasn’t acceptable for revision or publication.  But nothing prepared me for the experience of living for months with my characters, in their world, with their fluctuating emotions and travelling with them on their journeys to a committed relationship, then letting them loose in the Mills & Boon Slush Pile–only to find that what had held me enthralled and enraptured didn’t do the same for the person had to evaluate it for publication!

I sent in my manuscript under a pseudonym from a friend’s address. The editor who replied was right about why my story didn’t cut it; the minute I saw her comments, I could have kicked myself: I had made some of the fundamental writing errors about which I challenged others every working day!  But after the humiliation had passed, I realised that though perhaps I don’t have what it takes to be a great writer, I had gained a valuable piece of emotional intelligence about how it feels to be a writer, to pour your heart out on the page and then put yourself and your characters up for intense scrutiny, to be challenged and maybe even criticised.  I also understood the difference between a person who can write and a great writer—it’s whether your personal vision has universality; most of us are fine having our own point of view; a few of us see something that everyone can share.

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Comments ( 12 )
  1. Michelle Willingham
    November 3, 2010 at 8:29 am
    Reply

    Tessa–that is so incredibly brave of you! Kudos for writing a full manuscript and having the courage to submit it!

    I think the experience has definitely made you a better editor, and I hope that one day you might write another book. Who knows? Second career? 😉

  2. Maurine
    November 3, 2010 at 9:12 am
    Reply

    Why do the titles to the blogs disappear or is it just me?

  3. Anna Patterson
    November 3, 2010 at 9:26 am
    Reply

    Hey, just when I thought nothing could inspire me this morning, you did. And you made me laugh. I also could laugh at myself. When I first started writing for a newspaper I turned in my first story to the editor and he read it while I nervously waited at his desk. He handed it right back.
    He said you aren’t at the point you can turn in a first draft. This was all he said. I had to walk back to my desk with his words ringing in my ears. This is something which still means something to me today.

  4. Cheryl Sears
    November 3, 2010 at 10:44 am
    Reply

    My inspiration … getting up this morning after my first rejection letter arrived the day before. I reluctantly indulged my other personality, the one that picks herself up, dusts the days cares away, and reviews the latest writer blog entries. After reading this – I’m loving my world again . . . Thank you!

  5. Tweets that mention Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. -- Topsy.com
    November 3, 2010 at 11:25 am
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  6. Lynn Raye Harris
    November 3, 2010 at 11:30 am
    Reply

    What a great post, Tessa! I’m awed that you wrote that manuscript and sent it out. Thanks for telling us about it!

  7. Ericka Scott
    November 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm
    Reply

    Thanks for the inspirational story…now, I’m back to writing…

  8. Sarah Brabazon
    November 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Tessa. It makes a difference knowing that you have been on both sides of the fence.

  9. Chris
    November 7, 2010 at 8:49 pm
    Reply

    Tessa, I love, love, love, that you shared that with us. Thank you so much!

  10. Blackula
    November 28, 2010 at 12:04 am
    Reply

    I’m proud of you. At least you tried. And you had the courage to use another so your work could be evaluated honestly by your company. When other people in this business try to write THIS is what “they” need to do.

  11. Blackula
    November 28, 2010 at 12:09 am
    Reply

    P.S I meant to say ” You had the courage to use another name”. Sorry for the typos; I haven’t had my blood yet, so…

  12. So You Think You Can Write: Presents Links | I (Heart) Presents
    May 10, 2013 at 3:13 am
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    […] Presents executive editor Tessa Shapcott confesses she once wrote a romance — and got rejected! […]

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