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.