We have a special guest today! Kathryn Shay, author of The Perfect Family (Bold Strokes Books), is here to tell us all about her publishing journey!
by Kathryn Shay
Dear As the Pages Turn Readers,
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to visit with you again today. I was asked to write a blog about my publishing journey, and I will, but first, let me briefly recap who I am and my new release. I’m Kathryn Shay and I’ve written 37 books for Harlequin, The Berkley Publishing Group and now Bold Strokes Books has released The Perfect Family, my first mainstream novel.
The story follows the Davidsons who are an average American family with a good life. They consider themselves lucky to have each other. Then their seventeen year old son tells them he’s gay and their world shifts. They have no idea what they will go through after their son’s disclosure. The story is full of both conflict and love, ending on a redeeming note.
I started writing when I was in middle school. I wrote plays and the neighborhood kids would perform them. Then when I was fifteen, I wrote a short story about a woman who went to New York City and got a job on a newspaper. She and the male editor butted heads over the place of women reporters in real news. Of course, they fell in love. I should have known I’d start out with romance novels.
In college, my mother insisted I take education courses to fall back on, but I also took every writing class available. I fully intended to pursue a writing career until I stepped in front of a class in my practice teaching and fell in love with the profession. I went on to teach, but kept writing short stories, essays and poetry.
I had a happy life with a great job, kids who were six and nine, a terrific husband, church commitments and a lot of friends. But I wanted to try my hand at a longer work. So I wrote, IMAGES, a story about a hero who’s undercover and the woman he betrays. I received, oh, at least twenty rejections from publishing houses and agents—some of them twice because I rewrote the book several times–and it never did sell. (Thankfully, because it really had a lot of flaws.)
As working writers advise you to do, I began my second novel right away. This one was about a suicidal teenager, her father and the school counselor who’s determined to help them both. I knew a lot more about that subject, as I was a teacher and had my share of dealing with kids in trouble. As I sent out this one, (while I wrote another!) and received more rejections on the second, I began to get discouraged. I thought, “What am I doing? I had a near-perfect life and now I’m miserable trying to break into publishing.” My critique partners encouraged me to hang in there, my husband told me I’d never get published if I didn’t keep at it and so I persevered.
There was an RWA chapter conference in October of 1994 in Buffalo, close my home town and to Toronto, where Harlequin Enterprises headquarters is located and where my second manuscript was sitting in the slush pile. I almost backed out the night before the conference, saying I was sick of all this and wanted to give up. Again, my wonderful husband encouraged me to go and to have fun with my friends, if nothing else. I went.
An editor from Harlequin attended. She was then the head of a shorter, sexier line, Temptation, and when a group of us got the chance to have a drink with her because one of us had just sold to the line, everyone else was pitching to her. I sat meekly by (not my style) and after a while, she turned to me and asked what I wrote. I told her longer contemporary romance, not the kind she published, but thanks for asking. She wanted to know if I had a current manuscript, and I said yes, one that was now at another line in her house. She handed me a card, told me to put my name and the name of the book on it and she’d “walk across the hall” to give it to a Superromance editor. I thanked her, gave her the information, and wondered if she’d ever do it.
A few weeks later, I got a voice mail from an editor at Superromance, saying the other editor had given her the card, she’d pulled my three chapters from the slush pile, and LOVED them. She said she was hoping the manuscript was finished and to call her back. I almost died, having to wait until the next day, as it was six at night. When I called back, the editor was very gracious and very enthusiastic about my work. She loved every bit of the partial, was thrilled it was finished and asked if I had anything else out to other publishers. (You could only give HQ an exclusive on one book, but by then I’d written another.) When I said I did, she asked me to please not accept another offer from anyone else, and she’d get back to me ASAP.
I was floored. Of course, I said I’d wait to hear from her. (Not that anyone was knocking down my door.) Once the editor received the manuscript, she read the rest of the book, called me back in a week and said she loved it all and was passing it on to her senior editor, but could I please be patient, it might take a week for her to read it. And could I please not sell to anyone else! Then–this is the best part–at two p.m. the NEXT day, the editor called and offered me a contract. The senior editor had read the manuscript all in one night. My reaction? I started to cry. I managed to answer a few questions, the editor wisely saw I was in no condition to negotiate, and told me to go have a cup of tea and call her the next day. I called my husband and my two best friends instead.
From there, The Father Factor went on to be a huge success. It sold a lot of copies through retail and direct, was used in special promotions and ended up with about a million copies sent to readers. (Yes, you read that right!) It’s been reissued, translated into several languages and remains some people’s favorite book of mine. After that, I wrote twenty-five books for Harlequin.
By 1999, I was ready to take on another press so I could write longer, grittier works, with more flawed characters. It took 18 months to sell a single title romance to Berkley, but I did get an agent right away. Again, the first book I wrote for this market never sold. But eventually, I did get a contract and my first Berkley came out in 2002—ironically, Promises to Keep, another school story.
But I wasn’t finished yet. When my son came out gay, I decided I wanted to write a mainstream fiction about the effect of the coming out process on families. I started this book in 2004 and it took me five years to write, in between all my Harlequin and Berkley contracts. Then, happily, it sold in 2009 and is now on the stands. This is the book of my heart, and I’m thrilled it will have an audience.
Here’s my advice to new readers: Don’t give up, even when you get rejections. (My folder of them is now past 60.) It’s okay to get discouraged, but stick with what you’re doing. Have faith in your work. Good things do happen to ordinary people. And, best, trust that you’re going to make it into the world of publishing.
I’ll be back during the day to answer any questions or comments you have.