My ‘Naked Call’ story


It had been a long time coming, this Call. I’ve been writing all my life, but only seriously started trying to write for publication after having my second child (I have a grand total of three now).

Like many aspiring authors at the very beginning of their journey, I wrote a lot of drivel and every now and again I’d sent it off to Harlequin Mills & Boon headquarters and receive a very polite—and not altogether surprising—form rejection back each time. I feel so sorry for those poor editors now, wading through my purple prose, weak characterisation and complete lack of conflict.

I didn’t give up though; I’m stubborn like that. I kept writing. I kept reading. I read everything I could get my hands on about the publishing industry as well as the craft of writing. There’s a plethora of fabulous blogs, books and websites out there—too many to keep up with—but after a while I honed down a list of the ones that spoke to me and kept reading and learning.

I entered the competitions that HM&B offered up every year (and didn’t win, or even get a request) but met some fabulous people though on-line forums and Facebook pages, some of whom became my fabulous—and essential—critique partners. Finally I wasn’t writing in the dark any more, I had feedback!

Then in 2012, I had a break-through. A new American e-first publisher offered me a contract for a book I’d written that wasn’t quite right for the Mills & Boon line I wanted to write for—KISS, soon after changed to Modern Tempted in the UK—and I was away. I began to build my web presence: Twitter, Facebook, blog and immersed myself in the heady world of marketing. Exciting times. But I still yearned to have something accepted by HM&B; they were my mecca.

There was a romance writers’ festival held in the UK in 2013 called the Festival of Romance, which I went to that year. It was brilliant! Not just because I got to meet and grill some of my favourite published romance writers, but because there were opportunities to meet Mills & Boon editors face to face, including the fantastic Flo Nicoll who edited the line I wanted to write for. Gold dust. I pitched a couple of ideas there, but I knew deep down at the time they still weren’t quite right for the line. But I’d met Flo—who was so friendly and encouraging—and now I was even more determined to get it right. The challenge was on.

I had a manuscript I’d been working on for a couple of years, but the characters hadn’t clicked with me—or I hadn’t clicked with them—and I’d given them a bit of time to stew in my head. Finally, FINALLY they let me in and I was away. This story was much better suited to the KISS/Tempted line and I was so excited about it. I managed to mostly complete it before the next stage in the ‘Saga of Christy’s Long and Twisting Route to Publication’.

And that’s where the lovely Nicola Marsh comes in. This fabulously talented lady very kindly organised an online pitch session on her blog where writers had to sum up their story in three sentences in the hope that it would capture Flo Nicoll’s interest. If it did, she might pick it to be one of two lucky winners who would have the first three chapters of their manuscript read and critiqued in one week. I know, more gold dust, right? Anyway, there were some absolutely fantastic pitches and I didn’t win one of the coveted prizes. “Oh well,” I thought, “never mind, I had a go and there are other ways to get your story seen.” Then I received an email from Flo saying I was one of a few lucky writers whose pitch had stood out and even though it hadn’t won, she was still interested in seeing the full manuscript. Happy? I nearly passed out with excitement.

So I polished the manuscript up, sent it to my wonderful critique partners, polished it some more after their feedback, then pressed send. Gulp!

Five weeks later, my husband and I were in the South of France celebrating his birthday. My kind parents were looking after the children for the week so we could have some much needed husband and wife time so I was in total holiday mode. I didn’t check my email for long periods, (I’m talking hours here—I’m sure anyone who’s ever submitted a story will understand why that’s a big deal though). I woke up on the morning of Friday 5th July 2013, logged on to the very dodgy Internet connection in our hotel and waited for my mail to download onto my phone. I had one email. Expecting it to be a regular mail from one of the blogs I subscribed to at the time, I was amazed to see Flo Nicoll’s name. I opened it with shaking fingers. It was a lovely email saying she’d hadn’t finished reading the story, but what she’d read she really liked and she hoped to have some feedback for me by early the next week. Excited? Moi? Feedback from a Mills & Boon editor is what I’d been dreaming about for all those years. Checking the time of the mail, I noticed it had been sent some time the previous day, so I sent one back saying sorry for not replying sooner (I know, twelve hours is not a long time to wait for a reply, but I was excited, okay!) and that I was in France with a dodgy Internet connection and I was really pleased she liked what she’d read and I looked forward to reading her feedback the following week. Great. One happy bunny. I woke up the husband, squee’d for a bit, then went for a shower.

When I came out my phone was ringing. I got to it just as it rang off and saw it was a London number. Assuming it was my brother ringing from work, I waited for the answerphone message to beep then listened to it. It was Flo. She wanted to call me and was asking whether there was a landline number she could get me on. My brain went into overdrive. In the back of my head a little voice whispered, “The editors at Mills & Boon only call to offer you a book contract”, but the sensible, more cautious side of my brain said, “Don’t be silly, she’s probably just missing the end of the document and needs you to resend it or something.” I was shaking. I had to know, IMMEDIATELY. I found Flo’s direct line number from her email and called it. I must point out at this stage I was still fresh out of the shower and… completely naked. A lady picked up the phone at the other end and I explained who I was and was hugely excited to find I was talking directly with Flo herself. She asked if there was a landline, but I explained there wasn’t one in my room (I didn’t mention I was too naked to leave the room and find one) so we continued the conversation on my mobile. (So yes, I made my own Call). Basically, she told me they really liked the story and they wanted to offer me a two-book contract. I stood there, still dripping water from the shower, my whole body shaking now and muttered something like, “Oh my God, I’ve wanted this for so long, thank you so much, yes, yes, I would love a two book contract,” while my husband stood there with tears in his eyes. He knew how much this meant to me, he’d been there with me on the journey through all its ups and downs, so he KNEW. I somehow managed to finish the phone call with Flo without sounding like a complete loon and just stared at my husband in shock. It took a celebratory gin and tonic by the hotel pool and a LOT of talking and pinching of skin for it to finally sink in that I’d SOLD MY MANUSCRIPT TO MILLS & BOON. The rest of the day—and the rest of the week to be honest – was spent celebrating. The photo is of me, the day of The Call, dancing for joy on the beach. A good day. The best.

Anyway, thank you for sticking with me this long. It’s been quite a ride, I can tell you.

And the moral of the story? Keep writing, keep reading and never, NEVER give up.