How to publish a Regency Romance Novel...the hard way!
From electric typewriter, via ancient Tandy 1000 computer, and several generations of computers operating at least 3 different versions of Windows to Kindle, Nook and over-sized, large-print paperback edition--it's been a long and convoluted journey for one old-fashioned Regency Romance novel!
Today is a day for celebration. After 35 years of letting life in general, kids, college and earning a living get in the way, I finally published my first novel on Amazon. It is a Historical/Regency romance titled A Very Merry Chase and I actually wrote it 35 years ago. I guess its appropriate that I finally accomplished this in near Halloween since forcing myself to stop editing and re-editing and actually putting myself out there is probably the scariest thing I've ever done.
I never ever wanted to be anything else but a writer....
I began writing children's fairy and fantasy tales in my teens but couldn't draw worth a darn and was unable to find an illustrator who was willing to collaborate with me on spec. This was back in the days before computers and clip art and so--without access to delightful illustrations--I, more or less, gave up on being a children's author.
I began writing my first novel--a good old-fashioned Regency Romance inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland--about 35 years ago. Approximately one year later, I finished the first draft...and today--35 years and a great many drafts later--I finally published it! Yes, you read correctly...today--35 years later!
How did this miracle occur and why did it take so long?
I actually tried to publish my Regency Romance novel when it was first written; but quickly grew discouraged and gave up.
I wrote it after discovering Georgette Heyer and then reading every Regency Romance novel I could get my hands on--especially Georgette Heyer, the entire Coventry Regency Romance collection, and the sweet and simple, quick to read and almost painfully innocent Regency romance tales of Barbara Cartland (Who some of you will remember as step great-grandmother to Diana, Princess of Wales.) Unlike the amazingly and admirably prolific, impeccably made up, elegantly gowned and coiffed Dame Cartland, who turned out a new novel every two weeks while lying in an historic mansion, reclining on an ladies' fainting couch, eating bonbons and dictating to a secretary, I wrote mine over the space of a year sitting crosslegged on the foot of my bed in an impossibly tiny bedroom with my electric typewriter perched on the seat of a kitchen chair that had been crammed into the narrow space between the foot of the bed and the bi-folding closet door. Dame Cartland also wrote hers surrounded by the history, tradition and even customs, manners, furniture and accessories of the era because she was truly a British aristocrat--I, on the other hand, was just a little ole country gal from Tennessee who loved history and historical details.
In truth of fact, back then, all my period details were gleaned from the other regencies I had read plus Burke's Peerage and the other limited resources of my local Jonesborough and Johnson City public libraries--which back in those days meant getting in the car and driving there. Actually that last sentence isn't precisely true, I actually discovered Georgette Heyer because my parents had purchased a little old fashioned country store that included a copy of The Grand Sophy on a two shelf branch of the Washington County/Johnson City Public Library.
In retrospect, I guess I owe a lot to libraries in general and the Washington County/Johnson City Tennessee Public Library--but that's OK, I repaid my debt approximately a quarter of a century later when I wrote my Master's Thesis The Ladies and Their Library where I researched the history of the library's founding by the Johnson City Tennessee Ladies Club known as the Monday Club. An actual, honest-to-goodness hardbound copy of it resides there today, along with another copy at ETSU. The University managed to misplace my personal copy somewhere along the way so when nostalgia strikes, I have to visit it in one of those locations :(
Anyway, I finished my first novel, which was then named "A Most Independent Lady" mainly because I dreamed of not only being a writer, but also being a published author and earning my living--and to be completely honest, my personal independence--by writing. Once again I marched off to the library, this time to sit and research using their copy of Writer's Digest (Which as a reference book could not be checked out.) I found a lady whom I believe was named Rose Hyde White (Forgive me if the name isn't exactly right, it's been 35 years.) who worked for Avon Books. I wrote her about my book, and my love for the early 19th century Regency Romance era of England and peppered my letter with enough period details so that she could tell I really knew my stuff. She wrote back and told me to send my book and that she greatly looked forward to reading it.
It took me three weeks to give my book one last read through and fix the errors I found at this point (Remember, I am a compulsive re-editor, and this was on an electric typewriter, no miraculous cut and paste or simply backup and retype. One small change meant that the whole pages, and maybe even subsequent pages had to be retyped.) Anyway, a few weeks later I sent my carefully (mostly retyped) and expensively packaged manuscript off to New York City.
Now, I've never before or since had a psychic incident--and at that point in my life I was not in any way, shape, form or fashion an early riser--but three weeks later I woke up at about 6:00 A.M. after dreaming that God had told me my book had been returned, but not to get discouraged and keep on trying. Well, I climbed out of bed, got dressed, and drove the eight miles to our tiny little post office in Jonesborough to be the first in line when they opened the doors that morning. Sure enough, my manuscript had been returned with a cursory note saying that Rose Hyde White was no longer with Avon books and that my manuscript was being returned unread as "unsolicited".... They included the advice, "Get an agent."
After that--epiphanies and psychic revelations aside--I gave up...at least on the reality of being a published author. The dream was always there, and in one way or another I did spend the next 35 years writing--just not attempting publication.
So what did I actually do with those 35 years?
My mother, bless her wonderful heart, helped me start a used--buy, sell and trade--bookstore with $200.00 worth of paperback books gleaned from yardsales and fronted me the money for the first month's rent on a little space near our local university. I wrote between customers--everything from a book reviews column for a local entertainment weekly to a Tolkien'ish Sword and Sorcery type fantasy called Star Birth Legend (Which I tried unsuccessfully to sell to George Lucas after Star Wars came out, receiving for my efforts a letter from a staff member stating that it was being returned unread for legal reasons....and the advice, "Get an agent!). I also wrote a semi sword and sorcery/romance screenplay about the adventures of an alternative reality, nexus traveling Lady Pirate and a scientist from our world called Renegades and dozens of short stories including several about a pseudo Vampire, Werewolf, Witch time-traveling trio. (Remember this was back about 1980 and I was actually way ahead of my time. I just never did anything with any of them, which should be a great object lesson for anyone on the evils of procrastination!) I also spent a lot of time dreaming that someday I could go to college too, like those really smart people who came into my store everyday--students, professors, kids and their parents from the on-campus grades 1-12 University School where they trained teachers.
And then, after 3 years I sold my unprofitable but greatly beloved, little store to a lovely lady and went home to to await the birth of first one darling son and then 3 years later a second. I wrote, started a local writers' workshop, worked for other people, loved my two boys with all my heart and dreamed of being able to give them the world. And when the time came for the oldest to start school I enrolled him at the University School and started college--thanks again to my incredibly wonderful mother--on the same campus, receiving in the end both an BA and an MA in history.
To be honest, had I this to do over, I would have given up my dreams of gaining a Ph.D a lot sooner, stopped with the BA, got a teaching certificate and saved myself $27,000.00 in debt. This plan would have given me summers off to write and be with my kids and a job that I would have mostly enjoyed. I say mostly because History teachers are not in high demand and I would have had to teach something else, probably Social Studies. However, none of that matters, because that is the proverbial--road not taken.
So what did happen? As a college graduate and newly single mom, I found a job as a gemstone show host/vault overseer on a local home shopping channel who was nicknamed--honest to high heaven, believe it or not--The Queen of Gemstone Dungeon. Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention. In one of my spurts of marital rebellion when my youngest son was about one year old--right after my mom bought me my first computer (A Tandy 1000) for writing my stories, I wrote scripts for and played a pseudo-sexy southern vampire hostess named Vampy Belle, for a local Saturday Nights Frights horror show. Oddly enough, this was filmed in the same studio where I would hawk Gemstones as the Queen of the Gemston Dungeon approximately ten years later.
Life was good. Then one day the owners of the home shopping channel--in a last ditch effort to stave off bankruptcy--terminated everyone making over minimum wage...which, of course, included me. Oh, boy. So here I was with no job, and two young boys to support. (Which should be a great and extremely "unromantic" object lesson for young girls rushing into marriage..."Don't do it unless you are fully prepared to support yourself--by yourself--plus any children that might come along!")
If I had, at the time, any savings--or the courage to borrow on my few assets, and a banker crazy enough to loan me money, and someone else had not already opened one nearby--I would have reopened my used bookstore near the college; but I didn't, there wasn't, and someone already had...and so the bookstore dream was out. So I did the next best thing. I bought an HTML for Dummies book and started designing websites for that brand new "new-fangled" internet like my good friend Katherine did down in Chattanooga.
Unfortunately, back then, most people in Johnson City, Tennessee did not even know what the Internet was, and if they did, they thought it was that evil place where you went to look at pornography. But still, I kept my overhead low by working from home and named my company Spun Silk Web Design, because spider silk is the strongest known substance on earth. (Which has now been more or less in business continuously since late 1994.) I was lucky enough to find a few local business visionaries--mainly Kimball Sterling the world famous auctioneer, to whom I will forever and always be grateful--who were willing to take a chance on this new technology and pay me to design and maintain their websites.
And so the boys and I survived for a couple of years by being frugal. But, as the song says (In my horror novel.), Surviving's Not Living, and so I was lucky enough to find a wonderful job that I love* and I still have today which actually provided our health insurance and paid the bills, and allowed for a few small luxuries and enabled me to help put both my son's through college with some help from Pell Grants and student loans.
So what finally happened and why am I actually, finally publishing the first novel I wrote some 35 years later? Well besides working full-time, running Spun Silk on the side, raising two sons and dealing with various other business ventures, I was also busy getting diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and then--to add insult to injury--regular Arthritis.
After a few years of that, I no longer have the energy to do much of anything but go to work 5 days a week and do my job, which means no more web design or internet marketing, which--as a blessing in disguise--leaves me time to return to roots and once again do what I love most, which is write--and of course, because I am still me, and still basically, at heart, insecure about my writing...edit and re-edit and then edit some more.
Anyway, that's not quite the end of the story. I knew that Regency Romances as a genre were supposed to be long since dead and gone. But then several of Hollywood's younger leading ladies starting making movies from Jane Austen novels and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out and Seth Grahame-Smith (Boy! Do I wish it had been me.) cleverly noticed that Pride and Prejudice was included free with every Kindle and Nook and decided to add some spice to it, and become an international best selling author.
And so Regency Romance novels are hot again, at least the non-traditional ones, which, of course, appears to leave me out in the cold again...except for one thing. I'm a baby boomer, and I represent a huge demographic, (older, career women, who do not have either the time, energy, or inclination for romance) who fondly remember the more traditional Regency Romance novel and want nothing more than to spend a few quiet hours all to by themself in the evening or on the weekend just indulging in an old-fashioned Regency Romance novel with no overt sex, no zombies and just a little bit of drama and excitement (abductions and highwaymen style) thrown in for good measure.
So finally, here's the end of the story. I researched and found an agent who listed Regency Romance era novels among the things she desired to represent and I queried her. No answer. Their website said to wait 6 weeks for an answer, so I politely waited three months and queried again. Still no response. So I said, the heck with an agent. I'm 56 years old and have RA and I don't have a lot of time left to waste. I've never published a novel, but I've written several, plus written and published several short stories and a Master's thesis, and I've spent a large part of the past ten years writing and editing and internet marketing...so why should I waste time trying to query agents and publishing houses one at a time and waiting patiently for answers that never come when thanks to Amazon and Barnes and Noble I can just plain, "Do it myself!" So I did.
It took me a couple to months to get the final edits done, and do the necessary formatting, but it's finally done and although I may never sell a single copy to anyone who doesn't already know me and love me--I am finally 35 years later what I consider the officially published author of a fiction novel!
Over the years the name changed from "A Most Independent Lady" to "A Very Merry Chase" but it's available for purchase here and here, and in a brand new, specially formatted (so I could give copies to my elderly parents) affordably-priced, easy to read large-print, easy to prop up, or lay flat, or for arthritic hands to hold, over-sized, paperback edition.
Now if you will excuse me, I have numerous short stories that I need to compile into a collection, and three other novels to edit and put up for sale, plus a screenplay that needs to be rewritten into a novel. Time's a wastin'....
One final word of advice. Don't be afraid to live your dreams, second chances don't always come around.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of A Very Merry Chase--An Old-Fashioned Regency Romance novel.
*I am the Human Resource Director for a local non-profit, so I get to help take care of over 300 wonderful employees, who help take care of people in need throughout the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee. It may not be what I intended or envisioned but it is a wonderful and fulfilling place to be.