Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Publication: 9 Lessons for the Road by Judy Duarte

I can’t remember when I first dreamed of writing a book, but the desire to create a story and have it published grew until it was impossible to ignore.

But since English was my least favorite subject in school, I realized I didn’t know very much about crafting fiction. And to make matters worse, I had no idea where to start.

Lesson # 1: God doesn’t give a person a dream without also giving them opportunities and the power to make that dream come true.

In 1996, while scanning a class schedule for the UC Irvine Office of Extended Studies, I noticed they were offering a weekend class called “How to Write a Romance Novel.” I was in luck! I was going to learn everything I needed to know—in one single weekend!

Lesson #2: There is something to learn every day—and being published doesn’t change that.
Had I realized how little I knew about craft and how long my first sale would take, I might not have made that trip to Irvine that day. But when I climbed into my car, I was enthusiastic and hopeful.

At the class, I met other aspiring romance novelists. One woman was writing a paranormal time travel. I didn’t read or particularly like paranormals, but something drew me to her. She was the only one who seemed to share the same burning desire to make our dreams come true. So I volunteered to read her work if she would read mine.

Lesson # 3: When it comes to finding the right critique partner, it’s not a matter of searching for someone who lives nearby and has Thursday evenings free. It’s more important to find someone who shares the same dream and who’s willing to be your “teammate” in every sense of the word.

One of our classmates mentioned Romance Writers of America. And can you believe it? There was a chapter that met at a restaurant only 45 miles from my house!

After attending my first meeting, I was in awe. I went home that day and blocked out every second Saturday of the month on my calendar. There was now a wealth of knowledge and resources available to me, so I watched my pennies and attended every meeting, signed up for every conference I could afford, and learned all that I could.

Lesson # 4: Seize every opportunity to hone your craft and to network with other authors.
Several months later, I finished my first manuscript and went to the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference, hoping to meet an editor who would buy my book. I knew it was just a matter of time before a publisher snatched up my masterpiece.

And the conference paid off! A New York editor asked for a proposal! I hurried home, printed out my pages, and mailed it to her. Once the package had arrived in New York, I waited for the telephone to ring—and I jumped each time it did. I began to wonder if she’d ever call.

Lesson # 5: The journey will probably take longer than you think, so try to use the time wisely.

Instead of placing “the call,” the editor returned my manuscript and said, “I wasn’t taken with the writing.”

Lesson # 6: Expect to get discouraged at times—it’s part of the trip.
I polished that story and sent it out again. This time, while I waited, I started writing a second book and continued to hone my craft.

Lesson # 7: Just because God placed the dream to be published on your heart doesn’t mean He won’t require a great deal of work on your part.
One of my critique partners sold her first book, then her second. I was thrilled for her. We were a team, remember? And I wanted it as badly for her as I did for me. I was even more determined to follow in her footsteps.

When my second critique partner sold, I was thrilled for her as well. Never once did I feel jealous. But as the two of them continued to sell, seeds of doubt began to grow. Was my work as good as they insisted it was? Would I ever get the call?

Lesson # 8: As Gary Provost said: You need three things for success…talent, good
luck a
nd persistence. If you have persistence, you only need one of the other two.
Four manuscripts, a scrapbook full of rejections, fifteen conferences and a hundred RWA meetings later, the rejection letters became more and more promising, the contest scores closer to the top. Then on May 7, 2001, while on vicodin and pumped full of an antibiotic because of a pending root canal, I got “the call.” Silhouette Special Edition wanted to buy my first book.

More than thirty sales later, the desire to write and sell is still strong, the wait on word from my editor about a proposal is still nerve wracking, and the call with an offer is still nearly as exciting as the first.

But can I let you in on a secret? I’m convinced that there are a lot of unpublished authors in the world who have more talent and skill than I do, but for one reason or another they became discouraged and quit writing.

Lesson # 9: Never quit dreaming, never quit trying, never quit honing your craft. Dreams come true—but not if you give up.


Judy Duarte always knew there was a book inside her, but since English was her least favorite subject in school, she never considered herself a writer. An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy couldn't shake the dream of creating a book of her own.

That dream became a reality in March of 2002, when Silhouette Special Edition released her first book, COWBOY COURAGE. Since then, she has sold more than thirty books, including four single-title women's fiction novels and two novellas to Kensington. Her first Kensington release, MULBERRY PARK, hit the shelves in April of 2008.

Judy's stories have touched the hearts of readers around the world. In July of 2005, she won the Reader's Choice Award for THE RICH MAN'S SON, and in 2007, CALL ME COWBOY finaled in the same prestigious contest.

When she's not cooped up in her Southern California writing cave, Judy spends time with her somewhat enormous, but delightfully close family.


Thanks so much for being our guest of honor today in Seekerville, Judy!
Judy Duarte
is a 2009
RITA ® finalist with her April 2008 release Mulberry Park. Today she'll be giving away two copies in Seekerville. So be sure to leave your email address.

For a sneak peak of Mulberry Park, catch the book trailer here.

And be on the lookout for Entertaining Angels, her May 2009 release.

" Return to Mulberry Park, where courage, love, and forgiveness work miracles—with a little angelic intervention."


Cathy Shouse said...


What a great list of tips!

Would you mind giving a thumbnail sketch (I didn't want to say mini synopsis :)of the story that became your first sale?

Thanks for the encouragement today.

I'm having oatmeal this morning, with extra brown sugar and loaded with cinnamon. There's enough for everyone!

Katie said...

That was an awesome list of tips! Very encouraging and uplifting to read! Thank you so much for sharing!

Leigh said...

Thanks for the lessons and encouragement to start the day! As much as we might know these things, it's always good to have the reminder.

You hung in for a long time from when you took that first class until you sold, which is inspiring for relative newbies like myself. Did you ever walk away for a season, or did you keep plugging away?

Mulberry Park sounds like a great story, and I'd love the chance to add it to my ever-growing to-read pile. :-)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Ann said...

Like the part about persistence. One of my mom's favorite Winston Churchill quotes is "Never give up ..."

Thank you for sharing your success story!

Jessica said...

Wonderful lessons, Judy! I enjoyed Mulberry Park. I sent it to my sister and she LOVED it. Seriously, I think she read it in a day. :-) I told her you have another one coming.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey and what you've learned!

Tina M. Russo said...

My Internet is down. Welcome Judy. Coffee is on. Will check in soon.

Rose said...


Thanks for sharing your journey to publication with us, including your doubts and disappointments along the way. It's very encouraging, to this writer at least!


Tina M. Russo said...

Yes. I am in. I have been outside with donuts and bagels since one am.

An official welcome, Judy.

We will be drawing for her book at 8 pm MST.

When Judy's post arrived for me to put up I really teared up. It so hit a note for me. Thanks, Judy.

Tina M. Russo said...

I'd also like to know how you got Kensington to consider an inspirational story for their house.

Well of course there is the fact that it rocks. But curious as to the journey of that sale.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Thanks, Judy, for sharing your encouraging story. This must be Encouragement Blogger day. I feel it bubbling inside me as I go through my list of favorite blogs.

Did you ever sell that first novel and the other three? I'm always curious how many published authors have novels stowed away that will never be published.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Welcome Judy, I have been following your success on the Desert Rose group list. How wonderful that Kensington is doing an inspirational. Are they starting an inspirational line or are they trusting in you?

Thanks Cathy for the oatmeal, which I love. yum.

Missy Tippens said...

Good morning, Judy! I'm so glad you're with us today!

What a wonderful, inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing. And I couldn't agree more.

By the way, Mulberry Park is in my TBR pile right now! I just mailed off line edits yesterday, so I'm finally going to be able to do a little reading once again. :)

I see Tina already asked my question about submitting to Kensington. I look forward to finding out the story of that sale.


Judy Duarte said...

Good morning, everyone! I just poured a cup of coffee and can smell Cathy's yummy oatmeal.:)

Cathy asked about the first book I sold--which was my first sale to Special Edition.

It was the story of a wealthy young woman whose fiance, a politician running for a national office, betrayed her. When she learns that she was a pawn, she runs away and hides out in a small Texas town. There she meets a single dad trying to raise his preschool age daughter alone. His ex had abandoned the family, and he has trust issues.

In the course of the story, the reader meets the ex-wife, who has gone to rehab and is now a Christian. The reader doesn't know who the woman is until the story unfolds, but her faith is strong and genuine. The ex hopes to make things right with those she has wronged and disappointed, but the hero is unable to forgive her.

The book had a strong inspirational subplot, although it would have never made it in the CBA market for many reasons.

The hero does forgive his ex-wife and realizes that changes in her are real, but the hero and heroine end up together.

I hope that answers your question, Cathy. :)

Judy Duarte said...

Katie and Leigh,

I'm glad the lessons were encouraging.

And Leigh, while I had a few moments of doubt, I never quit trying for more than a day or so.

I had one contest critique (a full page typed and single spaced) that threw me into a tailspin. Looking back, it was spot-on. But I hadn't been prepared for someone finding fault with my baby. And to this day, I regret not taking time to thank the published author for taking the time to critique my work. :(

Judy Duarte said...

You're welcome, Ann, Tina, and Rose! Sometimes it appears that we're an overnight success, but that's not often the case. :)

Your first sale might not be your first manuscript. It might be your third. And I've known a lot of published authors who go back and revise that first manuscript to use down the road. You've got to keep the forward momentum. :)

Jessica, thanks for sharing that your sister loved Mulberry Park. It's touched a lot of lives. And I'm in awe at what the Lord is doing with that book. :)

Judy Duarte said...


My agent, Karen Solem, loved the Mulberry Park proposal and submitted it to several of the CBA publishers, as well as to the ABA. She felt the story could go either way.

I left it in God's hands, knowing it would end up in just the right place. :)

Interestingly, Karen hadn't sent it to Kensington. But one day, while we were 2-3 months into the process, the proposal had generated interest in both a secular house and an inspirational house, she mentioned it to my now editor. He asked her to send him the proposal, and one week later, they made a 2-book offer.

Kensington has been fabulous to work with and very supportive. They don't have an inspirational line, but they have published some other inspirationals--A SINGLE THREAD by Marie Bostwick comes to mind. And they've published some of Tim LaHaye's books (not the Left Behind series).

Judy Duarte said...


That first manuscript is under the bed, where it will probably stay. :) But books 2, 3, and 4 hold promise. In fact, book 3 was a Golden Heart finalist in 2001.

I'm also sitting on a revision letter for that book, but since it's a significant revision, I haven't had time to work on it.

But... I think I might be able to find the time this fall. :)

Judy Duarte said...

Hi, Sandra! (Waving back at you!)

I hope I answered your question. I think Kensington would consider an inspirational, depending upon the story. I've seen several that they've published.

And hi, Missy! Congrats on getting those line edits out the door. I just sent off some myself. :) Whew!

PatriciaW said...

Judy, I think I'll just keep quoting #7 to myself throughout the day, followed by #8. Maybe I can make a song out of these...

Thanks for the great tips.

Mary Connealy said...

I read the line about you waiting for the phone to ring on your first book and I just almost want to cry for that sweet naive young thing you were.
Getting tough just has to happen. It HAS TO. But it's not an easy process.

I'll be looking for your books, Judy. Good luck on the Rita. Although finalist is great, winning is just MORE of that same great. No one can take FINALIST away from you.


Myra Johnson said...

I love perseverance stories, Judy! Thanks for sharing yours. As Mary said, we have no choice in this business but to toughen up--AND keep the faith.

Tina M. Russo said...

What else is down the line for you Judy?

Anything you are just itching to write?

By the way, we'll all be rooting for you at the Conference Awards ceremony.

Walt Mussell said...

Great list and very inspiring, especially since I fell asleep late last night while editing my WIP.

Judy Duarte said...


I think you have something there! A song ought to work. :)

And thanks, Mary! I'm thrilled that Mulberry Park is a finalist in the Rita. If it wins, that's great. But you're so right about the recognition. Just being listed with the other 2008 finalists is an honor in and of itself. I'll truly be happy to sit back in DC and cheer the winner. :)

The nice thing about the inspirational category is knowing that God has had a hand in each of those stories. :)

Judy Duarte said...

You're welcome, Myra. We do need to keep the faith--and encourage each other. :)

Walt, I've done that before! :)

Judy Duarte said...


Kensington bought 2 more Mulberry Park books from me, and I'm working on the third book now. So that's exciting.

I'm also determined to revise a couple of my historicals for the CBA market. Most of my romances have a faith thread, so I think I can easily strengthen them. So that's my game plan. :)

Gina Welborn said...

Thanks for the fine advice, Judy!

My favorite was this "But can I let you in on a secret? I’m convinced that there are a lot of unpublished authors in the world who have more talent and skill than I do, but for one reason or another they became discouraged and quit writing."

Who hasn't been on that ledge?

angela said...

Congratulations, Judy! I love your line about perseverance. And I love the name Analisa--I actually used it in the first novel I ever wrote. Thanks for sharing your advice.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. I'm going to keep going back to lesson #1, and really need the reminder.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I just finished my fourth novel and sometimes (sorry, I'm just being honest) I feel like such a loser to still not have a book contract! So thanks for sharing your story. It's encouraging.

And that's interesting about Kensington. I may be crazy but I thought I read that Kensington is starting an African-American Inspirational line.

Mary Connealy said...



That is just crazy. What was I thinking?

Anyway, it might make you mightily depressed, but maybe it'll also give you hope. I did sell a few of those finished books after the first one finally got sold!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Judy! I loved the story of your "growth" journey to publication. Thank you for telling it like it is.

I so agree with Lesson #2. With each book I write, I realize how much more I need to learn.

Best wishes for the Rita!


Judy Duarte said...


I think we've all been on that ledge--and it never goes away.

And it's not just our own internal seeds of doubt that tend to unbalance us. We also have to deal with non-writer friends and family members who pressure us one way or another.

Judy Duarte said...

Angela, I like that name, too. My cousin's son married a young woman named Analisa. :)

Hang in there, Sheila. It'll all come together. :)

Melanie, when you make that first sale, and the editor asks if you have anything else, you'll be able to say, "I certainly do!"

And when pitching one of your stories to an agent or editor, be sure to pitch yourself as a producing author.

Do you have any idea how many people want to write a book and can't even finish 1 manuscript? You're a winner--four times over. :)

Judy Duarte said...

Oops. I was so busy shaking my pom-poms, I forgot to say:

That's really interesting about the African-American inspirational line, Melanie. I have no idea, if that's true, but it's certainly possible.

Judy Duarte said...

Wow, Mary! I'm glad you hung in there. It might have been easy to get discouraged, but you didn't!

And it's great to know that some of those manuscripts are finding the home they deserve. :)

Tina M. Russo said...

I admit that my favorite question to ask published authors is 'what is your writing day like?'

I find it fascinating the varied roads of artistry.

So Judy, tell us a bit about your writing day.

Has life changed since you became a RITA finalist? I know it changes with Golden Heart nominations..but what about pubs/

Judy Duarte said...


When I sold Mulberry Park to Kensington, I felt like a newbie all over again. There was so much to learn... And I'm still learning. :)

Thanks for the Rita wishes!

Judy Duarte said...


I write every day.

In the evening, or whenever I decide to call it quits, I print out the new pages I've written.

In the morning, when I wake up, I put on a cup of coffee, sit down with a red pen, and edit what I wrote the day before. Then I press on.

I usually have a page quota, and I try hard to stick to it.

Periodically, I'll throw in a load of wash or put on a pot of soup. I also check email more often than I should, telling myself it's a healthy break, but not really buying it. :)

Either way, I try to get as much done in the morning as I can. I seem to be most productive in those early hours, right after I wake up. So I don't want to waste it.

One of my writing friends shared a hint with me that has worked very well. She told me that she never stops writing at the end of a scene or chapter. She always pushes through, even if it's just a few paragraphs.

And that trick seems to have helped me. :)

Tina M. Russo said...

---One of my writing friends shared a hint with me that has worked very well. She told me that she never stops writing at the end of a scene or chapter. She always pushes through, even if it's just a few paragraphs.---

THIS IS AN AWESOME IDEA. That way even if it is "not your best" you have something to get excited about next time you sit down. EDITING.

Brilliant. Thanks for sharing. I tried the old, stop in the middle of the scene trick and it doesn't work. I just stare at the screen.

Erin said...

Thank you for an uplifting blog post. My first book had 27 rejection letters from publishers. I look back and know it was not a great book.
The advice you offer on continuing to develop your skills is fabulous. That is so important. Keep moving forward and getting better.

Judy Duarte said...

I'm glad you found the suggestion helpful, Tina. I sure did. :)

Erin, I didn't count how many rejection letters I received on my first few books, but I did keep them in a scrapbook. After a while, I could see the progression from those dreaded Dear Author responses to the more detailed rejections that gave me an idea of what wasn't working.

Sometimes you get to the point where you can't possibly improve a manuscript without some editorial direction. And when you get it, you're one step closer to that first sale.

And revising with an editor's comments in mind helps you learn how to take editorial direction, which is often tricky to do.

(Refer to Rule # 2--There's something to learn everyday, and being published doesn't change that.)

Pam Hillman said...

I've been swamped all day at work, but wanted to pop in and give a great big shout-out to Judy!!

I've been waiting for you to show up girl!

Judy, Debra Holland, and I were the three-musketeers finalists in the Short Historical category of the Golden Heart in 2001. Actually, Judy was a double finalist in two categories!

AND Judy was one of the first of the Class of 2001 to sell a manuscript. That year was amazing. There were so many sales between the GH calls and the awards banquet that it made your eyes pop.

Ah, the memories.

Loved hearing all about your day and your latest books.

I'm just tickled to death to have you in Seekerville!

Pam Hillman said...

Oh, and....

Mega congrats on being a Rita finalist!!


Judy Duarte said...


I was hoping you'd show up! :) Thanks for the GH memories. Connecting with you and Debra was a special part of that conference.

It was also cool to look out during the FHL worship service and see all three short historical finalists there. :)

We're going to have to play catch up. Email me at:

I've really enjoyed my visit to Seekerville. What great place to be. :)

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, Judy, sorry I just got here because I've been on the road traveling (to Mary Connealy's home city!), but this blog is brilliant and SO encouraging!!

I had to laugh at the rejection letter that stated that one particular editor "wasn't taken with the writing." Grin, I sooo commiserate with you as I had an editor scrawl across MY very own query letter (not even on her own letterhead!!) the words "no enthusiasm for this project."

But you are absolutely right that perseverance is often the most important characteristic on the journey to publication.

Wonderful blog!


Tina M. Russo said...

Pammer is a Seeker, Judy.

A little Seeker history lesson.

We started with 15 of us on Unpubbed Island in 2005 I believe. Now 9 have sold--most recently Myra Johnson to Barbour AND Abingdon Press and Glynna Kaye to SH Love Inspired.

So prayers for the last five of on the island would be heartily accepted. And we so appreciate your encouraging day here with us, Judy.

Thanks again.

I will be back later to pick our two book winners. When announced they have until Saturday to respond or we pick new names. Addresses will be forwarded to Judy.


Tina M. Russo said...

Apparently I cannot count. SIX of us ready to gently knock down some publishing doors: Ruth, Tina, Audra, Pam, Cara, and Sandra.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh mylanta!


I've gotten over here twice today and each time had to stop for SOMETHING totally earth-shaking to small children.

Huge, ginormous sigh....


I loved this. Your words, your attitude, your persistence, your strength.

You are balm in Gilead, woman. I hope you know how much.

Can't wait to read Mulberry Park.

Thank you so much for blessing us today.


Tina M. Russo said...

Congratulations to Rose and Sheila, winners of Mulberry Park, Judy Duarte's 2009 RITA finaling book.

Please send an email with your address to

Melanie Dickerson said...

Aw, I wanted to win. Gotta check my library for this book...

Tina M. Russo said...

Yeah, I totally wanted to win as well. But I do have it on order from Amazon as well as Entertaining Angels. This whole series is intriguing.

Leanna said...

Wow. This was such an inspiration to me! Everyday it seems that God speaks to me through someone, and today it was you.

Judy Duarte said...

Thanks, Julie. When the editor said she wasn't taken with my writing, I didn't understand what she meant.

But I do now.

We all have these great stories and characters playing out on the stage in our mind. The trick is to get that scene down on paper so that the reader can see what we see and hear what we hear.

And sometimes, it's that skill of choosing just the right words and sentence structure that gets in the way.

That's why we practice our craft: to get those wonderful stories on paper and to give those characters breath. :)

Judy Duarte said...


I think it's great that the 15 of you joined together in your quest. It must be exciting to celebrate each sale.

Keep in mind that as the unpublished list grows smaller, it will be tougher and tougher for the last few on the list. Doubt (more than the usual) will most likely plague them and tempt them to give up. It may be harder and harder to hold onto the dream.

So start praying now for the last one or two. And keep in mind that those two may be the first to win a Christy or to hit the NY Times list once their calls come in.

What do you call the last Seeker to make a sale?

A published author.

Go Seekers!

Judy Duarte said...

Ruthy, Leanna, and my friends at Seekerville,

I'm so glad my words helped and that you were encouraged.

Thanks for having me and being so warm and gracious!

I'll be checking in periodically to see how you're doing, to hear about sales and contest wins.

Hold onto the dream. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Judy - major congrats on being a RITA finalist.

I've always felt an affinity toward your books which have inspired me. I write inspy stories that somehow don't seem to fit the inspy market. I also target eharl's American line with stories that have inspy subplots. So, I know where you're coming from and I'm so happy for your success and will be praying for further blessings for you.

Tina M. Russo said...

Awe, Judy's post today made me cry. So sweet.