Thursday, May 5, 2011

Guest Blogger, Harlequin Romance Author Donna Alward Talks Service

I confess, I’m big on service. And I don’t mean the service I receive (though I could blog on that today too, because IMO customer service is nearly a lost art). I mean the service I can give to others. Not just can give, that I should give. That I OWE.

You can describe this in many ways – maybe you believe in Karma, for instance, and the idea that what you put out there is what will come back to you. The “reap what you sow” idea. Or maybe you call it paying it forward. Maybe you channel a little JFK – my dad had a plaque on his wall with the famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Any way you look at it, it’s about it being better to give than to receive.

I feel very strongly that a good part of what’s wrong with today’s society is that it’s based on Me, Me, and…oh yeah. Me. We all like to be the center of our own universes. And I’m as guilty as anyone about focusing on myself at times. *I* need quiet time. *I* need time to recharge with a glass of wine and a movie. *My* feelings got hurt and that’s not okay. I mean we all do that. But I think a lot of the time problems start happening when we’re only in it for us. Especially in this business, as writers.

I think more people should ask: How can I be of service?

I feel blessed to be a part of this industry. I am lucky to be published and fortunate to have such wonderful readers who buy my books and occasionally take the time to send me a note. I answer all my reader mail, because someone took the time to let me know they enjoyed my book (or not).

I received so much help before I sold my first book. Published authors took time from their schedules to help me along, so I feel very strongly about helping others coming up through the ranks. Special friends like Trish Wylie and Liz Fielding and then Jessica Hart and Kate Walker and a zillion others (after I sold) shared information on loops that helped me navigate my way through that crazy year following selling a first book. Now it’s up to me to pass that info on to newbies.

I believe if you receive something you should give something in return. I get a lot of support from my RWA chapter, so I try to give back as much as possible. I currently serve on the board and try to support all our members as best I can with the resources I have. Sometimes that’s as simple as knowing a contact and passing on information, or buying a new release when it comes out. For a few years I ran a pitch contest where I mentored the winner for a year. This year I’ve adjusted that to posting a series on writing every week on my blog.

So what do I get for the bargain price of giving a little help now and again?

  • I get to write books for a living, work in my yoga pants, never have to commute in bad weather, and live in a world of happy endings.

  • I get to belong in a community of wonderful writers and industry professionals who are as passionate about writing Romance as I am. And we are an awesome bunch of people, y’all. Just hang out in the lobby of any RWA National conference to see how full of awesome we are.

  • I have amazing friends who GET IT. This is a lonely business. You don’t feel so crazy when you’re surrounded by like-minded people who understand why you’re crying because a fictional character had her heart broken.

  • I get to meet new and interesting people all in the name of research – and I learn a lot.

  • I get to experience – again and again – the thrill of that first sale when someone new gets The Call. It reminds me of how mind-blowing it was for me. And it keeps me from being jaded, which sometimes happens when you’ve been in the business for a while. There is nothing like sharing in the magic of THE CALL .

  • Each time I reach out, I’m rewarded at least two-fold.

In fact, I think I get back wayyyy more than I put out there.

The honest truth is I have deadlines and a husband, kids and pets and probably not much more time than anyone else. And there are definitely times I feel guilty for not doing more. The bottom line is that I truly believe that you get back what you give. And I don’t give nearly enough. But I try. And I’m having an awful lot of fun doing it.

Happy Reading,



A busy wife and mother of three (2 daughters and the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist.

An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript.

Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly 12 years in Alberta where her Harlequin career began, writing about cowboys and the west. Donna’s debut Romance, Hired by the Cowboy, was awarded the Booksellers Best Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Romance.

Donna loves to hear from readers; you can contact her through her website at, visit her Facebook page, Twitter: @DonnaAlward,
or through her publisher.

And check out REMEMBER ME, COWBOY, a free short story only on!

Be sure to leave a comment for Donna today for a chance to win her May release from Harlequin Romance, Honeymoon with the Rancher. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.


  1. Amen to that post, Donna!

    We totally believe in that 100 percent around here.

    And welcome to Seekerville.

    Later on today (Thursday) tell us a little about your sale story and your writing day. We like to look in our guest's closets as well. hehehe

  2. Hi Donna:

    Only one question: will you have a larger print autographed book on Brenda Novak’s Diabetes auction?


  3. Work in yoga pants. There's a dream I have, along with THE CALL.
    Thank you for sharing Donna, and you are so right... I've learned so much here that has helped me in very real ways. I hope some day to be able to do that for others coming up like I am now.

    In research for my WIP, I came across the e-mail for the historical/technical adviser for the movie "Gladiator". (My main character is also one) I remembered the advise here on Seekerville, if you don't try you guarantee failure, so I went for it and e-mailed her.

    Now I get to add her to my file for the acknowledgment page!!! (Also learned here on Seekerville)Now that was a happy call to get, almost as good as THE CALL.

  4. Wow, way to go, Nancy. No guts. No glory. Good for you!!

  5. Welcome to Seekerville, Donna! I totally agree with you, it's really worth it to give back, it's a chance to pass it forward. I received SO much help when I was still unpublished.

  6. Tina - let me have a little breakfast, and I'll come back and tell you about my call. :-)

    Oh and Vince - There's a Pink Heart Society Tote with books by the editors up for grabs at Brenda's auction. If the winner wants a large print version, I can absolutely do that (at least with my HQ book, my Samhain book is trade paperback). There's also a kindle package from the HQ Romance authors - the kindle and 15 books to the top bidder.

  7. *waves at Camy* You know what I love about Romance writers? The vast majority are about as unselfish as you can get. People are always willing to help. It's lovely. :-)

    Nancy. That "cold call" or "cold e-mail" is terrifying, isn't it? I'm getting better at it, but I still cringe. I remember e-mailing Eloisa James out of the blue asking a favour - the nerve! And she was lovely and accommodating. The worst someone can say is no. Doesn't stop me from wanting to break out in hives, though. Good for you for being gutsy!

  8. Oh. Well. I love you already.

    So well said. I have nothing more to add, except....

    Tell us about those cowboys in Canada, too. About the differences in East coast Canada (I'm an upstate New Yorker, so I get over the pond occasionally, but I've never seen the western side of Canada) and west coast Canada.

    I've heard the west is more like the American west.... Whaddya think?

    And I'd be glad to help that cutie on your cover in any way possible. Tell him I make a MEAN APPLE PIE...


    Coffee's ready! AND... In honor of cowboy writin' we've got a full-tilt breakfast goin' on.

    Bacon. Ham. Sausage. Grits. Home-fried potatoes WITH onion... Eggs, your choice, Jack's in the kitchen on the grill...

    NO! JACK! Don't really get on the grill, it's for coo...

    Oh, man, I've got to go explain the rudimentary aspects of cooking to the pirate. Excuse me, please.


  9. Nancy,

    What a nice post. That sounds trite, but "nice" is under rated these days. Decency and being nice seem to have gone out of style, to a degree. It's great to see someone with a philosophy of it!

    By the way, in writing for Harlequin Romance, what level of sensuality are you implementing? I'm curious to know if the guidelines are accurate, that you can make them "sweet romances," if you wanted to. I have read many of them and the sensuality varies.

    Although the guidelines state they accept lower levels, I wondered if the editors really prefer the higher levels of sensuality. I wondered if the level impacts sales, or if they study that.

    Also, after several years of writing to get that contract, in looking back, what would you say landed you that first contract?
    I mean, I'm sure it was your brilliance and your English degree (really, did that help?), but what else? lol

    I'd love to win the book.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

  10. Great post, Donna. I'm in full agreement with you. There are so many who helped me over the years, I want to do what I can for others.
    I love your cover. Very pretty.

    belindapeterson at tds dot net

  11. Great post, Donna! Thanks for sharing. I've always believed in the "once you make it up the mountain throw the rope down for the next person" motto.

    I couldn't believe how wonderful romance authors are when I started on my writing journey a year ago, today to be exact.

    The wonderful people of Seekerville and other authors/writers I've met who willing give of their time to push a newbie forward when their time is limited overwhelms me.

    I love your books, and your cowboys!

    Thanks to all--

  12. Ruth, your comments made me laugh! And are very welcome on this very foggy, drizzly, Halifax morning. A comparison between east coast and the Canadian west? TREES. HILLS. WATER. I confess I missed the water most when I was in Calgary. BUT, now that I'm back in Eastern Canada I miss the mountains and yes, even the flat old prairies.

    There's a sense of "wild west" to the US west that I don't think I quite tap into with my books, and perhaps that's what makes them different. But there are similarities. It's hard making a living off the land. I'll confess - I grew up on a farm more concerned with horticulture than livestock, and the livestock in the area was mostly dairy. Ranching is sure different and I've done some learning.

    But the one thing that I keep coming back to is something I loved when I lived in Alberta. And that's standing in the middle of the prairie, with the fields spread out around me. The sky is SO big. There's a wild freedom to that, for sure, and I think I explore the rancher's commitment to the land and the way of life because I feel it too.

    Plus, nothing turns me on like a guy who can work with his hands, wearing a pair of boots and dusty jeans and a hat. Cowboy hat or ball cap, I don't much care. :-)

    Your breakfast sounds SOOOO good. One of our favourite camping breakfasts is making homefries on the coleman stove - with onion, and peppers, and leftover sausage cut up in it. I can't wait for camping season again!

  13. Cathy - are you talking about Harlequin series or Harlequin Romance line in particular? Because with the Romance line there's definitely a "door shut" policy. Every now and again a book will come out that's slightly more explicit (clever authors who word things just so, so that you KNOW what's happening but it's worded in a certain way) but for the most part the bedroom door is closed.

    These are what you'd call "sweet" for sure, but I'll confess that's not a term I particularly like even though I understand why it's used. Vince will tell you that I write deeply gritty, emotional stories that tackle difficult topics. Someone expecting a sweet read might be disappointed. But the books I write for Harlequin are definitely not explicit. The few times my characters have gone all the way, the door's been firmly shut. I've actually had to revise some scenes to cut back on the sensuality and it wasn't even *that* much, lol!

    What got me that first sale? Oh my. I don't know. It was a combination of things, I think. It was something different - a Canadian setting. It had a twist - my heroine was pregnant and entered into a marriage of convenience with a man who was NOT the father of her baby (a stranger). And probably a matter of having the right story with the right editor at the right time.

  14. Kirsten and Lindi - thanks for dropping by! I'm so pleased with the comments and questions so far!

    Tina asked about my call story. I'll give you the rundown...

    I received a rejection from then Editorial Director (London) Karin Stoeker and she'd taken the time to handwrite comments on the bottom. I was really encouraged and could see where I'd gone wrong with that story. In the meantime I'd written HIRED BY THE COWBOY and had it ready to sub. It felt RIGHT if that makes sense. I sent off the partial. Then the editor I'd been working with a bit left and passed the partial on to Maddie Rowe, which was fab because she requested the full. I think it was only a month later and I got a revisions request.

    Doing those revisions was nerve wracking. I could see the story improving but was SO afraid of blowing this big opportunity. Finally I sent it back, figuring it would be quite a while before I heard. Maddie asked what else I was working on, let me know she'd passed it up the line, but I still knew this could all mean nothing. I was on holidays and checked my e-mail at my inlaws and there were two rather frantic ones from Maddie asking me to call. I did, at which time she called me back on the Mills and Boon dime, and gave me the news.

    It was just absolutely surreal. My critique partner was on vacation so I told Trish Wylie and swore her to secrecy until I got back from holidays, and then we partied on Eharlequin. There is NOTHING like that first sale. I still feel so warm and squishy about it. I did four books with Maddie until she got promoted and I was switched to Sally Williamson. I've been with Sally ever since and it's nice to work with someone who understands how you work. We have a whole thing goin' on. :-)

    So there you have it!

  15. Donna, me darlin', I think I'm getting the hang of this kitchen duty...

    A pirate and a grill?

    I think a romance writer like yourself would call that: "Smokin' Hot."

    But I digress from the task at hand which is:

    How would ye' be likin' your eggs, lass?

  16. Welcome to Seekerville, Donna! Excellent post!!! We hope to help writers here in Seekerville, to share expertise and give emotional support during the journey, no matter where we find ourselves. The coolest part--Seekerville friends bless us tenfold!!


  17. Janet - Amen.

    BaristaJack: Scrambled, please. Hot sauce on the side.

  18. Warm and squishy, eh? I love that story. I forgot you guys work with the London Team. Very cool.

    And you're from the Canada side of the world as well. And you write cowboys. How does that work,lol?

  19. Good morning, Donna!

    Thank you for your reminder that serving others is the best way to live - giving only seems hard until you actually do it. And I truly appreciate the way Seekervillians and other writers share their time and experiences with us.

    And as a new resident of South Dakota, I understand completely about the whole prairie thing! On a nice day I could stay outdoors enjoying that huge sky forever. On a blustery day...well, let's just say I'm happy to watch out the window!

    I'd love to win a copy of your book. The cover art is great. The view of the two riding off - somewhere - makes me want to follow them right into the story.


  20. Wonderful post Donna!

    Michele Payne

  21. I will add that I am a huge Donna Alward fan, which is why I invited her to Seekerville. Despite (kidding, kidding) being from Canada, which I didn't even realize...she writes wonderful, cowboys and such emotionally powerful books.

    So Donna, what's your secret for writing such excellent character emotions?

    And how did you get started on the whole cowboy theme?

  22. Yes, serving others is the way to live.....and I believe you Seekers surely do that!!! Great post. I would love to win your book!

  23. Thanks for sharing, Donna!

    You do have what so many of us are working towards. To work from home, preferably as a (successful) author, is my goal. Oh, but what a challenge to get their.

    One of the places on my list of places I want to travel to is Canada-- P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the like.

    That cover is lovely! Makes me want to hop on that horse, too. ; )



  24. LOVE your way of thinking, Donna! This totally blessed me. Thanks.

  25. Donna,

    Welcome from a fellow Canadian! I live near Toronto. I have visited Calgary which is gorgeous and hope to one day get out East to see the coast.

    I love your whole take on 'service' and how there are many different ways to accomplish this. It's so true that the writing community is filled with this spirit - of encouragement and genuine good will. I love that about my fellow writers!

    Even though I am not published yet, I do try to give back by judging contests and of course helping my wonderful critique partners! And of course, by buying as many books as I can!!

    Congrats on your career with Harlequin. I wish you many more wonderful stories and sales, and I'd love a chance to win your book!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  26. Thank you everyone for popping in and leaving such lovely comments. I'm not sure my head is going to fit through the door later, but as I'm about 10 days from deadline I'll take all the positivity I can get!

    Tina, you crack me up. And you asked about emotion. And how I got started on cowboys. Good questions!

    I have a critique partner who totally rides my butt about making sure there is emotion on the page. I make sure to torture my characters and also have a rule that I have to cry at least once writing it (from emotion, not frustration, big difference, lol!). If I do that I know I've touched a button that will hopefully resonate with readers too. So bleeding on the page is important. And difficult. You have to dig really deep but the results are really rewarding.

    As far as the cowboy thing - my debut Harlequin Romance was the first cowboy story I wrote! Go figure! I was writing all sorts of stories that intrigued me but with that one, I think I finally got back to "write what you know, not what you fantasize about"! When I did, the pieces all seemed to come together. It did pretty well, so editorial were happy to point me due west with future books.

  27. Excellent article! I attended my first ACFW conference last year and was amazed by the support and encouragement there. It means a lot to a new writer to have that kind of positive, nurturing experience (as well as the iron-sharpens-iron times). Thanks for the post, Donna!

    And sign me up for the giveaway! Who doesn't love a good cowboy love story???


  28. Scrambled, love.

    Got it.

    And you other ladies?

    Vince, my good man? Might a pirate interest you in eggs, kind sir?

    And did you, umm... perchance... bring a bit o' rum?

    Wondering out loud, thinking of a flaming dessert, perhaps.

    Or a bit o' refreshment....

  29. And if you're doing a Donna Alward backlist collecting hunt..some of my favorites..Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle. Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage (two in one novella with another author)...

    And my absolute favorite...Her Lone Cowboy.

    And the covers on these books are BEAUTIFUL as well.

  30. Jack, no rum for breakfast. It's only 9 am on the island.

  31. What a great attitude, Donna! I wish I could surround myself with people who have that attitude. Oh, yeah, I need a big dose of that attitude myself! I tend to fall into the me, me, me syndrome far too much. Thanks for the good reminder and for sharing your story!


  32. Thank you Mary!

    And Tina...I'm blushing. :-)

  33. HEY DONNA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Hi there. Donna is one of my Petticoats & Pistols buddies.

    Are you going to RWA in NYC? I'm going and though Tina said she'd protect me--and several Seekers are going, I wouldn't mind knowing someone else there.

    Great blog, Donna. It makes me think of the devastation in the South. I can donate money, but I wish I could do more. The tornados were bad enough, but now the flooding and the fires in Texas.

    It's a wild world.

  34. PS Donna, here's a clue. when Ruthy says she has no more to add.................she's probably got more to add.

  35. Jan, you live in South Dakota? I'm in Northeast Nebraska. Any chance you're close to me???????

  36. I think giving back, paying it forward is such a good thing. But everyone is able to do this. It really is the little things. Like saying thank you to a Soldier. Helping a person in the store. If everyone does a little something the whole would be so much nicer. It would just be nice if people would take a little time for others. You end up feeling so much better. The fact that you are able to help and to more is great and so inspiring. Nothing beats the feeling of helping someone

  37. Hit the button too soon name is not H it's Hilleary

  38. Hey Mary! Yes, I'm going! Actually since Tina asked about emotion in my books and Cathy asked about sensuality, I guess it might be safe to pimp the workshop I'm involved in at Nationals?

    How To Write Sizzle Without Sex and Emotion Without Tragedy is happening on the Friday at 2p.m. and I'm giving it with my senior editor Bryony Green and my travel bud and roommate and fellow Romance Author Fiona Harper. It's going to be fun and it would be lovely to see some familiar faces! (But no hecklers! LOL!)

  39. LOL, Hilleary, I love how your name is spelled.

  40. Yes, totally. We'll be there. I'm glad you told us!!!

    What fun. I can prepare a sign for the audience now. So look for us.


    You think I'm kidding but I am so not.

  41. LOL Tina - I found out today who is moderating it and it's going to be so great. I guarantee laughs. Cuz I can't be serious ALL the time.

  42. Aw, Donna. You always give so much and always with a smile. You're a wonderful example, and it was Alberta's loss and RWAC's gain when you moved to NS.
    Those Souwesters are almost as sexy as cowboy hats, right...

  43. Seekerville, this is my friend Bev who is in my RWA chapter. She is awesome. Memorize her name cuz you're going to see it on covers one of these days.

  44. You are so right, Donna! Publishing is a tough industry but it is filled with people who help each other. I've benefitted from it and I do my best to pay it forward. People can really make a big difference to each other.

    Congrats on your new release and thanks for all the help you've given our chapter.


  45. Pam, we've really got a great chapter, haven't we? I love how everyone supports each other. :-)

  46. Welcome, BEV!!!!!! And Pamela as well!!

    Pull up a hammock!~!

  47. Hi, Donna! Thanks for visiting today and for the great post! A reminder we all need from time to time.

    Please include me in the drawing. Love the name and cover of the book. I'm already curious. :D

  48. I heard a great homily a few years ago that said if we offered our talents for free, in return for the blessings we've received, then the world would be completely dfferent. Aside from speaking a bunch of languages no one wants to learn, all I could think of was the 12 years I took piano and violin lessons, so now I offer free lessons to the neighborhood kids.
    The moms love it... The kids maybe not so much! HAHAHA! I think when we give more (back) it encourages other people to be less stingy with their own talents.
    Awesome post... Also reminds me of a quote by Mother Teresa: Give of your substance, not your abundance.
    Sounds like you're digging deep and offering some real substance!

  49. Donna, I love the name of your workshop. It sounds like it'll be great.

    But seriously, a little heckling can really loosen things up. Perhaps more of a riot than a class, but still....

  50. Heckling if fun if you want to see me blush and stammer. Not pretty, but probably funny.

    Am I allowed to say who is moderating? It's my GDRWA pal, Patti Schenberger.

  51. Welcome Donna, and thanks for this great post!! Your comments about service are so very true and something I guess we all need to be reminded of (often!). ~ And not to "get on my soapbox" but I also agree about customer service almost being a lost art - - oh my!! Years ago I was a "salesgirl" at a major dept. store in Atlanta, and I always tried to act super nice to my customers (although a few didn't act nice in return *sigh*). But now sometimes I encounter a sales associate who acts as if they're being inconvenienced by ringing up a sale--I try to say a prayer for that person and make sure to smile at them (even though I might not feel like it, LOL). ~ Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  52. Mary - alas, no, not too close. We're in Rapid City. Close enough to the Black Hills to spit (if you're a cowboy!). But I am in your neck of the woods (or prairie) quite often as we drive back and forth to Topeka on a regular basis.

    I'll give you a big wave next time I go through!

  53. Ah, Mary-my-pet has joined us, I see.

    And Tina, no rum? Nine A.M.?

    It's five o'clock somewhere, darling.

    And I do believe Starbucks carries a rum coffee at times.

    Pretend I'm your local barista, dear one, not a world famous pirate destined to slavery with the Seekers, at their beck and call as they work to empty Unpubbed Island of its inhabitants...

    I am at your service, which, today, is eggs... Although, my pets, it is later now. Surely I can move to sandwich preparation?

  54. Ah, Bev and Pamela, mon petites...

    Perhaps a beverage of your choice might be in order?

    I am, first and foremost, a barista...

    With panache.

    Your wish, m'ladies?


    Or moi?


  55. Jack and Donna on the same day! How fun is that?

    Donna, your RWA workshop sounds great. I'll sit next to Tina. And the Seekers and Seekerville friends are meeting each evening, 8 or 9-ish, in one of the lobby areas to catch up on the day. Join us, please.

    Must look for your books.

    Thanks for being with us today and for your words of wisdom.

  56. Oh I know, Patti by reputation. Great gal.

  57. I'd love to win this one,seems so interesting!

    niastrong21 at gmail dot com

  58. Hi, Nia, good to see you!

    Donna's books are all terrific!

    Check out the free read on eharlequin for a sample!

  59. I just finished my run, gotta fold some clothes and hit the hay, but I wanted to say how absolutely awesome it was being here today. Would love to meet up with some Seekers in NY!

    Rumour has it that Tina or someone from the blog will notify me of the lucky winner. :-)

    Thanks and nighty night!

  60. I'm in complete agreement with you, Donna. Over the last couple of years I have looked for ways to get more involved and serve others in my writing community even though I'm not yet published. Hopefully when that call comes and the day my first book comes out arrives, I'll be in a better position to help those just beginning their writing journey.

    I would love to read your book, and I'm going to hope over to check out your short story.

  61. I totally agree Donna! Thanks for putting it all into words :)

  62. Hi, Donna! I'm so glad you joined us today. What a wonderful post! I truly think we should all give back. I know so many people have helped me along this writing journey.

  63. Kirsten, congrats for ploughing through your first full year of writing! :)

  64. Donna, that workshop sound so fun! I love the title. Will definitely plan to be there!