Stranded in Romance Purgatory
Once published, always published, right? Wrong! Former Regency author
Sheila Rabe has an interesting tale to tell -- and this one comes from her
own real-life struggles. For the last few years, Sheila has been busy
"reinventing" her romance persona for a new market and a new
readership. We think you'll find her story both painfully honest and
fascinating, and we thank Sheila for sharing it..
Sheila, you wrote eleven Regencies over a period of several years, and your
career seemed stable. What happened to change all that?
My own stupidity. I didnít think through one aspect of my plot very
carefully, which lead me to make a serious error; one that not only I failed
to catch, but one that was missed by my critique partner (who is usually
fabulous at catching mistakes), my editor, the copy editor, everyone but the
woman who reviewed the book. This unfortunate circumstance, I am convinced,
affected my sales. When it was time to go back to the table, my publisher
offered me considerably less for my next book. Thinking we could do better
elsewhere, my agent and I declined the offer and went looking. But when we
went looking we found that no one wanted to be found, at least not by us. I
had published thirteen Regencies, but that didnít matter now. I was a
To make matters worse, the midlist was in a downturn at that time. How did
that impact your Regency career?
The midlist crisis was exactly that, a very real career crisis for a lot of
authors who were not beginners but werenít superstars, either. Book stores
were devoting a great deal of shelf space to the latest release of the big
name writers as well as their back list. There is only so much room in a book
store, and once most of that shelf space was taken by the big names there was
little left for the legion of us still trying to make a name for ourselves.
For those of us trying to squeeze in, it was, indeed, a crisis.
Can you describe how you felt during this "dry" period? What was the most
frustrating thing about it?
I thought my life as a writer was over. It was devastating. I felt like a
failure, and the worst thing of all was the knowledge that I had brought this
on myself. In retrospect, I realize that this was all for the best. I had
been banging out pot boilers like crazy, but not working on improving as a
writer. Oh, I thought I was doing a good job, but I had a long way to grow.
Come to think of it, I still do. Becoming a good writer is rather like
trying to improve your tennis game. Youíre always working on it.
At what point did you decide to turn your efforts to contemporary romance?
What finally turned me writing contemporary romance was when I got the idea
for my Christmas book, All I Want for Christmas, which came out in Oct of
2000. Before I started that I had banged out two regency romance proposals
and an entire manuscript for a regency historical plus a proposal for three
other books to follow it. Obviously, I was in there pitching... or typing.
Tell us how you made the switch.
I did a lot of thinking about writing during my three year unemployment
period. I read a ton of books on writing. And even after that, I think Iíve
only scratched the surface. I think, as writers, we should always be learning
and growing, working to improve, wanting to grow.
What kind of support or non-support did you get from fellow authors?
My fellow authors were fabulous. In fact, I was whining one day at a lunch
about how miserable I was and how I was getting nowhere, and Kristin Hannah
broke the sad news to me that I was going to have to have to go back to start
and write an entire book. At the time I was desperate for money and in a
hurry and wanting to find a shortcut. What I found was there was no shortcut.
Unless you happen to Lazarus, rising from the dead takes a long time. My
other friends concurred, and I spent the next year of my life eating a lot of
beans and writing my first contemporary.
Was it hard to get up the nerve to pitch something new to editors? What
about your agent?
Itís always hard to pitch something new. Itís still hard to pitch something
new. Just this week I mailed off a proposal for something, and as I drove
away from the post office, I thought, ďWhat if there is still a typo I didnít
catch? Should I have rewritten that synopsis a fifth time? I loved this, but
itís probably garbage. My editor will hate it. Oh, heck, it wonít even get
that far. My agent will send it back. Did I remember to include the cover
letter? No, I know I put that in because I already ruined one priority
envelope checking to make sure it was there. Oh, who wants to be a writer,
anyway?Ē As for the agent thing, well, read on.
In effect, you made a "first sale" all over again. Tell us about the road
to publication this second time around. Did being previously published
help? Or were you facing the same pile of rejections that most new authors
The agent I had when I hit the skids had ended our professional relationship
(bless her heart, she tried to help me, but at the time I was still trying to
find myself and pretty unhelpable), so I had no in with an editor. I knew
this because I had tried to submit to editors on my own and with no success.
I kept thinking someone would give me a chance because, after all, Iíd
published thirteen books. The saying ďyouíre only as good as your last hitĒ
doesnít just apply to songs. I believed in my new book though, thought it was
a winner, and knew that someone else was bound to think so, too. But I knew
the only way I was going to get anyone to take a look at it was if I
submitted through an agent. Again, my friends came to the rescue. Susan Wiggs
introduced me to my current agent who is the coolest thing that ever
breathed. My new agent helped me tweak the manuscript further and negotiated
my sale, and I will be forever grateful to her.
Describe your thoughts on receiving the news that your first contemporary
It was even more exciting than my first sale, which I had pretty much
stumbled into. This time I had sweat blood and shed tears, and I was so
thankful I could hardly stand it. I went running up and down the road to all
my neighbors (who all happen to be my family), knocking on doors, jumping up
and down and babbling incoherently, and they all jumped up and down with me.
It was thrilling.
Do you see yourself returning to Regency in the future?
Thankfully for Regency readers, no.
Tell us about your upcoming books.
Iím very excited about my upcoming book, A Prince of a Guy, which will be
out this summer. My heroine is a know-it-all radio shrink who learns by the
end of the book that she doesnít know as much as she thinks she does (I
listened to so much talk radio advice for this book I could start my own
show.) My hero is the guy next door (literally), and I love him. And my cover
model is about the cutest thing Iíve ever seen on a book. I guarantee youíll
fall in love with him, warts and all.
How can readers contact you?
I hope theyíll visit my website: sheilasplace.com
Sheila, thanks for chatting with us, and best of luck!
March 16, 2001