Few writers succeed overnight. Author Shelley Bates wrote five “practice books” before breaking into print with her sixth novel. It takes determination and long hours of work to become a published writer, as well as a constant eye for new opportunities and ways to grow.
What was your first novel about?
I think it was a novel where the young woman had a small business and he was some kind of cop and she did something that looked wrong but she did it by accident or she wasn’t really or some—I know what it was! She had a diaper business and she would go into people’s houses and collect their baby’s diapers and take them away and wash them, except pieces of art kept disappearing at the houses that she was doing this at. And gee, so easy for the hero to figure out. So, I think he was the cop. It got rejected everywhere. It’s in a box somewhere, deservedly so. It’s a practice book. I have at least five practice books. Because, as Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours to create an expertise in any field, and five books is about 10,000 hours. And on the sixth book, which was my MA thesis, I somehow broke through the plateau and that was the one that was published. Harlequin published it.
How did you keep going?
It’s emotionally risky. I think what it was is I believed in myself because I had a mother who instilled in me the “If you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want.” And so I’m like, well, I’ve always known that I was going to be a writer, so Mom must be right. So I’ll just keep at it until I get good—because I knew I wasn’t good enough, but you have to keep doing it to get good enough. So it was just one book after another, and with every one you get better. Because that’s the thing about writing. You can’t just read about it and then think you’re going to do it. [laughs] You have to actually get your butt in the chair and the pen in your hand or hands on keyboard and do it. And so that’s—that’s what I did. I just kept going, for about 10 years it took. The “apprenticeship” took about that long.
How did you find Seton Hill?
I wanted to go to grad school in writing and I’m Googling listings and the Seton Hill program had only been alive for about a year. So I clicked online and read up about it and I got that cold feeling on my shoulders that—it’s a funny feeling. I know when I get that feeling that I’m going to write a book about something or this is the next step for you to take. So that cold feeling went over my shoulders, so okay, and I applied and I got in. By the time I got through the program, I had my book, and I graduated in January. In August, Hewlett Packard laid me off. That same week, I got the call from Harlequin that they were accepting my Master’s thesis. And that was the beginning of my career. And that’s been 28 books ago.