Today, fans love Nalini Singh for her single-title paranormal romance series. But how did she become a writer? What was her first sale like? From English to law, from her first submission (at 18!) to the category romance that a New York editor finally accepted, Singh tells the story.
How did you become a romance writer?
I always really wanted to be a writer. That was my dream, but I didn’t know anybody who was a writer and I thought, well, what I understood was that even if you were a writer, you would need a job anyway. So I thought, what can I do, and I decided I wanted to do the English degree because I love English and I thought I would like to keep going, but I didn’t see myself as a teacher, which is kind of ironic. And then I thought, well, law is basically about language as well and English is a useful skill in there, so yeah, I decided to do law. Yeah, and after that, I ended up working as a lawyer for a couple of years.
When did you start writing?
Quite young, quite young. Like little stories and things, I remember asking my mom to help me. I knew what I wanted to say, but how to do it, and then I remember as a teenager actually sitting in the kitchen actually reading it out to whoever was around, usually Mom. It’s like just to get her feedback because I was writing sort of like—it was actually a science fiction romance and I’ve still got it and that was sort of my first attempt to try and I guess put a novel together, and then I kept doing that.
It was like a very tormented, I want to say prince, but I think that’s not quite the right word. Maybe like a warlord kind of person and he had these abilities— his eyes could like shoot lasers. I told you I read a lot of fantasy as well. And he was very tormented. I know that. And yeah, I still have the scene in my mind, so maybe I will eventually actually make something of this, but I see him sort of slumped over in bed and he’s sitting on the end of the bed and there’s a moon outside and his head is hanging and it’s like that’s where it started, his history and everything. Yeah, so that was my first, I think sort of attempt, sort of proto story. And then I was doing short stories and things like that and then when I was 18, that’s when I actually decided to write my first complete book. I decided that was going to be my project for the summer and I wrote a 50,000 word like Mills and Boon, and then I submitted it. Don’t ask me about that. [laughs] Yeah, no, I’m actually really proud of that because I guess part of it was I didn’t know what I had to do, so I just did it on faith and it was really good for me because even though it was rejected, I knew I had done it once and so I was already working on the next one. I wasn’t sort of crushed by the rejection or anything.
It was like, oh, I’ll write an even better story now. [laughs] Yeah, I just kept going. I had been submitting to London because at the time, there were actually no Silhouette authors in New Zealand or Australia and before me, Bronwyn Jameson sold to Silhouette Desire and she’s an Australian and I think we sort of thought, oh, wow, they will buy us from down here. So I actually started submitting to New York as well and there was an editor, Diane, and she had picked me out of the slush pile I guess when it was her turn to look at the slush pile, but she sent me like an actual detailed rejection letter to say why she didn’t accept it, but she loved my voice and could I resubmit stuff. And so I kept submitting to her, and I think I would have submitted three projects, and then I got this letter back saying, “Well, I really loved this and I’ve talked to my senior editor and she really likes it too but we would like some revisions. ￼ Could you do them and resubmit?” And so I did and I resubmitted the book.
So I’m sitting at the table eating my cereal and it was like 7 a.m. and the phone rang and I said to my mom, “You have to pick up the phone. I can’t do it,” because I don’t know. I knew the time difference between New York and New Zealand and I just had this feeling and I had been waiting and so yeah, that was the call. I actually got a call, and I was like oh my God, and then I had to go to work and not look crazy. But I had a couple of friends who knew what I did and I told them and of course I told my email group, my writers group. Yeah, so it was a really exciting day.