Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Alexis Daria!

Today we’re welcoming another Rebelle, 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Alexis Daria, whose manuscript TAKE THE LEAD is nominated for Best Contemporary Romance!

Alexis Daria is a romance writer, artist, and native New Yorker. She has a BFA in Computer Arts, but her most fulfilling job was as a group facilitator for a women’s empowerment community, where she coached other women in following their creative dreams. On Sunday evenings, Alexis co-hosts #RWchat, a weekly Twitter chat for romance writers. She also serves as PRO Liaison for the New York City chapter of RWA, and is represented by Sarah E. Younger from Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Alexis’ debut, TAKE THE LEAD, is a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist and will be released in Fall 2017 from SMP Swerve, closely followed by the sequel, DANCE WITH ME.

Here’s a blurb for TAKE THE LEAD:

Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He’s handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

Yummy!! That sounds utterly delicious!! I love all the built in conflict and drama! I’m sure it’s a really fun read…and how fabulous that we know it WILL be out on bookshelves this fall!!!! Can’t wait to buy my copy!

Readers, Alexis is here today to talk about a powerful lesson that it behooves all of us to learn in this crazy business we’re part of.

Take it away, Alexis!


Write the Next Book

Angsty immortals. Long lost dragon princesses. Ice planet aliens. Whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, or urban fantasy, I’m here for it. So it’s no surprise that most of the half-finished drafts languishing on my hard drive have magical or supernatural elements. I wrote the kinds of stories I like to consume. When I finally had a book ready to query last year, it was a cute, light paranormal romance with bits of magic and mythology. In hindsight, I didn’t really know how to pitch it, and the agents I queried probably didn’t know what to do with it, either.

Paranormal is down, they told me. Genre hybrids are a tough sell. It’s not paranormal enough. You’re a good writer, but do you have something else?

After fifty rejections (or silence), it was time to reassess my strategy. I knew I wanted to build a career as a romance author, and I wanted an agent to help me make good decisions. With that in mind, I weighed my options.

I could:

  1. Expand my agent list and continue to trot this book around in the hopes that it would resonate with someone.
  2. Revise the book again, then re-query the agents on my list who allow that sort of thing.
  3. Write a new book.

The first choice didn’t appeal. I’d heard a bad agent was worse than no agent, and I’d already sent to everyone who seemed like a good fit. The second option didn’t seem like a great idea, either. Many agents don’t allow resubmissions, and I had already revised the book with the help of a mentor. Clearly the story still needed more work, but I didn’t want to get stuck in the cycle of revising the same manuscript over and over.

I chose the third option, because these rejections weren’t personal. It wasn’t me they were rejecting, it was the book. I’d done my best, but this manuscript wasn’t going to get me signed with the agents I wanted to work with. So I set out to write a book that would.

This time, I did a few things differently. I figured out how to pitch it first, writing the query letter before I even wrote the outline. I also switched genres. Since paranormal wasn’t working for me, I decided to write a contemporary romance instead. And I checked my outline against Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat guideline, which I’d just read, to make sure the romance structure was sound.

Rejections continued to roll in on the mythology manuscript as I worked on Take the Lead, but I took them in stride, absorbed in my new WIP. I knew that this book was it. This was the one that would get me an agent and a book deal. It would mean debuting as a contemporary romance author, but I have plenty of plot bunnies, and I had already decided I would stick with whatever genre sold first, at least for a while. (Still, when I queried Take the Lead, I made a point to reach out to agents who were paranormal-friendly. I love the genre way too much to let it go forever.)

The same day I submitted my manuscript for the GH, I sent out my first round of queries—five times as many as my first round the previous year. (Yes, I was that much more confident, but I was also completely out of patience.) My strategy worked. Two months later, within the span of a few weeks, I had an agent, a two-book deal, and the news that Take the Lead was a Golden Heart finalist.

If you feel like you’re beating a dead horse—or a dead manuscript, as the case may be—try shifting gears. While one book is being queried or out on submission, work on the next. The only thing we can really control in this industry is ourselves. So keep writing. Try new things. Every story is its own challenge, no matter how many books you’ve written or where you are in your author career. If your writing is starting to feel stale, shake it up. Write in a different romance subgenre, or explore a trope that seems tricky. Experiment with different character archetypes, settings, or themes. Focus on craft. Actively seek out inspiration, and keep the creative well full.

I’m not sure where I’d be now if I’d kept my attention on revising old manuscripts instead of writing a new one, but by shifting genres, I kept my enthusiasm fresh in the face of rejections. I was able to query my top-choice agents again, because I had a new project. And I increased my chances of selling the book by improving my craft and writing something with a clearer hook.

Through it all, I reminded myself that a career as a romance author is not about one book. Creative work is doing the thing, over and over, and continuing to improve your skill. If you look at the well-known romance authors, you’ll see it’s not just about one book, one series, one genre, or even just one pen name. Think of it as a body of work, and each book is one piece of the whole.

Don’t get stuck. Write the next book. And the next. And the next after that. We’ve got stories to tell, and they aren’t going to write themselves.

What about you, readers? What shifts have you made in your writing journey, and how have they worked out for you?


Connect with Alexis Daria on social media:

Author Website & Blog:

RWchat Blog:







33 responses to “Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Alexis Daria!”

  1. C.R. Grissom says:


    Fantastic blog! This line twanged with truth. “Through it all, I reminded myself that a career as a romance author is not about one book.”

    Wow! Talk about a moment for me. We do tend to focus on getting the first story perfect, we lose sight of the big picture. Thank you for sharing your insight and journey toward publication with us on the blog today.

    I’m thrilled I’m able to create a countdown clock for the release of Take The Lead and my own autographed copy. I have a feeling it’s going to be epic!

    • Alexis Daria says:

      Thanks, Chris! Yes, it’s so easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when we’re giving 100% attention to one book. And we should give each book our all, so we’re putting our best work out there! But we also have to know when it’s time to move on to the next. 🙂 I think that comes with practice.

  2. Alexis, Awesome post! You decided to put on your thinking cap and approach your writing career strategically. We writers get so emotionally attached to our work that we sometimes lose our objectivity. Kudos to you for moving beyond that, and I can’t wait to read Take the Lead!

  3. This is excellent advice, Alexis! Also, I think you may be my soulmate.

    First off, congratulations on the final and the sale! I can’t wait to read Take the Lead – and maybe reading it will shut up my own reality television dance show plot bunny! As an Alaskan girl those Alaska reality TV shows make me shudder, so I will definitely be rooting for your guy to get free of his.

    I’m also a sucker for all things paranormal and have written what I call “contemporary adjacent paranormal light” books that couldn’t get any traction. I too told myself I would write whatever sold first – and fluffy paranormal sold back in 2009, but when my paranormal sales were tanking I jumped over to writing contemporary (with reality television, no less) and I’ve been extremely fortunate with the new pen name. I’m a firm believer in always evolving, always challenging yourself, and believing that your NEXT book is your BEST book, so we must always keep striving.

    GOOD LUCK in Orlando! I hope we see a lot from you because I can’t wait to read your books!

    • Alexis Daria says:

      Omg, I think we might be! I SO relate to this! “Contemporary adjacent paranormal light” encapsulates it perfectly. I love writing it, but since it seems to be in a downswing, I try to write contemporary romance that still captures some of that “magic” for me.

      I’d love to hear more about when and how you came to the decision to make the switch and start a new pen name. What was that like? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 🙂

      • Hi Alexis – I made the decision back in 2014 after a lunch at RT with a bunch of Rubies. I’d been hearing that contemporary was doing well in the self-publishing world. I realized I could go back to contemporary (which I had been writing before I sold) and position myself for success in that corner of the publishing world if I took all the lessons I’d learned on branding while bumbling around with my early paranormal releases and apply those lessons thoughtfully to my new pen name. I came up with the tagline “Lights. Camera. Romance.” and began marketing myself as love in the wilds of Hollywood and suddenly it was easier for readers to wrap their heads around who I was and what I was doing. And I remembered how much I loved writing contemporary. Win/win. 🙂 But I still love paranormal, even if I’m happily immersed in writing contemporaries now. I hope wherever you end up in the market, that you love the books you’re working on!

  4. Perrin Birk says:

    This post resonated so deeply with me as I’ve received rejection after rejection with my urban fantasy. Yet agents would ask, “Do you have anything else?” So I figured something jelled with them. Just last week, a published author shared that UF is a hard sell right now. My planned follow-up novel is epic fantasy. And I have an outlined noir. He told me to write those and concentrate on selling them first. Your confirmation of his advice is so timely, I know it’s more than coincidence, which I don’t believe in anyway.

    Congratulations on your book deal! I still hope to see your paranormal out there some day, but can’t wait to read TAKE THE LEAD!

    • Alexis Daria says:

      “Do you have anything else?” is a good sign! They’re resonating with your writing and your voice. It means the door is open and they’d welcome hearing from you again. 🙂 All good stuff!

      I console myself with thinking, just because this project is a “no” now, doesn’t mean it’s a no forever. Someday these paranormal manuscripts will make it out there, when it’s the right time. Wishing you the best of luck with your next projects! <3

  5. jbrayweber says:

    Great post and spot-on advice, Alexis. Even taking a little sidestep from one genre can help with another. I write/publish historical romance, but paranormal is my heart. I’ve also written and published a fun erotic romance. I tell ya, my urban fantasy WIP has been a real challenge. In part because the book is a part of a larger scaled series. That said, bouncing between genres has strengthened my writing and helps keep it fresh. There is an element of seeing clearer certain weaknesses which force you to develop and adapt. Each next book gets better.

    Good luck in Orlando and congrats on your upcoming release. It sounds awesome!


    • Alexis Daria says:

      Thank you! Funny enough, the first romance I ever completed was a historical. I agree with you on genre jumping. I think with each switch, we take a little something new with us that brings fresh perspective to the next project.

  6. Hope Ramsay says:


    Congratulations on your GH Final and book deal. Your advice about being flexible is definitely golden.

    I should have followed it myself, back in the early 2000s when contemporary romance had tanked and all anyone wanted was paranormal. But no, I persisted, writing three small town sweet romances that no one wanted. They languished for five years while I went through two agents.

    Lucky for me the market changed and the books did sell in a 4 book deal that eventually turned into a 9 book series. Proving that patience is a virtue…or something.

    The funny thing is that I once again find myself out of step because, for reasons known only to my muse (or the plot bunny) I’ve started a light paranormal series that I plan to self-publish starting next year.

    I wish I could be strategic, but sadly, I have never been able to do that. I need to write the stories that come to me and inspire me. This probably explains why it took 25 years for me to make my first sale.

    I wish you much success with your books.

    • Alexis Daria says:

      That’s the thing, the market always changes, so sometimes you just have to wait it out. I think paranormal is poised for a comeback in terms of how traditional publishing looks at it, but there are still — and have always been — readers who want it. (I certainly do.) Best of luck with your light PNR when you publish it next year!

  7. Great advice, Alexis. I started writing romantic suspense and contracted that before I learned I was a Golden Heart Finalist too. Then in six weeks, I wrote a short, fun contemporary and sold that too. True story. No BS. Now, I took my rights back and I’m totally indie published, and I write for two totally different audiences. I love it. I just wish I wrote faster.

    Good luck in Orlando. Have a great time.

  8. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Oh, goodness…I am too much of a “baby writer” to even comment on this blog post except to say persistence is good and stepping outside of the box/preferred genre is/can be a good thing…almost like a breath of fresh air.

    Enjoyed the blurb very much! Best of luck to you, Alexis!

  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    It’s fabulous having you with us today, Alexis!!!

    Your advice to be always ready to shift gears is absolute gold, and I’m so glad it paid off for you!

    I loved my first Golden Heart book, but realized it just didn’t have enough conflict (yet) and so set it aside to start a completely different, darker historical spy novel, which I put out last year under my Lara Archer name, and it’s done well. Someday I’ll get back to that first book…. But it’s so important to be flexible and to try new things in the ever-changing world of publishing.

    • Alexis Daria says:

      Thanks for organizing all this, Elisa! Yes, publishing is constantly changing, and as authors, we have to be flexible. It’s that balance that comes with being a creative business. 🙂

  10. Melonie says:

    Great advice, Alexis and wow, that shift in gears really paid off! Can’t wait to spend some fall evenings enjoying Take the Lead 🙂

    My path is very similar (minus the sale – but fingers crossed!) I started in paranormal every workshop, spotlight, panel, etc would drone on about market saturation, blah blah blah. So when an idea for a contemporary popped in my head, I ran with it. Like you, I still love paranormal stories and made sure the agency I signed with was willing to represent me in both. Now, we’ll just have to see…which sells first?
    Can’t wait to hang out in Orlando!

  11. Tracy Brody says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Alexis. Great insight. I’ve written 3 books in my RS series, but have ideas in other genres. Actually just emailed my agent a synopsis for potential genre blending mashup that might be too hard to market. But it’s a story that would not be competing in a glutted market. 😉 So, if she doesn’t freak out and run from me, maybe I’ll be writing something totally new.

    • Alexis Daria says:

      That’s one of the nice things about an agent. 🙂 Having someone to bounce ideas off of and say, “Hey, would this work? Should I write it?”

  12. What a great post, Alexis! I agree, one has to be flexible. We always hear “Write the book of your heart” and “Don’t write to market” – but a smart author (IMO) needs to assess what is currently working in the market and what isn’t, and then calibrate it to their goals as an author.

    Maybe it’s the MBA in me instead of the artsy film student/writer, but an author business plan isn’t a bad thing to have. This doesn’t mean authors shouldn’t write what their heart demands they write – but it does mean that if you are aiming for a certain goal by a certain date, you probably should take into consideration what achieving those goals might look like. (Reminder to self: write a bsuiness plan).

    I also believe trends come and go, so if the older books aren’t selling – they will one day! So it’s not wasted effort, but it might be a delayed return on time invested.

    • Alexis Daria says:

      YES! You hit the nail on the head, Susannah. My point exactly. When I was just writing for me, sure, I wrote whatever I wanted. But once I decided to seriously pursue publishing, the business hat had to go on. “Write an author business plan” is also on my to-do list! I’ll hit you up when I’m ready to sit down to do it. 🙂

  13. Emily Sullivan says:

    Great post, Alexis! I love your ‘just write’ mentality and how each book is one part of a larger body of work. For me, focusing on my longtime love of historical romance was a shift away from more contemporary pieces. So far it’s worked out and has been an important reminder to stretch myself as a writer and not be too quick to stay in one particular box.

    Congrats on all your success and I’m sure it will continue! The book sounds great and can’t wait to meet up in Orlando!

  14. Darynda says:

    Welcome fellow SMP sister!!! Congrats! You book sounds awesome.

    “It isn’t paranormal enough.” UGH!

    Just a great post! With my first manuscripts, before I sold, I switched genres every time, kind of a “testing the waters” sort of thing. It allowed me to see what I really loved to write. Unfortunately, I loved it all. But selling helped me nail down my genre. LOL.

    Congrats again! Can’t wait to get your books!

    • Alexis Daria says:

      Haha! It’s true, it’s fun to play around in different genre sandboxes, to see which ones you’d like to stick with. But then once that first book sells, it kind of cements your purpose for a while. 🙂

  15. Kari W. Cole says:

    Alexis, as a paranormal writer, I hear you. I keep hearing how paranormal is dead. Though, silly me, I keep buying it. But whatevs.

    You make a great point about finding something else that works for you. That our careers are about more than just one book. My husband keeps telling me that I’m building a career, not a book.

    One of the most important lessons we can learn is to keep moving forward.


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