I have to take a moment to scream excitedly in the background.
People put their publishing stories up and this is mine. The road to a contract, just recently signed with BookFish Books, for my novel THE DARK ETERNAL (Feb 2017). I wanted to include the milestones, the things that happened or inspired me most along the way.
It all started with National Novel Writing Month, 2009: I whipped off 60,000 words about this otherworldly being who comes to earth in a human body and falls in love with a human. It was terrible. TERRIBLE. Embarrassing. I revised it little by little, worked on other things.
Steven Pressler, Do The Work: Have you read this? Do it. Here’s a handy link. It’s a short book, but it is motivating. And it’s spot on. There’s a reason the guy on the cover looks miserable. He’s doing the work. Doing the work is, at times, miserable. I put a sticky note on my cube wall that said in black Sharpie, “Do the work.” Cause I’m a nerd.
“You can do anything.” Someone said this to me and I was like, yeah, sure okay, easy for you to say, you’re the CEO. But he was right. You can. Really. Persistence pays off. Because eventually, it has to.
Readers. Honest people read my book and told me where it was lacking. Then I realized they weren’t really being totally honest because MY BOOK SUCKED and I can’t believe they didn’t exile me from society. So I revised. Went sentence by sentence asking myself: if I opened up this book randomly and read a bit of it, would I keep reading, or put it down? The answer was always, Put it the fuck down! It’s horrible!
It’s kind of indulgent to bring up Hemingway at this point but he said to Fitzgerald: “…I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent.” Ouch. The writing was not my best. Revise.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: Though I do wish they had a longer title, my membership here was crucial. It allowed me to attend writing groups of like-minded individuals, and particularly, the Buffalo YA/MG conference where I met tons of women JUST LIKE ME (I’m not being sexist, there was about one man there). I also met two literary agents and five published YA authors. They did roundtable discussions and when they sat at my table I absolutely grilled them. Forget throwing softballs. I was going to take advantage of that time. In retrospect I was probably annoying. But I won the pitch contest so there. And based on some great discussions, I decided to rewrite my entire novel in 1st person. And I did.
Querying. I can hardly believe the drivel I initially sent out. It’s forehead-slappable. Unpolished. Too casual. Uninformed, unprofessional, cringe-worthy. But then I started reading. And I joined Twitter. And I followed agents and writers and anyone who tweeted writing advice. And I found Query Shark. And AgentQuery Connect. And I learned a lot from other people’s mistakes, and I applied the knowledge.
Over the course of a year and a half, I queried 27 agents. I kept a spreadsheet. Full nerdery.
The Girl with the Green Pen: I hired an editor. She read the book and sent me back a 7-page editorial letter listing everything wrong with it, but in a nice way. I spent months revising, rewriting, drinking, cursing. I carved out “writing nights” because I work a demanding full-time job and my son was a toddler at the time and it’s hard to work on a book when you have fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there.
Revisions are Satan’s Henchmen. I always imagined writing the last word of my first draft. I’d be all, I did it! I wrote a book! And I’d allow myself one cigarette like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, and my publisher would swing by in her silk blouse with the shoulderpads and whisk it off to press. Yeah. No. I finished writing the last word of my first draft and I felt kind of dizzy because I knew I just wrote the biggest pile of crap anyone has ever seen and I was pretty sure a chimp snuck in and wrote chapter fourteen because it did not even seem to contain coherent sentences. So I went back to the beginning and started to edit. Fifteen, sixteen, twenty million times. You memorize your book during revisions. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Pitch Madness. I had a pretty cute pitch though. One line that summed up the thing. So during Twitter’s #PitMad I tweeted out a few different takes through the day and told my friends to retweet but I only knew two people on Twitter and they were like, whuh? No bites. Until the next Pitch Madness. When I slightly exaggerated my pitch and I was in a meeting and that notification popped up on my phone: Someone has favorited your pitch. A publisher. Which meant, query them. So I did.
Request for Full. Got to love those words. I sent it off and crossed my fingers but tried not to hope because hope is also the devil’s henchman. Within a few weeks I heard back.
Revise and Resubmit. Also good. It means the book has promise, but it’s not quite there. A whole slog of vague advice later, I was facing another revision. I dove the fuck in!
Revise and, um, re-resubmit. So they didn’t like the ending. Well neither did I. I tweaked it a bit and sent it back. Bit my nails all weekend. (Which I actually did every weekend, so.)
The Contract. The email I only dreamed about. Well, I actually dreamed about a phone call but this is 2016. Anyway the email stopped my heart and suddenly I was going to be a published author. My four-year old son was the only one home at the time and I told him with tears in my eyes that mommy’s dream came true, my dream came true! And he said, “Can we play Mario now?” So we did.