Since I announced my three-book deal with Sourcebooks, Inc., I’ve had tons of aspiring authors ask some variation of this question:
How long did it take you to get published?
The answer is more complicated than you might think. My apologies for the lengthy blog entry, but hey, you asked.
I’ll skip the details of building my writing skills as a newspaper reporter and marketing copywriter, or earning my oh-so-useful degree in English literature.
What you’re really asking is:
When did you first start writing fiction?
Or, let’s be honest here:
How long do I have to throw myself at this @#$% wall writing manuscripts and queries until I’m ready to poke myself in the eye with a fork?
Which leads me to my first caveat, one I touched on in an earlier blog post: You can’t judge your own journey to publication on someone else’s. It’s different for everyone. Some writers sell their first book, and some try their damndest for 20 years. Honestly, if I’d known at the start how bumpy my road to publication would be, I’m not sure I would have kept going.
I’m not saying that to scare you. It's good that none of us knows how many tries it will take until we reach our goal because the idea that success is just around the corner is what keeps us going. That, and the fervent desire to gloat maniacally to everyone who said we couldn’t do it.
So here’s my story:
I started writing fiction the summer of 2002 after my book club read a novel by an uber-famous romance author and I announced that if that crap could get published, so could I.
My first book was an action/adventure/romance targeted at a new line Harelquin-Silhouette was debuting the following year. My book sucked, and it didn’t take me long to realize that. I started writing a new one even before I got the rejection on the first. That second book earned me the elusive request for revisions, a sign that I was almost there.
That second book didn’t sell either, but the third one did. I got “the call” on May 19, 2005. It was my “I have arrived” moment. Little did I know.
As an aside, you’ll notice that it took almost three years from the date I started writing until the date of “the call.” That’s not because it takes me a year to write a book. It takes me three months, sometimes less. It’s the @#$% submission process that takes forever, one of MANY reasons I tell any aspiring author to get a good agent.
My other reasons are coming up.
So I cashed my advance check from Bombshell and spent the next 15 months doing revisions, brainstorming titles and cover art, and writing two follow-up Bombshells that never made it to contract.
August 2006, I got the “un-call.” My editor phoned on my 32nd birthday to let me know the Bombshell line was being canceled one month prior to my scheduled debut. My book would not be released, nor would my two follow-ups. I was out on my butt.
To add insult to injury, this was the same day my cat died and my boss informed me that if I continued violating the company’s hosiery policy, they would fire me. (I did. They didn’t).
A little shaken, I moved on. Since action/adventure/romance wasn’t what I wanted to write anyway, I tried a new path – straight up romantic comedy with a dollop of mystery.
I began the new book in August 2006, queried agents in November, and by mid-December, I had four amazing agents offering to represent me.
I picked wrong.
I’m not saying this to diss the other agent, as I know the agent is tremendously successful and has many satisfied clients. It just wasn’t the right fit.
I figured this out over the course of the year in 2007 as I wrote four new partial manuscripts (none of which the agent liked) while the book that had originally earned the adoration of four agents failed to sell.
Once I’d parted company with my first agent, I tracked down Michelle Wolfson – the agent I realized I should have picked to start with.
With my tail between my legs, I asked if she’d still consider representing me. To my delighted surprise, she took me on. I signed with her in January 2008.
Thus began another long submission process with multiple manuscripts. Michelle sent the original book to a small handful of editors my first agent hadn’t tried. The response was good, with several editors sending my book for second reads or to the editorial board as a recommended buy.
Sadly, the book still didn’t sell.
Michelle was undeterred, which is what I love most about her. I wrote another book, this one straight romantic comedy with no mystery. Again, we got close. Several times we were on the brink of popping the champagne corks.
Still, no deal. It often came down to strange things, like another book at that publishing house that was too similar to mine. At one point, three different editors who loved my book ended up leaving their jobs before a deal could be made. Michelle and I joked that I was cursed.
Oddly enough, the feedback we were getting was all positive. If an editor had said, “this chick can’t write,” I might have been discouraged. Instead, I felt motivated. I joked with my critique partners that it had become a“literary grudge f**k” for me.
My lowest point came one week after my 35th birthday this past August 2009. We were waiting for a decision on a submission that seemed like a done deal. Something good was about to happen.
Within the same 24-hour period, a nerve test revealed that my recent elbow surgery had failed, my elderly dog developed a severe vestibular condition and couldn’t walk, and my younger dog collapsed from an undetected bleeding tumor and had to be put down. My pets have always been my babies, so this was a particularly hard blow.
Then Michelle called. The book deal wasn’t going to happen.
I expected to collapse. I didn’t. Oddly enough, it was the thing I needed to push me from being horribly sad to just horribly pissed off. “Literary grudge f**k,” indeed.
Despite the setback, Michelle still believed in me and wanted to keep fighting. Plenty of agents would drop a client who wasn’t earning her keep, so the fact that Michelle wouldn’t consider giving up is a big part of the reason I kept going. The support of my family, critique partners, and beta readers helped too.
I wrote a brand new book. Michelle suggested offering it on an exclusive basis to Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks – an editor who’d come very close to buying my previous romantic comedy, and a publishing house we agreed would be a good fit.
Over the next few months, there was a lot of back-and-forth with Deb as we brainstormed marketing hooks and titles and plotted future books. One of the best things about Sourcebooks is that they believe in building an author’s career for the long-term. They want authors with multiple book ideas and a commitment to growing a readership.
When Michelle called me last Thursday to say they were offering us a three-book deal, I was thrilled. Best of all, two of the three books are already written. One of them, in fact, is a book Sourcebooks rejected a year ago when we just couldn’t get the marketing hook right.
And two of the three books began with those partial manuscripts my first agent just wasn’t interested in.
So you see, there is a happy ending. But it’s a damn long story. Would I have preferred things to go more smoothly? Hell, yes. But sometimes you have to experience some bumps in order to appreciate smooth sailing when it comes along.
I’m not sure I would have realized how amazing Michelle is if it weren’t for my experience with my first agent.
And I’m not sure I would have appreciated this book deal quite as much if it had dropped effortlessly into my lap.