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Friends, family, and other writers have been asking me how I got ELECTED published (or more correctly, on the road to being published because it won’t be released until April 2014). I thought I’d share the story here, including all the ups and downs–the full rollercoaster of putting a book out there for others to read.
I’ve always liked writing. My parents read to me like it was a religion. Not only did we sit on my bed at night to pour through a few books, but I started making up my own stories before I could read or write. The first “book” I actually wrote myself was about a rainbow, and I think it was one page long. I penned it in first grade while antiquing with my parents. I sat in the back seat of the car, trying to rid the boredom of being an only child on a long road trip. My teachers, Mrs. Burke and Ms. Novia, asked me to read it aloud in class the following week, and since then I’ve always somewhat had an itch to write.
I wrote short stories continuously over the years, never thinking I’d have the patience and stamina to write a whole novel. Then one day my wonderful husband got into MBA school. I was extremely excited for him. We were newly married, and we both had big aspirations for our careers. So I was super-encouraging when it came to him getting a higher education. But with him working full-time, travelling for work, and going to school all at the same time, when he was home, he was almost always studying. I wanted something to do with him that was quiet and on my own computer, so at least we could be doing something together. I started writing my first novel, GIRL CLASSIFED, while he read about statistics for school. I only worked on it when he studied, and it took me all the way through his three years of part-time MBA school. When he graduated, I simultaneously finished the book.
I queried a few agents with that book. Some responded positively, but no one offered to represent the work. Meanwhile I met Jodi Picoult at a book signing (author of MY SISTER’S KEEPER). I asked her how she got her first book published, and she told me that, at first, she didn’t. She said no one wanted to publish the first book she ever wrote, so she went ahead and wrote a second one. That one took off and launched her career. I was still so attached to GIRL CLASSIFIED and wanted to focus solely on that book, but I couldn’t get her advice completely out of my head.
Years later, I was pregnant and about to go on maternity leave. I like to stay busy and worried that I wouldn’t adjust well to the confines of being at home on leave during the winter months. People warned me that I’d be more than busy taking care of the baby, and I took their word for it. But when my first daughter was born, she miraculously slept seventeen hours a day. Some at night and some during daylight. That left me with an inordinate amount of time at home without much to do. I woke up one morning with the whole idea for ELECTED in my head, and I immediately started outlining the novel. This time the first draft only took me a year to write.
I got in touch with a friend from high school who was part of a writing critique group and submitted ELECTED to those ladies for review. As I wrote, they edited and critiqued it. When I finished the first draft, I stupidly thought to myself: Well, it’s been reviewed once so it’s good to go! I’ll start sending it out to be published right away! My enthusiasm is a great tool most of the time, but in this instance I misfired. I started sending ELECTED to agents immediately, before I’d even done a full read-through of the first draft! I look back now and am embarrased at what I sent those first agents. They were mostly very nice, and some did request the full manuscript, even back then, which is in itself an accomplishment. But no one offered representation.
During the months when I first queried agents, I also read a few books on the topic of publishing in the young adult genre. One book talked about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I looked at their website and found out that one of my friends from the critique group was part of the society too. I signed up immediately and attended the regional MD/DC/VA and annual LA conferences. Through SCBWI, I became more professional in my entre to the industry. I learned the do’s and dont’s of query letters (there are a lot of mistakes I made at the beginning), and I began making contacts. There are a few ways to obtain literary agents. You either know one already, you get spotted by one at a conference, or you cold call via query letters. Beyond SCBWI I had absolutely no connections in the publishing industry. And even though I was spunky and talked to a few agents at the conferences, my route to sucess was through the latter option.
From the time I first started querying, when I really didn’t know what I was doing, to the time I amped up my writing skills and got signed, I contacted 82 agents! When I tell people that number, they’re always surprised. They think it signifies inordinate persistance. I never thought of it that way, but I guess that’s more querying than others try. I just thought I’d keep refining my query letter and manuscript until I learned how to do it right–as long as it took. Also, it’s extremely hard to find an agent. That’s why when writers do link up with one, you’ll hear us holler and hoot from miles away. We post it on facebook, twitter it, etc. Someone likened finding an agent with finding a husband. Same difficulty and time required!
Low and behold…in the middle of all this, I got an offer from an actual publisher. Imagine my elation–the whole process was offered to me on a silver platter. Too good to be true, right? Absolutely. The publisher who I’d inadvertantly contacted and who’d offered to print my book turned out to be sort of a sham. It was a real company that wasn’t asking for money from me, but online reviews warned against this publisher. Supposedly, this shop didn’t send accurate royalty checks and held onto the rights for an absurb amount of time (7 yrs). So I turned down the offer, all the while wondering if that was all I’d ever get.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. After I wisened up about querying and learned from the professional conferences, I started getting positive results. Of the last set of agents I contacted, three asked for the full manuscript. And Sara D’Emic, my current agent, asked to sign. That first email she sent me “wanting to talk about possible representation” knocked my socks off. I called my husband and parents screaming. They didn’t want me to get my hopes up and didn’t realize that such an email from an agent pretty much signified signing a contract. (I’d learned as much through my education online and at SCBWI.) So I was thrilled. But I still didn’t want to mess up the first phone conversation with her. I labored over what to say on the phone, wrote a list of questions, etc. I was even scared that if she ever found out how many agents I’d contacted, she’d back out.
But the initial conversation went great. I ducked out of work to take the phone call from my car, jotting down notes over the steering wheel as I sat in the hot, blacktop parking lot. She was a developmental agent, meaning she wouldn’t just put my book out there to publishers without working on edits with me first. She had lots of suggestions specifically about enhancing Griffin’s character, solidifying Aloy and Vienne’s sexual preferences, cutting out large scenes that slowed down the book, etc. Her suggested edits are the most intensive I’ve done to-date.
A friend told me that when you’re writing a book, you write for yourself. When you decide to publish the novel, it becomes not only your work but that of your agent, editor, etc. It’s not exclusively your own art anymore. That was fine with me because I wanted to learn more about the business and soak in all of the suggestions. After being involved with a critique group, my skin was thick. I could take the critisms and edits without batting an eye.
Then came the process of submitting ELECTED to various publishers. Sara submitted the manuscript mostly to small independant presses because I am a debut author, and she didn’t want me to get lost in the shuffle. Of course, I’d always secretly wished for a six figure advance from one of the big six publishing companies, but I was willing to trust her judgement. A bunch of the small presses asked for the full manuscript, a few came back with suggested edits before they’d sign us, and one came back with a flat-out YES!
Entranced Publishing is a relatively new e and audio book publisher and is known to be author-friendly. For example, if they’re not going to use certain rights (print, etc.) they let the author keep them. Sara reviewed the contract and agreed that the contract was legit. I also had two lawyer friends (the best man in our wedding and a college roommate of mine) review the legalese. Sara and I had a productive first conference call with Entranced’s managing editor, and we agreed that week to sign.
The rest is happening right now. So far, I’ve been assigned a cover artist, a publicist, and an editor. There will be three rounds of edits with the editor, and we’ve finished one round so far—the broad developmental edits. Then there will be a period of six months before the book is released when ELECTED’s advanced reader copies (ARCs) are sent to bloggers, established authors, and reviewers to receive endorsements, etc.
Finally, the book will be released in April 2014, just in time for Earth Day since ELECTED is about global warming and taking care of the planet!
I’ll send out more information on how the book will be released, the launch party, etc. Thank you to everyone who helped ELECTED go forward to-date: My parents, Jason, Ron my marketing guru who made this website, Leif and Heather my lawyer friends, Vivian, Clif, Jon, Kellye, Mo, and Stephanie my writer critiquers, Nancy, Deb, and Diana for specifics on the publishing process, and all of my close friends who read sections of the book long ago before any of the edits ensued. Of course big thanks to Sara D’Emic and the crew at Entranced including my editor Julie!
As in the words of ELECTED’s main character Aloy, “A NEW DAY TO YOU!”
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