The Path to Publication, Part Nine: Never Giving Up

(Photo Courtesy of Robert S. Digby)

Thank you for tuning in to the ninth (and FINAL) installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” (Did you miss my earlier posts? Scroll to the bottom for links to check them out!) 

In The Path to Publication, Parts One through Nine, I recounted my (often unsuccessful) attempts to land a literary agent and make the transition from an aspiring writer into a real-life author. These included writing my first book, getting turned down by a number of literary agents, signing with the wrong agent, watching that book crash and burn, and then getting dropped as that agent's client within the first four and a half months of our contract. I then wrote a new book and made the scary decision to abandon my first book in favor of the second one. This resulted in crippling anxiety, renewed energy, and a very scary email to the agent of my dreams to see if she would be interested in representing my new novel ESSENCE.

Well... Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates is thankfully not a glutton for pain. Just one week after I sent her my manuscript, she sent me this email:

Hi Lisa,

I just wanted to let you know that I finished ESSENCE yesterday on the plane and I loved it... I really loved the voice and the whole creepiness of the failed utopia.

Shall we talk next Thursday when I'm back from my trip?

... Since it's really not a secret that I want to sign you--shall I go ahead and send an agency agreement on so we can discuss it on Thursday? Or do you have other questions and do you want to talk to me on Thursday first?

Looking forward to it!

Best,

Hannah

It would be the understatement of the year to say Hannah's email made my day. So did the agency agreement and our phone call that following Thursday. By June 24, 2012, I was officially Hannah's client. And there was no greater feeling in the entire world.

(Photo Courtesy of United States Navy)

Of course, the signing of Hannah's and my contract was only the beginning of our hard work. But this time, I was more than happy to "do things right" and spend as much time as possible editing and prepping ESSENCE before we began our submissions to potential publishers.

We worked our asses off, actually, and every moment I spent working with Hannah showed me just how off-the-mark my first literary agent had actually been. Hannah was approachable and enthusiastic, and she cared so much about my success and my growth as a writer that she poured everything she had into ESSENCE, too. She encouraged me to work through the book's cult elements time and time again, and she questioned so many aspects of my communities' customs and traditions that I felt the backstories of both groups really come alive under her guidance. 

Most importantly, though, she never prodded, and she never pushed. Instead, she simply inspired me to become a better writer, and she stood beside me and believed in me when I wasn't even sure I believed in myself. For this, I will be eternally, eternally grateful.

Now... This would be a great time to wrap this story and say, "and then they lived happily ever after," but unfortunately, life is not usually like that. And ESSENCE still faced an uphill battle, because even after Hannah and I poured our hearts into edits, we still needed to get a publisher to buy it. And, as we soon learned, this wasn't going to be easy.

We went on submission during the fall/winter of 2012/2013, right in the wake of some huge dystopian hits like THE HUNGER GAMES, DELIRIUM, DIVERGENT, and MATCHED. Publishers were either beginning to tire of the trend, or they were hoping to top it with one last mega-dystopian.

Unfortunately, ESSENCE was neither of these things. It definitely wasn’t fantasy, it wasn’t very speculative… It read more like a YA contemporary than anything else, but it also possessed those dystopian-like, cult qualities. Oh, and it took place in the near-future. Science fiction, maybe?

Hannah understood what I was trying to say, but many of the publishers we initially submitted ESSENCE to didn’t. And the ones who rejected us typically came back and said ESSENCE was either “too dystopian” or it “wasn’t dystopian enough.” Others said they loved it, but they just didn’t know where in the market they should place it.

I was heartbroken. Hannah and I tried finessing the cult elements in one direction or the other, but every time we tried to make significant changes, we found they never sat right with us.

ESSENCE was a story about cults. And it needed to stay a story about cults, even if that meant we could never find a home for it.   

Of course, we did find a home for ESSENCE--an incredible home, to be exact. The fabulous folks at Strange Chemistry are known for pushing boundaries and shaking up the publishing industry with high-quality young adult fiction, and they welcomed us with open arms even when ESSENCE didn’t neatly fit into any of their usual genres.

I still have Hannah's voicemail with the good news saved on my cell phone. And as soon as I read this quote about Strange Chemistry, I knew we had found a perfect fit:

Strange Chemistry is the new kid on the block... From the people behind the award-winning science fiction & fantasy imprint, Angry Robot, we are a fresh, modern imprint bringing quality Young Adult fiction to the marketplace.

So what makes us different? It’s all in the name – Strange Chemistry. Books that feel timeless, bringing you a mix of old and new. Traditional with a twist. Identifiable stories and genres that have been blended together to create something utterly special. Books for readers who are jaded of the same-old, same-old, and ready for something that will challenge them to enter new worlds.

Wow. Strange Chemistry believed in me. And they believed in ESSENCE.

And now... Here I stand--one day before ESSENCE is released in the world--and I look back on this long and crazy journey and realize maybe everything actually does happen for a reason. 

My path to publication hasn't been perfect--or straight-forward, or even clean--but it has been one hell of a journey. And through it all, I have been true to myself. I have told the story I have wanted to tell, and I have aligned myself with people who value me just the way I am.

My journey isn't finished, of course. It never will be. As soon as ESSENCE is released, I will need to brace myself for the inevitability that some readers are going to hate it. They are going to hate me, they are going to hate my flawed and imperfect characters, and they are going to say terrible things about me on Goodreads and Amazon. (These things will probably make me cry, even though I will wish they couldn't.) These strangers aren't going to value or understand me, and they aren't going to know or appreciate everything I have poured into this journey--all the blood and sweat and tears and setbacks and heartbreaks I have survived to even get to this moment.

(I got divorced along the way. Did I mention that? Also quit my job and moved halfway across the country to start my life over again. Lisa v 2.0 is still a work in progress.)

But you know what? That's life. Those readers don't owe me anything, not even their respect. And if they hate ESSENCE--or me--that's beyond my control. I have tried and failed enough in this life to know that you can't please everyone. Instead, you just have to keep your chin up, and you have to keep moving forward. 

And above all else--above everything, everything else--you have to believe in yourself. 

If you don't, who will??

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed my "Path to Publication" series. Thank you so much for spending your time with me these past few weeks, and I wish you the best of luck in your journeys--wherever they may lead you.

In case you missed any of my earlier posts, here they are for you:

Thanks again for visiting.