The Path to Publication, Part One: Writing That First Book

(Photo Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy)

The seeds of my debut novel ESSENCE were planted during the summer of 2004 while I lived in a tent and worked in Yosemite National Park. However, it would take YEARS for those seeds to sprout. I wouldn't even realize the seeds were planted until the summer of 2009, and it would take me two more years to formalize what that meant.

So what did I do in the meantime? I moved to Big Bear, CA, and I taught kids how to rock climb, how to use a telescope and how to read a compass. I worked for a wilderness society in Big Sur, CA, and I took kids kayaking, whale watching, kayaking and camping. I rescued seals and sea lions in Monterey, CA, and I ran the Education Department at a marine park in Panama City Beach, FL. I got married and moved to Anchorage, AK, and I got a job as a zookeeper and painfully learned how to snowboard on some of the steepest, scariest hills I'd ever seen.

I was almost perfectly happy with this life, but the writerly part of me--the one that had been dormant since middle school--felt a little edgy about this. After all, I'd promised her we would write a book and get it published before we turned 25, and here we were, screwing around at age 27 with no legitimate book in sight.

So, that little writerly part of me started speaking up and demanding I follow through on my promises. But how do you process that? And what do you write about when you're terrified you have nothing to say?

Well... After much thought, I decided to push back my deadline to age 30. And then I decided to do what any meticulous, analytical, and sometimes left-brained person would do. I bought every how-to writing book I could find, and I started analyzing the market for trends. I determined I was going to write the Next Big Thing, and I daydreamed about the riches that would undoubtedly roll in once the masses discovered me.

I looked at successful books like HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, and I realized what they had in common was the modern-day reinvention of a childhood icon.

Everyone knew what wizards and vampires were, after all, but no one expected those wizards and vampires to go to school or hang out outside girls' windows in the Pacific Northwest.

So... I wracked my brain for another cultural icon I could reinvent, and... BAM! I settled on the idea of mermaids. Everyone likes mermaids, right? And they are sexy and mysterious and basically a slam dunk, so WHY WOULDN'T I WRITE A BOOK ABOUT MERMAIDS??

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I do want to give myself a tiny bit of credit here: I came up with a pretty sweet concept for a mermaid book. I set my story in Alaska, and I tied in some super cool behind-the-scenes marine mammal research stuff I was confident most people didn't know anything about. I also poured over those how-to books, and I ended up writing a story I really did dig. It was called THE MERMAID GENE, and it combined science and research, belugas and poaching, alternate pathways of evolution and a super sweet romance that still makes me emotional.

Most importantly, it made me realize I LIKED DOING THIS. My stand-alone book suddenly became an idea for a series of books, and I started planning sequels and spin-offs and marketing and all kinds of good stuff.

I also started researching literary agents. I decided I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, and I knew the only way to do this was to find myself a literary agent who believed in the book as much as I did.

That shouldn't be too hard, right? I mean, I had WRITTEN A BOOK. And this was pretty rare. Most people don't write books, so it's only logical that the ones who have the fortitude to get to THE END should be rewarded with an enthusiastic literary agent and an arsenal of publishers fighting over who gets to give them the most money. Right??

This seemed logical, but I was wrong. Oh, so, so, so, so wrong.

Were you wrong, too? How did you feel the first time you typed THE END on one of your manuscripts? Did you daydream about your appearances on Oprah, too? About all the attractive young Hollywood stars who would be competing to get a role in your movie?

I know I did, but things ended up shaking out for me much, much differently. Stay tuned for a post that explains what happened instead. It's a DOOZY!

  • Want to learn more about THE MERMAID GENE? Click HERE to visit my Pinterest Inspiration Board.