"Path to Publication" Recap

(Photo Courtesy of mendhak)

Wow, I can't believe my debut novel ESSENCE is out in the world! I also can't believe I have successfully completed my nine-part "Path to Publication" series. I hope you have enjoyed it; it has certainly been a (cathartic) pleasure to write.

In case you missed any of my posts, here is the full list of links and topics. Hopefully they will help convince you to likewise never give up on your dreams.

As Anais Nin once said, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

Have a wonderful day!

The Path to Publication, Part Three: Putting Yourself Out There

(Photo Courtesy of Pedro Simoes)

Writing a query letter is one of the hardest feats you will ever undertake as an aspiring writer. You have just spent the last several months or years of your life writing a complex, complicated and beautiful masterpiece, and now you are expected to distill it down into 250 words? And you are supposed to send it out to perfect strangers to let them JUDGE you?? What sort of sadomasochist came up with THIS idea??

Unfortunately, this is the reality of the game. If you ever want to become a published author, you must be willing to pour your soul and your guts into a query letter. And you must be willing to send this query letter out into the world. This means you must be willing to be ignored, forgotten and rejected by people who don't even know you. How scary is this??

I don't think I fully appreciated the gravity of this until I sent out my first query letter. I had been working on an urban fantasy called THE MERMAID GENE for about a year and a half, and I had been calling myself a writer for most of my life. I had built my entire identity around the fact that "someday, I was going to get a book published," and I had based so many of my personality traits on this promise that I didn't even know what would be left if you took it away from me.

So... I distilled my book into a query letter, and I sent this query letter out to an agent who happened to live in my hometown. Her name was Sara Megibow, and her agency, Nelson Literary Agency, was randomly based in Denver, not New York City. Despite its geographic abnormality, Nelson had amazing reviews, and Sara was known for being a young upstart with a penchant for moving mountains and making huge deals. She sounded awesome.

I polished up my pitch and hit send, and then I sat back and daydreamed about how fun it would be to someday meet her at coffee shops and bookstores downtown. We could talk shop and sip lattes, read the paper and discuss how well my book was selling internationally.

It sounded perfect.

Of course, things didn't work out that way. Instead of receiving a glowing offer of representation--or even a request for pages--from Sara, I received a generic "Dear Author" rejection letter. To make matters worse, Sara is a super quick responder, so I received this rejection within 24 hours.

Whoa. Talk about a mind-blow.

I expected to be disappointed by this rejection, but I wasn't. I was DEVASTATED, because I allowed myself to take it personally. I wondered if I had been pipe-dreaming my talent all these years, and I felt stupid for even thinking I was capable of something so monumental as getting a book picked up by a publisher. I cursed myself for wasting a year and a half of my life on this stupid piece of garbage I had been calling THE MERMAID GENE, and I felt so embarrassed about all the parties and gatherings and get-togethers I'd missed in favor of "working on this book" that I had to bite my tongue to keep from apologizing to everyone who had hosted them. I told my husband I was sorry for prioritizing the book over 'normal' pursuits like hiking or cooking or camping with him, and I retreated to my couch, where I'm almost positive I must have cried at least two or three times.

I also realized this is the point where most people give up.

No, scratch that. I realized most people give up before they ever get to this point, because it's a lot easier to squirrel your book away in a desk somewhere and hide it from the prying eyes of others. It's also easier to never finish your book, because you fear the reality will never live up to your expectations. Finally, it's easiest of all to never start your book, because it's a lot more fun to judge others and talk about what you WOULD do than it is to actually do something yourself.

So... I thought about these things, and I realized I had two choices. I could retreat back to my corner and admire my beautiful, untested manuscript in a closet somewhere, or I could dust myself off and try again.

I tried again.

Only this time, I spent another whole month working on my query letter, and I distilled it down even further before I sent it out to anyone. I followed all the rules I'd heard about writing a strong hook, leading into the body, and ending with an author bio, and I read that baby out loud so many times I'm surprised I didn't start reciting it in my sleep.

Most importantly, I decided I wasn't going to take my next rejection so personally. I was going to wear it like a badge of honor--the way Stephen King always did--and I was going to save every letter to remind myself I DID SOMETHING. I risked something, and I put myself out there despite the potential setbacks. I was strong and brave and courageous, and I was already lapping all those armchair writers who never actually did anything at all except judge everyone around them.

I was a writer. And I wasn't going to let a stupid rejection letter tell me otherwise.

Please tune in next week to learn more about the evolution of my query letter, and please share your query horror stories here. How did you feel when you got your first rejection letter? Did you take it as personally as I did? How did you overcome it?

Guess Who Has a Book Deal?????

My brand-new publishing contract!!!
Nearly two and a half years ago, I crossed paths with Hannah Bowman for the very first time. She wasn't agenting at Liza Dawson Associates yet, and I wasn't writing (well) yet, but our cyber-meeting set in motion of chain of events that has completely altered my life.

We were like ships at the night at first--always one step ahead or behind the other--but our timing finally meshed in June of 2012. She read (and wanted!) my YA near-future thriller ESSENCE, and I couldn't sign that literary contract fast enough. 

Since then, Hannah has been steadfast in her dedication to my writing career. She has challenged and inspired and pushed me to become a better writer, and she has also approached finding a home for ESSENCE with the tenacity and determination of a tidal wave.

She was relentless in her quest to find the perfect fit, and I am the humbled recipient of all her hard work:

Photo Courtesy of Angry Robot Books
ESSENCE has just been acquired by the amazing Amanda Rutter of Strange Chemistry Books in a TWO-BOOK DEAL that will see a summer '14 debut and a summer '15 sequel! (!!!!!!!)

Wow. Just wow. I am literally at a loss for words right now. 

I have so much respect for Amanda and Strange Chemistry, and I'm stunned to even be given shelf space beside her other authors. Check out Strange Chemistry's mission:

From the people behind the award-winning SF & 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.

Um, wow. Have I mentioned I'm speechless?

The next two years of my writing life suddenly have a lot more structure, and I am still so stunned by this development that I don't even think I have wrapped my head around this. The publishing business has done such a great job of teaching me to stay "cautiously optimistic" and "not get my hopes up" that I honestly think my, "You can start freaking out now!" button must be broken.

So... What now? I think I will wander off in a daze and wait for this to (finally) sink in, and I would also like to take a moment to say THANK YOU to every single person who has been with me on this journey. I absolutely couldn't have done this without the love, support and dedication of my friends, family, and of course, the amazing group of fellow writers I have hooked up with over the past few years.

I often say I would have NEVER sat down to write a book had I known how hard this was going to be--but I'm so glad I DIDN'T know, because now I'm invested in the process. And now--finally!--I have reached that pesky light at the end of the tunnel.

(I still can't believe I get to say that!!)

Something is Happening

Photo Courtesy of Carolina Odman
You know that moment right before lightning strikes, when everything is completely still, and the air becomes charged with electricity? You can feel the energy in your bones, and you find yourself holding your breath--because you know some time soon, something is going to happen?

Well, that feeling is the motto of today's post. Because something BIG is right around the corner, and the energy in the air around me is so charged that I'm half-surprised my hair isn't standing on end right now.

I absolutely CANNOT wait to tell you guys what's been brewing, so please come back to visit in the next few days for a VERY exciting announcement. Thrilling things are right on the horizon!!

Ode to my Writing Community

Dreaming up something... (That's me on the left!)
I have always been a writer.

My mother will happily recount the days I scribbled complicated drawings into pre-school binders and recited my stories to anyone and everyone who would listen. She will also recall my enthusiasm for writing in elementary school--those animal-centric stories that nearly always ended with a girl being given a pet horse. She will, however, also remember a shift that took place around my twelfth birthday.

I still wrote during middle school (massive, overly-complicated LORD OF THE RINGS and DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLE rip-offs, mostly), but I did so with a sudden and peculiar sense of shyness. Because I was nearly a teenager now, and writing--particularly fantasy writing--was weird. Dorky. Undesirable.

It was far more socially acceptable to be an athlete, so I dove into that pursuit instead. By high school, my writing days were mostly a memory.

My writerly drought continued through college, but my storytelling pangs never went away. They were always there--looming just on the edge of my psyche, so tentative and fragile they disappeared when I tried to study them too closely.

I finally surrendered to my pangs five years ago, but even then, I kept my strange hobby on the down-low. Most of my good friends (with the exception of my long-time critique partner Allen Walker) didn't even know I had written a novel until I signed with a literary agent.

Why? Looking back on it, I laugh at myself for my self-consciousness. Because here's the thing I've realized since I've embraced my inner writerly-ness: there are TONS of writers out there. Everywhere.

They are AMAZING people, and they have welcomed me and made me part of their community with no questions asked. I have met them through QueryTracker and forums, I have buddied up with them at conferences, I have taken workshops with them, I have consoled them during their setbacks and I have toasted to their successes.

I have become part of something so much bigger than myself, and now I wonder why it took me so long to realize I wasn't alone in this.

So... Thank you. To all of you. For everything.

One more thing: I'm very, very lucky to have you.