If you’re a loyal reader of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and the print version of Guide to Literary Agents, then you we’ve consistently featured debut authors. These writers share their stories of how they broke out, how they found their agent, what they did right, what they’d do over again, and more.
I’ll be sharing a similar feature on the Guide to Literary Agents blog moving forward. I think it’s instructive for writers to feel like they’re part of this community, hearing others’ stories—after all, no two stories are the same.
Writes From: Ohio.
Pre-Book: It took me eleven years to get a publishing contract, so pre-book was spent querying agents and trying not to lose my mind on the journey to publication.
Time Frame: I wrote the novel during the summer I was 28. It took me a month to write it. That may seem quick, but on average, for all of the eight novels I have written thus far, it takes me a month to lay the bones of a story down. One novel took me eight days. When I say it’s a quick process to lay the bones down, you have to understand that for me, writing a book is like building a body. You lay your bones down, and then you began to build up the layers of tissue, muscle, and skin in your drafting stages. Then you add the cosmetic features, like freckles and moles, fingernails, and all those particular swirls of fingerprints. These other layers can take longer as you’re drafting through. In addition, the quality control comes during the cosmetic stages when you read the novel a million times to make sure everything is as it should be.
Enter the Agent: I am represented by Heather Karpas of ICM Partners. The novel was initially sold by an agency I had in London. I’ve bounced around with agencies. It took me about 5-7 years to get my first agent. Finding an agent is a process all unto itself. Sometimes the first agent you get is not the agent you will always have. The goal is to find the best place to nurture your career and to work with an agent who is passionate about what you’re writing.
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Biggest Surprise: One of the biggest surprises would be how long it takes to move a book through a publishing house after the offer of contract. On average, it takes two years. In today’s fast-paced world, publishing still moves at a very traditional, snail pace, unfortunately. I sold The Summer that Melted Everything to St. Martin’s Press when I was twenty-nine and didn’t see it on the shelf until I was thirty-one. You must have patience in this business if you are to survive with any sanity.
What I Did Right: What I did to the best of my ability was writing the novel. There are lots of things on the publishing side that are out of the author’s hands, but writing the novel is something that we as authors have the toolset to do. It’s about delivering to the page, the characters’ truths. When you do that, you have been successful.
What I Wish I Would Have Done Differently: I wish I could in some way have shortened that eleven-year publishing journey. But when I look at it now, the struggle to get published has made me the author I am today; someone who knows the value of perseverance, and the value of each and every reader.
Platform: I’ve always been a very private person, and have never had social media. My only online presence is my website. Readers can reach me directly through the website. I personally answer every email sent to me. Even though I am not on social media, readers should feel as if they can connect with me. I also Skype chat with book clubs. It’s the readers who really give an author a career. As authors, it’s the least we can do to share a few words with those readers who support us and support our work.
Advice for Writers: Never give up. While The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything. It was a long eleven-year journey to publication, full of rejection and perseverance. My writing is dark, and I was often told I was risky to publish, which is something I think female literary fiction writers often encounter in contrast to their male counterparts. But if I had given up, I wouldn’t be where I am today with a book on the shelf. So to all the writers out there on the journey to publication, I say, don’t let rejection destroy you. Let rejection empower you.
Next Up: I’ve returned to that very first novel I wrote when I was eighteen. It’s titled The Chaos We’ve Come From. I have eight completed novels, and just like in all of them, in The Chaos We’ve Come From, the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio will be the setting. Ohio is a land that has shaped me as an author. The Chaos We’ve Come From, in particular, is inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age in southern Ohio, in those foothills of the Appalachians, from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s. It feels like a good time to return to these characters and to this story.
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.