by Christopher Meades
Everyone’s path to publication is different. Mine was a series of winding roads and one big crash along the way.
I had always written. Back in my early twenties, I wrote a 144,000-word gothic novel that was well-intentioned but full of amateurish mistakes. I took a few years off writing to pursue a career in IT and make a good enough living to move out of my parents’ house. Then I wrote another novel, this one much better (and shorter) than the first. But I never sought publication. I suppose I always assumed that publishing was more about who you know than how good your material is. And this is true to a degree. I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks didn’t struggle to find a publisher for his collection of stories. But for every unknown aspiring author out there with a laptop and a dream—it’s not about who you know. It’s about whether you can write something that people want to read.
In 2005, I finally got serious about writing. Following a heart to heart with my wife, where she (justifiably) yelled at me outside a subway station to start taking my writing seriously, I set about getting my work published in literary journals. After a year or two of what felt like sending my short stories out into an infinite black void, I finally started getting acceptances from places like The Fiddlehead, Upstreet and The Potomac Review. And I wrote a quirky, funny novel.
Back in 2009, most large publishers weren’t putting out quirky, funny novels that read like capers. Enter ECW Press: an awesome Canadian small press that agreed to publish my first novel (and two others) without an agent playing matchmaker. I really love the three books I wrote for ECW Press. My editor gave me complete artistic freedom and my second book, The Last Hiccup, even won a national award—the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction.
However, I still longed to publish something with a big publisher. I still wanted to break into the United States, to have my books in Barnes & Noble, to attend Book Expo America in NYC, to compete on the main stage.
And I was ready to do it. With my three-book ECW Press deal complete, I was ready to write the novel that would land me an agent and a new book deal.
Then fate intervened.
One evening I was playing hockey (like all good Canadian kids), when an opposition player struck me with a blindside hit to the head. The world went black and lightning crashed inside my brain. I stumbled off the ice and into the dressing room, only semi-aware that something was really wrong. Ten minutes later, I could barely talk. An hour later, I had trouble walking fifty feet without falling down. I suffered a traumatic brain injury that day, one that would leave me nauseated, disorientated and with a severe stutter. The stutter went away after a year. The chronic headaches and nausea did not. I visited a neuropsychologist who told me that lying down in a dark room would only help me so much. I had to do something constructive with my time.
So I returned to writing. I revisited an old manuscript entitled Hanna Who Fell From The Sky about a young woman trapped in a cloistered society and about to be forced to marry a man she doesn’t love, only to learn that she wasn’t born like a normal girl, that as a baby, she fell from the sky. As it stood, the manuscript was far too short and way too rough for publication. But I knew the story was worth telling and decided to rewrite it from scratch. At first, I could only write for an hour a day before my concussion symptoms overpowered me. Then two hours. Then a little more. After a year passed, I had a finished manuscript in my hands. And not only that, but my symptoms—overwhelming for so long—finally dissipated, then left altogether. My dream wasn’t over quite yet.
I bought The Guide To Literary Agents and started querying. I tracked my submissions and results in a color-coded spreadsheet, followed agents’ guidelines and put my very best foot forward. Along the way, I received an email from a reputable agent in NYC. She wanted to talk. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally going to receive The Call. Only, it wasn’t the call. She loved my idea. But she thought the novel was too literary. Not nearly commercial enough. We made an appointment to brainstorm ideas, and on our second call she suggested that we make my novel more like Twilight.
That was not my vision for my book. And as much as it hurt to admit it, that agent and I just weren’t on the same page. We never spoke again.
But I kept querying and, another near-miss later, I received a response from Anne Bohner from Pen & Ink Literary. We agreed to talk on the phone and within two minutes of speaking to Anne, I knew she was the agent for me. Anne got my book. She loved that it was different. She knew which editors might be interested and she had a plan for how and when to submit it. I told Anne that I needed a week to think about it. And then I did what I was supposed to do. I emailed the other agents that had my manuscript and told them I had an offer of representation. Most got back to me right away. A couple even read my manuscript that evening and one even wanted to talk to me a couple days later. But I’d already made up my mind. Anne was the one. We spoke on the phone and signed a deal later that week.
Three months later, Erika Imranyi of Park Row Books/HarperCollins made an offer and we accepted it. Erika turned out to be a great editor for me. She’s smart and tough and pushed me to make Hanna Who Fell From The Sky better and better until we’d changed about 70% of the manuscript. Finally, Hanna hit stores in September 2017.
Twelve years after I got serious about my writing—and one violent head injury later—I finally had a novel published in the US.
I learned two things from my journey along the way:
1) That everyone out there is fighting some invisible battle that we might not be able to see, so kindness is always the best approach.
2) Never Give Up! No matter what obstacles life puts in front of you.
Christopher Meades is the author of Hanna Who Fell From The Sky (Park Row Books). His novel The Last Hiccup won the 2013 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction and he’s been published in dozens of literary journals. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and two young daughters. Christopher dreams of one day escaping his cubicle and living by the beach. Find him at www.christophermeades.com