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Why You Should Have the Tenacity of a Weed as a Writer

Debut author, Corabel Shofner, explains why she believes it took her 64 years to become a traditionally published author, and why writers should never give up.

Readers ask me, “How long did it take you to write your book?” I am not being glib when I answer “64 years,” because, in reality, Almost Paradise is the result of every single day of my life.

You might want to know how long it took from first page to last, but that is also a difficult question. I began this book many years ago and “put it in the drawer” so to speak. (Make no mistake, my drawers are full of books and stories.) So the answer to that question might be as much as 15 years.

This guest post is byCorabel Shofner. Shofner is a wife, mother, attorney, and author. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature and was on Law Review at Vanderbilt University School of Law. Her shorter work has appeared or is forthcoming in Willow Review, Word Riot, Habersham Review, Hawai'i Review, Sou'wester, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and Xavier Review. Her middle grade novel, ALMOST PARADISE, was released in July 2017.

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Maybe you want to know how long I actually sat at the keyboard, or whether I write every day, or set word count goals. I don’t know. The fact is writers can be fast, slow, or entirely inconsistent, I am all of the above. I cannot in good conscience recommend my way to anyone. I am often overwhelmed by family and work. I get distracted by shiny objects. I ride a roller coaster, give up loudly only to return again and again. My path is a corkscrew. But that is me. I am a writer.

About four years ago, as an empty-nester and recovering parent, I spent the summer hiking every mountain in western North Carolina. I wasn’t writing at the time, but that changed when I received a bizarre and hateful letter from a distant cousin. The floodgates opened and out poured dozens of essays about my wrong-headed relatives—and I have plenty. I decided to rejoin my writers’ group of 20-plus years. I sketched out yet another novel, but realized that I wanted to revisit Ruby Clyde—the previous title for Almost Paradise.

Around that time I decided to get serious about publishing a novel. Some find it extremely easy to get published, others (and many of these are good writers) find it impossible. I think my story is about normal. When I sold my book in 2015, many people asked me how I did it, how could they do it, and could I do it for them. I remember having those same questions myself, but I always failed when I flubbed around with friends’ agents. I began to believe that the right agent for me would find me in the “slush pile.”

I already knew that a writer needs an agent, and then the agent finds an editor. But so much had changed since the last time I put my toe in the water. The digital world had taken over. I had much to learn. Approaching people by email is much easier than by snail mail, but because it is easier the numbers, are much higher. Everybody is doing it.

Here’s how I did it:

1. Preparing the manuscript and query letter, ten months:

I reworked my novel with my writers’ group, trusted friends, and an independent editor. I did everything I could to send out my best work.

I learned how to write the wicked query letter.

I used Query Tracker to research and organize my submissions to agents. My independent editor told me to submit to 100 agents before giving up.

2. Submitting to agents, four months:

I began submitting queries to agents in small batches. (Do not send all 100, because you might need to change your approach.) Follow their submission guidelines. Each agent is different. Spell their names correctly.

Fasten your seatbelt for turbulence. Rejection comes in many forms. Some will ignore you. Some will reject with or without comment. More exciting will be those who ask to read more of the novel. But beware: You might still be rejected. You never know exactly where you stand at this stage. Like the fog of war, I call this the fog of submissions.

I had several “plates on sticks” when Elizabeth Copps called me. After speaking with her for a short time, I knew that she was the one: She understood me and my book. All you need, in the end, is one agent who wants to fight for your book.

3. Editing with the agent, six months:

I signed and reworked my book with Elizabeth and the team at Maria Carvainis, getting it ready for submission to editors. This took six months, primarily because Elizabeth knew to wait until September when editors return from their summer escapes. Submission began. I got busy with other writing.

4. Submitting to editors, three months:

While Elizabeth worked, I pretended I didn’t care. I got a nibble from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the first round of submissions.

5. Communicating with Editors, four months:

We began talking with two excellent editors. They didn’t make an offer immediately. After several conversations, my book went “up” to acquisitions without a re-write, but it was rejected. There was a problem with the death penalty. I was willing to make the changes, but I didn’t think it was possible. So I got in bed and put a pillow over my head until I received the most spectacular email from my son, Alex, which you can read here. I made the proposed changes to Ruby Clyde and they bought it.

6. The Call, one minute:

I got the Call. Cue dancing, squealing, hugging, and crying in Nashville.

In New York City, Alex ran to the liquor store and chose the bottles that came closest to Corabel Shofner & Ruby Clyde and headed over to Rockefeller Center to celebrate.

Korbel, Shaffner, Ruby and . . . no Clyde wine available, sorry.

So the question remains, did it take 64 years, 15 years, or 2 years? Does it matter? It is not as if this book is all I did during that time. I was living my life.

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