I’ve been fantasizing a long time about writing this post…years, eleven to be exact. That’s how long I’ve had publishing on my brain.
I began working on my first book when I was 27 and pregnant with my first child. She just turned sixteen…so there’s some more time reference for you.
To say I’m still processing recent events with regards to my writing career is simply an understatement. As I was trying to explain to my husband last night, sometimes you want something so much, and for so long, that when it finally happens you’re not exactly sure what to make of it. How does a person process elation?
Last month, two days after my 44th birthday, I received an email from my agent who was 30,000 miles up in the air on a return flight from New York.
Subject: Offer/Her Perfect Life
I glanced at those words then quickly looked away. My entire body, in a flood of adrenaline, responded to what they meant before I even clicked the email open.
Before writing Her Perfect Life (my first work of women’s fiction) I wrote six other novels. One mainstream adult and five young adults books.
I had previously been represented by a very good agent at a prestigious NY literary agency. I had been on submission before, with my first young adult novel, and even gone to acquisitions with two publishers. All this is to say, I had been close. So very close to a traditional publishing deal before. For reference, 2010 is when I signed with my first agent, and 2011 is when I first went out on submission. I was 35-36.
But an offer from a big publisher never came in for that book (Ascendant).
When my first agent and I decided it was time to let the dream of Ascendant finding a home with a traditional publisher go–it was hard. I really had believed it was going to happen. And I still had faith. So much faith. So I sent the book out, myself, to several mico-publishers.
I received an offer within 48 hours. This house was tiny. There would be no advance, and the contract looked printed off the internet…honestly, I DIDN’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THAT.
Someone had read my book and wanted to publish it. I couldn’t sign that questionable contract fast enough.
I won’t go into it here, but that experience occupied about two years of my writing life. It wasn’t all bad (ASCENDANT won the Colorado Book Award under that publisher) but it also taught me a ton about micro and very small presses. Enough to know that, with this particular press anyway, there wasn’t any value they were bringing to the table that I couldn’t achieve myself through thoughtful self-publishing.
So when that publisher went belly up in 2015, and my then agent had lukewarm responses to both the second and third YA books I sent to her, I decided to put away my dream of finding a traditional publisher altogether and self publish all my work.
And I did. The entire Ascendant Trilogy, plus two stand alone YA novels, one of which was a finalist for the RWA RITA award in 2017. Just like I didn’t go into all I learned about determining the value-add of a micro-press, I also won’t go into all I learned about self-publishing. Because honestly, I could go on and on for days about everything that is amazing and everything that is really, really hard about doing all of this completely on your own. For the purpose of this post let’s just say: I will never regret everything I learned about publishing by doing it myself; I will always cherish all the amazing connections and friends I made while working to self-publish my work; and I feel grateful to know that, should I ever have to again, I already know how to publish my work well.
But, all that profound experience led me back to a hope I had long ago abandoned.
I wanted to partner with a traditional publisher.
And I was very afraid to want that again.
One of the really great things about self-publishing, of course, is that you have all the control with regards to getting your work out there. The only person that has to say, “yes” is you. And then, once you tell yourself yes, you get to work. A. Lot. Of. Work. A lot of learning. A lot of everything. And that is really great because you have all the agency over that process. It feels good, productive…empowering.
With traditional publishing, you have to wait. You have to be very patient. And you have to realize that maybe they won’t tell you, “yes, we want to publish your book.” And honestly, that can be really hard to take. You will have to learn to take it, obviously. You should also learn, like I did the hard way, to not take it personally. Because this is the straight up business end of your creative process and you are trying to involve other entities who, while also liking and/or loving your work, also need to make money. Period.
So by 2017, armed with very realistic expectations, I realized I was ready to try again. I found a new agent, pitched her a new book, and got to work writing, revising, and getting ready for her to take Her Perfect Life out on submission by the end of 2018.
And on February 26th, two days after my 44th birthday, the offer did come.
Her Perfect Life will be published in the Spring of 2020 by Sourcebooks Landmark. They have also contracted for a second untitled work of women’s fiction.
Am I happy? That word doesn’t even begin to brush the surface of how I feel. I imagine it’s like finishing a marathon. All those hours, weeks, months (for me years) of training in order to cross that line, throw your arms in the air, and finally declare, “I did it!”
I wasn’t the fastest, sometimes I walked, and I was nowhere near the podium of writers who won their first race. But the elation of getting here? That emotion is just as sweet.