A lot of people think that creative success comes from talent. This might be partially true, but folks often overlook the fact that there is one component to success that is even more important than talent—perseverance.
No one told me this when I finished my first novel. I had heard from peers and professors that I was a “talented writer.” I was proud of the fact that I could craft a nice sentence and an engaging story. But I still had a lot to learn about the publishing business—especially that, even though people may have seen talent in me, it didn’t grant my manuscripts a free pass onto the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
Seasoned writers know this. In fact, all artists who are trying to pursue their dream quickly become aware of the turmoil they signed up for as they attempt to claim the title of “professional.” A lot of people knew I was pursuing writing in school, and I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “So when is your book coming out?”
Don’t get me wrong—finishing that first novel is a huge accomplishment. But writing it is a lot like going through high school. It’s painful, awkward, lasts years, and sucks away a part of your soul. And when you’re finally done, you’re not even close to being successful.
I finally was successful after four years of attempting to get published. Four years isn’t a terrible amount of time on a large scale, but what happened during those four years was enough to make me often regret why I had chosen such a torturous thing to want to be successful in. Hopefully, my journey proves that, while talent is nice, real success comes from not giving up.
April 2009: I finish my very first novel. I’m stupidly proud of this thing. Who can say that they finished an entire book in their first twenty years of life? Not many. I think that the hard part is over. I’ve slaved over 90,000 words. I’ve been working on this thing since I was fifteen. I deserve a reward.
The internet tells me I need a literary agent. Editors don’t want to receive slush from a writer like me. They are far too busy for that and will only look at work from writers who are validated by a professional. I write a query letter—the letter used to pitch a book to agents. I think it sounds good—my book is unique, so of course people will want to read it, right?
May 2009: My first manuscript request! The agent seems really excited to read it. A couple weeks later I get another request, so I start counting down the days until one of them offers me representation.
June 2009: My first manuscript rejection. A few days later, I get the second rejection. I revenge query, sending out letters to every agent I can find that could possibly be interested in my book.
September 2009: Some requests, TONS of rejections. No cigar. The feedback: the beginning of my book isn’t engaging enough. I decide to rewrite the whole thing.
January 2010: I start querying the rewrite. I get more agent interest this time. I hope that this is my break.
April 2010: The rejections flow in. I start working on a new project.
July 2010: I’m finished with revisions on the new project and query for a third time. Lots of interest out the gate, but I know from experience that this doesn’t mean someone will love it enough to represent me.
One agent emails me to tell me she likes the book, but thinks it needs major revisions. She wants to give me exclusive notes so I can submit to her again, but I’m not allowed to query any other agents. I say yes.
September 2010: Agent doesn’t like the revision. She gives me more notes. I try again.
Halloween 2010: Agent calls me! She loves the second revision and wants to represent me! Finally, validation!
January 2011: With the contract signed and final revisions finished, agent submits my manuscript to five editors.
February 2011: First responses come in. The editors seem to like it, but not enough to buy the book.
May 2011: All editors respond with rejections. Agent lets me know that she’s transferring to a new agency, so we won’t be able to submit the book again until October. I tell her that I’m rewriting (again) my first book, and if we have to wait that long, than I would rather polish up the old book and send that one to editors.
October 2011: Agent is finally settled in with her new agency, but she doesn’t think the manuscript is ready for submission. In fact, it needs an extreme overhaul. Back to the drawing board.
January 2012: Manuscript is finally ready. Agent chooses editors and sends the manuscript to them.
Spring 2012: Radio silence.
May 2012: First responses come in. All rejections. None of them seem to really like the book at all. I start working on a third project.
July 2012: All responses come in. Agent thinks we need to revise the book again but doesn’t know how. I fight to send it on a second round of submission.
Agent preps second round.
September 2012: Responses come in. They aren’t positive.
October 2012: Unsure of whether or not I’m on the right path, I separate with my agent and finish revisions on my third project. It’s been three and a half years since I started this process, and two years since I signed with my agent. I’m nervous about being at square one again. Querying sucks, the end.
I send my first batch of query letters to new agents.
Thirteen minutes later, I get a request from Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I send her the manuscript.
Halloween 2012: What is it with Halloween and agents?? Kathleen calls me. She wants to represent me! I feel really good about this. She tells me her ideas for revisions for my book, THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE. I love them.
November 2012: After the contract is signed, I start revisions.
May 2013: I finish revisions. Kathleen preps the pitch letter and list of editors. She submits my manuscript to them.
I graduate with my MFA!
Two weeks later, I learn that Jesse Feldman at Penguin is interested in the manuscript and wants to talk with me on the phone. We talk about the industry, the genre, marketing, and ideas for the sequel. She’s trying to gauge who I am as a writer and author, and how much I’m willing to market myself.
One week later, Jesse makes an offer on my book. I’m going to be published.
This is how my New Adult thriller, THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE, was acquired by Penguin. But as you can see, the actual acquisition process of THAT book was such a small part of the journey. I wrote three different books that I revised multiple times before I got my book deal. Most of my rejections didn’t have to do with the fact that I couldn’t write, just that the agent or editor didn’t connect with that story. Someone else would. I just had to figure out which book, and which someone.
What’s next? I wish I could tell you that it’s buying a secluded multi-story cabin somewhere in the wilderness and sitting on my huge pile of book money as I write the next one. But, as all artists know, often we aren’t so lucky. I’ll find a day job to pay the bills and hopefully figure out some way to promote this bad boy before its release. Most writers have to work pretty freaking hard to pursue their dreams.
But is it worth it?
I get to share my work with the world. Of course it’s worth it.