Friday, April 16, 2010

The Journey

I'm down to a mere hours now before my first big book signing, and although the book has been out a few months already, this feels like it's the biggest moment since I started this journey towards publication. There are about 75 people that I know will be coming, along with a whole host of others that I don't. There are confirmed 50 that are coming to the party tomorrow night, and still some up in the air (and some grounded, literally, in Europe by volcanic ash).

When I woke up this morning I started thinking about what a long road it's been, and how this all started. And how far it's come. My life is not the same as it was at the beginning, and not just because I've written a book.

Two and a half years ago I knew nothing about publishing. I'd nearly finished my first book, one which I'd started two years prior to that, began with a vague outline and strong characters and then ended up pantsing the rest with dubious results. But as I neared the end of writing, I began thinking, "What now?" How in the world do you go about getting published?

So I did what any eager writer does.... I googled. Specifically I think I googled, "How to get published."  The first entry that came up was something called a blog (I'd never heard of one before) written by someone named "Miss Snark."  I figured I'd skip over and mosey through it briefly, find my answer, and be on my way.

This is the moment I found the addictiveness of blogging. I think it's also where I learned what voice meant in the writing world. Not because Miss Snark wrote what it was, but because she had such a strong one.

I never got back to my google list. I spent the better part of three weeks staying up until two in the morning reading through every one of her archived posts, along with every one of the comments. If you want to get published, everything you need is there. If you don't want to get published, but you enjoy an enthralling diversion, she's good for that too.

Through her I learned about query letters and agents and revisions. I found Janet Reid, Jessica Faust, and Nathan Bransford, the blogging agents that would become my staples over the next year. When I started to submit, these are the first three I chose. Within three days all three would request my manuscript.

Those would also be my first three rejections.

Instead of pressing on, I stopped to look at what I'd written in light of what the agents said (mostly that it was too slow a start), and decided to rewrite the beginning. So I rewrote. Then I rewrote some more. Which necessitated rewriting some of the middle stuff. Then the beginning had to be changed again. Finally it all got so muddied and I couldn't tell if any of them were better or just different, and I put the book away.

Then I started on Some Kind of Normal. This one took me six months to write, mostly because my fabulous writing partner and fellow author Jen Blom challenged me to a word-a-thon. In the summer of 2008 we both finished. I waited a few weeks to let the book sit, take a vacation, have crit partners read it, and then started back in September with the revising. By the end of October 2008 I was ready to query.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry was imploding with the rest of the economy, and whole publishing houses were completely suspending acquisitions. Some agents, likewise, began to stop taking queries. It was a rough time to break into the industry, I reasoned that, like other agents said, a good book is still a good book, and it will sell no matter what the economy.

I sent out over 100 queries over the next five months. Every time a rejection came in, I sent another out. Unless an agent specifically said not to, I sent the first five pages with my query. I knew this might cut down on requests, since an agent would be able to get a feel for the voice and writing before requesting, but I reasoned that would be less disappointment down the line.  I had 15 or 16 fulls requested out of that, and a number of partials that turned into fulls.

There were some high hopes in there. I received some tremendous feedback. Nearly every agent said they liked the story and thought my writing was very good. Two said they weren't taking debut authors in this environment because no one would buy them. Many said they just didn't know how to market  it to an editor. One clearly didn't like the Southern voice, which stumped me a bit because I'd send the first five pages to get that hurdle out of the way.

I sent my last query in February of 2009. I was done. I still had a lot out and not responded to, but I was done with the highs and lows, and ready to move on. Over the next few months a few more requests trickled in, and the first week of June I got the rejection to my last outstanding full. I'd lie if I said I wasn't heartbroken.

I decided to take a break from writing. I'd take the summer off at the least.

Then, out of nowhere, an author wrote me and said his publisher had seen my pitch on a forum next to a comment of his, and they were very intrigued. They wanted me to send on a proposal package. I sent my synopsis, first 50 pages, and a market analysis, and days later they sent me a contract.

It wasn't easy going a path that diverged from the mighty Miss Snark's path. No agent. Small publisher.

I hemmed and hawed. I had long conversations with the owner of NorLights. I had long conversations with my father, who is a contract-specialist lawyer. I had long emails with an agent I've kept in touch with who was still very interested in representing me on a different project than Some Kind of Normal. I had long conversations with my husband, myself, and God. It wasn't a quick or easy decision.

What I learned in all this is that there are lots of ways to get published. There are lots of valid ways to get published. And no one should tell you there is only one right way, or only one legitimate way. And sometimes the path you choose is not the path that chooses you.

I now have a book that is sitting on bookstore shelves.  A book people who I don't know are buying and reading. I didn't pay to have the book edited, published or marketed, and I get royalties. I have a book that is being considered for a national book club, a book that has been read and endorsed by people high in the medical field as well as other authors. I have a book that has landed on the Amazon bestseller list with Jodi Picoult and Michael Crichton.

I have a book.

And sometimes, like today, after all this time, I marvel at that. The ups and downs, the depression and elation, the determination and the frustration....

I have a book.

It's been a heck of a journey.

I hope this is only the beginning.


  1. Wow! What an incredible post! Don't need a guest blog after that. I can just link to it :)

    I'm amazed by your journey. Can't believe you wrote it so quickly. Also can't believe it hit the shelves so soon after the contract. (My PB won't be out till fall 2012!)

    Thanks so much for sharing all the details with us! FASCINATING!

  2. Oh I have LOVED reading this! THank you so much! You've given me some much needed hope right now. I think I've only queried about 10-15 and am already frustrated thinking I stink as a writer. I will remember your words. And please write about your bookselling event!

  3. Thanks for sharing your journey. It's so encouraging to hear stories of hope and success. :)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing all this! I don't think I've ever heard your whole story, from start to finish. How amazing to see how you work was eventually discovered!

    Hope the book signing is an affirmation of the long career ahead of you.

  5. Oh! What an amazing journey. So, so inspirational. We're so glad to know you Heidi!

  6. Thanks for posting this, Heidi. I loved it. You are a perfect example of there being more than one way. I loved your book. I can't wait to hear about your signing.

  7. Very inspirational! I sometimes wonder where I am on the journey. But I realize even if I am only starting, staying on the road will lead to the destination. I'm glad you shared your road.

    I look forward to reading about your event!

  8. What a great post. I loved reading about your journey.

    The line I loved most: sometimes the path you choose is not the path that chooses you.

    Good luck with your signing tonight, although I don't think you need it because I'm sure it will be a great success.

  9. You can't leave us hanging, where are the pictures, the recap.

  10. This is my first visit to your blog, I found your post fascinating and so glad you decided to share it. I believe too many writers think the agent path to publication is the only right one, and you have proved otherwise. Yes, it's a small press but it looks like a good one, and you have the results to show it.

    May you have every success with your exciting writing career!


  11. Wow, what an awesome story! I'm so glad you shared it because it will help keep me encouraged during my own wild ride (which I hope to embark on in the near future).

    Thanks for the link to Miss Snark's site, too. I found myself reading through three of her posts before I remembered I was supposed to be reading YOUR blog and I only had fifteen minutes of free time left! ;o)