Often when we read about an author getting a book deal, we assume they made it quickly and easily. Even if we know deep down that it isn't true, we can still feel discouraged about our own journey because we don't know the details of how the other person got where they are. In hopes that it gives another aspiring author hope and encouragement, I'm going to post my timeline, from when I started writing novels to the day I got "The Big Call." A more-experienced friend once told me it takes an average of 8 years to get published, and what do you know? That's what it took for me.
Here are the details!
2000: I'm working as a newspaper reporter, and starting to feel as if a part of my soul is dying. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed newspaper work and may end up doing it again someday, but I felt a real hunger to work on something that was all my own - something not assigned by an editor and due by close of business, something that had nothing to do with city council meetings or traffic fatalities, something created completely by ME! I sit down one night and start banging out my first novel.
2001 - 2004: I noodle around on that first novel, and slowly (sometimes I think way TOO slowly) realize that it sucks. Big time. This is a shove-it-in-the-back-of-a-drawer-forever book if ever there was one. But while I'm writing that crappy novel, I'm learning how to write a better one. In between bouts of trying to make that first novel something that doesn't suck so badly, I write a very rough draft/outline of RIVAL.
Mid- 2004: My daughter is born, and I feel a renewed drive to write something that DOESN'T suck. I have a good feeling about RIVAL, so I set a daily goal for myself of 500 words or an hour of revision each night after she goes to bed.
Late 2005: I finish RIVAL and start querying agents.
Early 2006: I actually land the first agent I ever queried and assume I've got it made - publishing success is right around the corner! RIVAL goes out to a couple of houses, and then I wait. And wait. In the meantime, I start writing a new book. After a couple of months, my agent tells me she doesn't think RIVAL is going to be my debut novel and encourages me to focus on the new one.
October 2006: I decide my agent and I aren't a good match and terminate the contract. No juicy fireworks there, I just had a feeling I needed to move on. I focus on finishing the new novel because I've sort of given up on RIVAL, too, and figure it'll be easier to snag a new agent with a fresh new ms.
April 2007: I finish the new book and start looking for a new agent.
September 2007: I sign with Holly, who *loves* the new book, and I love how enthusiastic she is! She sends that book out and it gets a lot of interest - one major house even tells us they're going to offer, only to have the book shot down in committee at the last minute. This round doesn't net an offer. I'm disappointed but not crushed because I can see ways to fix what seems to be holding everyone back from going all the way with the new book. In the meantime, Holly decides to send out RIVAL, which I've since revised.
November 2007: We hear from Erica at Harper that she loves the story and my writing. Would I be willing to do some revisions before she takes it to committee? I say sure, because I totally agree with her suggestions for how to make the story better.
January 2008: I turn in my first round of revisions on RIVAL
Spring 2008 (I can't remember the actual month): Erica writes back that while she likes what I did, her committee had some concerns about key aspects of the story. Would I be willing to do another re-write? Again, I think her comments are spot-on, so I forge ahead with a new revision.
August 2008: I turn in my revision, and then wait. By this point, I'm afraid to get my hopes up - I sort of figure I'll be slogging along into infinity.
October 2008: Here's a melodramatic story--my husband takes my daughter out of town so I can spend some time working on an entirely *new* book in peace. I go to my local bookstore to write and while I'm there, I peruse the YA shelves, looking for a new book to buy. And I just can't do it. I can't look at all those other books. I can't think about whether I'll ever see my book up there with them. All I want to do is cry. I'm just so tired of working and waiting. I'm not ready to give up--nowhere close to it. But I am mentally and emotionally exhausted. I go home and bawl for a couple of hours.
Two days later, Holly calls to tell me we have an offer on RIVAL. I sort of bawl some more. I ask her if she's sure it's real this time. She laughs and says yes. But I'm afraid to really believe it until the deal report goes up at Publisher's Marketplace. Sometimes I STILL don't believe it. But the best part about this is knowing that all that time and work wasn't a waste. As aspiring authors, we hear people say that persistence counts and it's easy to think, "yeah right - for everybody else, and not for me." Well, for *this* writer, it turned out to be true. And for everybody out there who's ready to start bawling in a bookstore, I can't tell you WHEN, but if you keep working and trying to improve and don't give up, the chances are good that it will happen for you, too!