Welcome to the second installment of my “path to published.” If you missed part one, you can find it here. I talk about brainstorming, drafting for a full year, collaborating with others, querying too soon, and one Big Bad Temptation.
To summarize, I started drafting in November 2013, and we pick up here in fall 2015, right after I turned down an offer from a new indie publisher.
5. Repeat steps 2 (revising) and 3 (querying) FOREVER
After not signing that first publishing contract, I didn’t give up! I continued revising my manuscript and strategically sending it out to agents. My writing style evolved and strengthened (I think) and my story got sharper. At one point, the manuscript was close to 120K words (way too long), but I learned how to cut superfluous language and plot and characters (final product is 98K words. Still long!).
In spring of 2016 I made the decision to hire a professional editor. My husband and I agreed that it was worth a little investment to see if I could take this manuscript to the next level with some focused, professional assistance. I spent some of my adjunct professor money (extra income—I have a full-time job, too) and it was the BEST decision. By the time I had incorporated editor feedback in fall 2016, I felt really good about the manuscript.
But I still didn’t get an agent! I collected more rejections and more feedback. By this time, I was getting many partial and full requests. My feedback started to change from “it’s just not there yet” to “this doesn’t quite fit with what I’m looking for right now.” Some agents said the story felt too close to home (Well, in 2013 when I started I didn’t know we’d have an egomaniac taking over the White House. Sigh). I continued tinkering, but I also had one completed women’s fiction manuscript by now, and was brainstorming a traditional YA fantasy novel. If my first manuscript was tricky to place for straddling genre lines, my next one would fit into a category!
6. Twitter contests
Ever since I had a completed first draft, I started dabbling in Twitter contests. Most of these are pitch “contests” where you tweet a pitch of your novel in 140 characters (because that’s what the limit was until recently!) with the contest and genre hashtags. Interested agents and publishers favorite pitches they would like to see. Then you get to query those agents/publishers (if you wish) and know that they’re already somewhat interested in your story. This is actually how I got connected with that indie pub I ran away from, but I also connected with some awesome agents and publishers—some I already knew of, and some that were happy discoveries!
These contests were more practice in rejection (sometimes my pitch didn’t get any favorites) and in positive reinforcement (sometimes my pitch was super popular!).
I also entered several contests where you compete for an experienced mentor (like #pitchwars!). These have become extremely competitive, so it’s mostly an exercise in accepting rejection. But it’s also where I connected with some amazing mentors—these folks tweet out advice and encouragement to everyone! Sometimes a rejection was accompanied by excellent feedback, too.
I actually got into one Twitter contest! In spring 2017, I was selected in a query + first 250 words contest called Query Kombat. This means I got tons of contestant and judge feedback on my query + 250. I was knocked out in the first round by a fierce competitor, but my mentor chose me as his save (!!!) so I went to the agent round. I had multiple full and partial requests from agents, including some top tier agents I’ve admired a long time. Ultimately, those agents each sent thoughtful rejection letters, but it was another amazing learning experience.
On July 12, 2017 I participated in #pit2pub, a Twitter pitch contest. One of my pitch tweets was favorited by an Evernight Teen editor and the Evernight Teen pub account. I did some basic research and immediately liked what I learned about Evernight Teen (in fact, I had heard of them a few times before). I submitted my query, which included the full manuscript. One month later, I had the email that Evernight Teen wanted to publish my story!
7. (Lucky Number Seven)—Working with my Publisher!
I did more research. I loved that Evernight published works that are a bit edgier, and maybe didn’t fall neatly into genre categories. That’s my manuscript. They promptly sent over a contract, and it was succinct and CLEAR! I could see from their various publishing divisions and track record that this group knew what they were doing. (Plus, I loved all the cover art.)
Bottom line: it just felt right. A month and a half shy of 4 years after starting this journey, I signed a publishing contract.
Working with Evernight Teen was speedy and efficient. I waited a few weeks to get assigned an editor and get her feedback. Then I found myself on my first not-self-imposed writing deadline: I had two weeks to review the edits and send back the document. I really connected with this feedback, and totally appreciated the expert edits. It was a joy to do these revisions. A short time later, it was time for my second and final round of edits. In the meantime, I loved the first version of the cover design they sent me, and the marketing packet was super clear and helpful.
Phew! Looking back on this process highlights for me what a journey this was. I’m proud of the work I put in, and how it turned out.
Could this story be better? Absolutely. I don’t know that I will ever feel completely “done” with a manuscript. That’s how I feel about the plays I direct, too. There could always be tweaks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not 100% happy and proud on opening night.
Did I get a literary agent and a traditional publishing deal? No. Not yet, anyway! And I’m okay with that. I know that this is the right fit for this story, and I’m learning so much by being an indie author. I’m not ready yet for the traditional situation, and an agent that will be counting on me. But I’m still going to work hard at my craft—and now I have a platform to build!—and we’ll see what’s in store for my next journey.