Each Wednesday I post a different author's Road to Publication story. Check back each week for each inspiring journey.
This is a post for anyone who needs it. You may not be a writer, but you certainly have dreams. You certainly have something you want to achieve that it sometimes feels is impossible.
For me, it was getting published. My story is a long one. It is one filled with humbling realizations and tater-tots and beer and chocolate salves.
I received my MFA in Fiction in 2002. While I was there my professor's agent read and liked my work, brought it back to New York with him! I was young, naïve. I figured: this is it! I will have an agent and then I'll be published.
Unfortunately, while that agent liked my work, it wasn’t enough to sign me and so it began.
(Truthfully he went crazy and left the business but I will never believe it was my MS that did it.)
I worked for two years on honing and finishing that manuscript. I know that seems like a long time, but I was also working full-time and well, learning to write a novel. It's not something that you just know how to do. I mean, I’m still learning. Anyway, when I felt it was complete I went a-querying. I called in ALL MY FAVORS and sent to agents my writing friends and professors knew and I waited. Rejections rolled in and I sent out more queries and this went on for a year and a half.
I was at the point of giving up.
I had an agent respond that she was interested, that if I did a revision she would consider representing me. It was the closest I had ever come, so I did the revision. A couple of weeks later the happy-email came, she wanted to represent me and we were going on submission right away. I figured this is it! I have an agent. We are sending it to editors. NOW I will be published!
It didn't work out that way, I got a lot of AMAZING editor rejections and if you've gotten rejections like this you know what I mean, ones that called me a "writer to watch" said they "would want to read anything else from me" said I was "talented, a strong, special voice". BUT they all said no. Not this book, maybe the next book. My agent at the time told me to write the next book.
I took a year and a half writing the next book. I kept in touch with my agent all this time: telling her my progress, what the book was about, etc. Finally it was ready. In my head as I was writing I had all the editor comments- make your character more likeable, make the story less harsh. I did this. I wrote a cutesy-story about a sixteen-year-old girl being sent away for the summer to live with her aunt so her parents could work on their marriage.
It was not me, but it was what I thought editors would want. What I thought my agent wanted.
I sent her the first 15 pages per her request. She said once she read that she was sure she would request the rest.
She didn't request the rest. She passed.
As in, I don't like this or you anymore -PASS.
I was devastated: that she could get rid of me so easily, that my work from what she said didn’t have the bite of my first book (the exact thing all the editors said was too much), that I had wasted a year and a half writing something I thought people wanted and it was clear I had been wrong.
Not only that, my lifeline to being published was shut-down. I knew what this meant. If I wanted to be published traditionally, I needed a new agent. It took so long to find the last one. I wasn't sure if I could go through it again.
At least not right away.
So I semi-gave up.
I took a break. I got married. I nursed my seriously f'd up ego. I kept writing, but I got off the submission train for a while. This could have been the time where I really gave up. I could have said, I got an agent, had my chance in front of publishers and it didn't happen. Seeing where I am today, published through Entangled Publishing twice with another book on the way I am sooooo glad I didn't.
But I could have, easily.
Could I have known three years ago that this is where I would be now? No certainly not. But I did know it was where I wanted to be, so I tried again. I picked up that MS the first agent liked so much (the one way back in my MFA days) and went to work rewriting it. COMPLETELY rewriting it. I focused on the kind of writer I knew I wanted to be, not what I thought people wanted me to write. It took eight months. A long time, but what I learned in all my times around was that it needed to be perfect, as perfect as I could make it. You have one shot with an agent or publisher and it needs to be your best shot.
I started querying again, this time it didn't take a year and a half. It took two months. Two months and some edits with new and (current) agent and I was back on submission. I had hope again, but then I was rejected, rejected, rejected. We had been on submission for three months with NO GOOD NEWS.
I wondered if it was ever going to happen. If all those years of trying and failing would be more failing. It wasn’t something I wanted to believe, but I knew my chances were slim and with each new rejection my window to being published was closing.
An editor came back and said she liked it. Liked it enough that she wanted to see a revision of it. So I rewrote it AGAIN, adding two additional characters, two new story-lines. I understood that this could still be a no, but it was closer than I’d ever come, so I did the revision.
We waited. WAITED. WAITED. It was only six weeks and compared to the years I put in, well that was nothing, but it seemed like a lot.
Fast forward to now. That book PRETTY AMY is out in BOOK STORES!!! and has companion novella out and a sister book on the way this March. The only reason for this is that I didn't give up.
This post is a reminder that YOU SHOULDN'T EITHER!
You might say, but I haven't gotten my "but then..." yet. I haven't even gotten ONE "but then...". To that I say if you give up you never will.
Take breaks, drink wine, scream and cry in a dark room, but don't give up.
I am proof even YEARS later it can happen.
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever and Dear Cassie. As well as a contributor to the upcoming essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.
Visit Lisa online HERE