This is the story of how I became a traditionally published author in an untraditional way.
Three years ago, when I was 32, the inspiration for my story hit me. "Hit" is probably too light a word. The idea for Sweet Evil bombarded me like a massive brain invasion. After not writing for eight years, I ended up writing the entire first draft, over 80,000 words, by hand, in seven weeks. That time is still an elated blur in my memory.
Then came the fun part...sending out queries to agents WAY before my manuscript was ready. Ugh. Cringe. Please learn from my mistake. Get a couple of trusted critique partners and take time to get your story solidly polished before querying. Nobody is going to want to represent you based on "promise." It's either good and ready or it's not. There's simply too much competition out there to rush it. Somewhere around the 30th rejection (50th? Who knows! I stopped counting and deleted/threw away every one of them) I got two helpful personal notes from agents telling me the same thing: too much telling and not enough showing in the first chapter. I was having a hard time introducing Anna and her abilities. I needed help. While browsing the internet for critique partners, I stumbled upon inkpop.com, the HarperCollins site devoted to teens and those who write for teens (YA). On a side note, inkpop has since been sold to figment.com, which is not affiliated with HarperCollins.
I posted my story, and inkpoppers ranging anywhere from thirteen to forty-something read and commented, helping me to whip that bad chapter into shape. I think I took almost every suggestion that was given. Their feedback was beautifully brutal, exactly what I needed. By the time I thought it was ready, a woman named Carolee read my entire story and fell in love with it. She was represented by Neil Salkind, a literary agent who normally took only non-fiction, but she asked if she could introduce us. So I sent him an official query and he called me with an offer of representation that same week.
In the meantime, my story was doing well on inkpop. While I was revising like crazy, it had moved up the ranks into the twenties. Each month the top five ranked projects were sent to the HarperCollins editors for review. I was so close at that point that I decided to gun for it. I spent the next month working hard, critiquing upwards of forty stories a week to earn myself return-reads. In May 2010 my story made the top five. This is how I met Nyrae, my bestie and critique partner - she was in the top five with me! We both received our reviews from HarperCollins...but no offer for publication. Boo.
Five weeks after my review, after I'd moved on with my life and decided I was going to turn my stand-alone novel into a trilogy, I got an email from a woman named Alyson Day. The moment I opened it is etched into my memory, crystal clear. I read the message three times very slowly. My whole body was trembling and I could hardly breathe. She said, "I'm the editor at HarperCollins who had the pleasure of reading your story for Inkpop. I've thoroughly enjoyed the manuscript and would like to read the last four chapters - would you be able to email them to me?" That was THE moment for me. Because no matter what happened after that, I felt like a "real" writer. I'd been validated by a professional. My dream was truly within reach. There were a LOT of happy tears. I was buzzing all day long, and I had to order pizza because my hands were shaking too hard to cook.
Reading my HarperCollins Contract//Winter 2011
The worst part of the process was, and still is, the waiting. It took six months after I sent the last four chapters for HarperCollins to make an offer. I had a contract from them one year after finishing my novel, and I was tossed afloat onto the sea of publishing (which was a scary place to be as an unannounced inkpop author - I wasn't allowed to announce my acquisition until the following year!). But that’s a story of its own for a different time…
I've now sold the 2nd and 3rd book in the trilogy to HarperTeen, and they have rights to my next YA, whenever that may be. :) The process is lengthy. It requires patience, perseverance, and hard work if you want to publish. Traditional publishing has been worth it for me because of the marketing-seeing my book in Barnes&Noble, and the global outreach. This is my dream come true, and though it's now my "norm" I have never forgotten where I came from. I'm still that same inkie, filled with insecurities, hoping that others will enjoy the stories I'm sharing. I'd rather make friends than fans. I don't think I'll ever be a bestseller or have a movie, and that's okay with me. Maybe I'm weird, but my dream is really the foreign sales. I've only had one so far - to Czech Republic, but I'm not giving up on the dream of seeing Sweet Evil in other languages. :)
Thanks for having me on the blog, Nyrae. Good luck to any of you who are on your writing journey! Feel free to contact me! *hugs*