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Monday, June 29, 2009

If at first you don't succeed...

Even though I had never really considered doing it for a living, I have always loved writing, from that first story I wrote for my mom in third grade (something to do with a bunch of balloons that get released and find homes with different children all over the world), to some truly terrible teen angst poetry, to the short stories I wrote in my college creative writing class back when I thought I could write short stories, to the seriously flawed screenplay I wrote in my late twenties about a fictional love affair between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson (I know, I know, what was I thinking?). Something in my nature has always wanted to put things down on paper—it’s how I learned geometry principles in high school, it’s how I made sense of existential philosophy in college, and it’s how I now explore ideas and human nature in my fiction.

It was about four years ago that I decided I was going to write FOR REAL, as in, seriously try to become a novelist. So I wrote my first novel, Time and Tide, went through the long and potentially soul-crushing process of sending query letters, receiving rejections (lots!), and getting those little nibbles that keep you going for a while, but in the end, fail to materialize into anything substantial. For whatever reason, Time and Tide did not make it to publication.

I don’t have children, but my friends who do, speak of “pregnancy amnesia,” the phenomenon whereby a mother forgets all the pain and anguish that accompanied her pregnancy so she is willing to go through the process again. I would say that the writer’s journey to publication is a bit akin to this, because what writer would willingly put themselves through the torment and pain of rejection if it weren’t for some form of temporary amnesia, and of course, the fervent hope that there might be a bouncing, healthy manuscript at the end of it all?

Hungry to write another novel, I began Free to a Good Home in December of 2007 over the winter holiday. I teach high school English full-time, so my only substantial writing happens during vacations and summer break. By spring break of 2008, I had outlined the basic story and written the first few chapters, then I wrote like crazy over the summer to finish and revise the manuscript. In fall began the cycle of query, waiting, rejection, query, waiting, rejection.

It wasn’t until about December when I began to feel desperate, so I went back through my list of agents and wrote down the ones I hadn’t heard from. Of those, I double-checked their websites to see which agents welcomed a follow-up email versus those for whom no response meant no interest. It’s a testament to the value of persistence and good record keeping that one of these “follow-up” agents ended up becoming my real agent. I am happy to say that the second time around was a charm for me, as Free to a Good Home garnered me an agent in the lovely and ultra professional, April Eberhardt of Reece Halsey North. (www.reecehalseynorth.com)

April replied to tell me my original query and sample had gotten lost in their vetting program, but that her assistant, Maria, had found it since and flagged it as “strong.” You can imagine my excitement, tempered as it was by a substantial dose of reality. I’d had my heart crushed before, and I knew that even if April agreed to represent me, there was no guarantee she’d be able to sell my book.

So April, Maria, and I entered into a stage of extensive revision during which we got the manuscript into its most polished and most marketable form. After about two months, April offered me formal representation. I know every publication story is different and that many writers have gotten published without an agent. But I have no doubt that Free to a Good Home would not have found a publisher if it weren’t for the keen eye and publishing savvy of April, who helped me strengthen both the story and the writing, then went on to sell the manuscript in only four weeks. The good news continued when I found that my editor would be Jackie Cantor, executive editor of Berkley Books. (http://us.penguingroup.com/static/pages/publishers/adult/berkley.html) I have since gotten several emails and one phone call from Jackie, who is warm and supportive and sharp and everything an editor should be. I am so thrilled to be working with her!

In the weeks that followed “the call,” I have been busy setting up my media presence so I can start generating some buzz for the book and gathering a following prior to publication in July 2010. That gives me roughly a year to take care of final revisions, marketing, and of course, to work on my new novel so I can (fingers crossed) go through the whole process again next year. But this time, no amnesia necessary. This is a year I won’t likely forget.

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