Pretty much everyone who knows me in any capacity (online and in real life) knows that I love books. 99.9% of those people also know that I'm a writer as well, although I tend to keep quieter about that side of things because it's difficult to talk about the writing side of things when there's not much going on besides "Well, I'm still writing."
Well - I'm still writing. But last week something else happened too.
That, my friends, is an industry book deal announcement. For my book. My first book. Which is being published by SIMON & SCHUSTER. NEXT YEAR. As in, 2019. (In publishing time, this is actually pretty fast.) To say that I'm over the moon (and yet also extremely anxious and freaking out) is an understatement.
Traditionally this is the opportunity to talk about the ups and downs of everything that led to this moment. On the one hand it seems a little navel-gaze-y. On the other hand, reading these blog posts from other authors has been my jam over the last several years of writing, and maybe--just maybe, in a hopefully-not-excessively-navel-gaze-y way--this one can be someone else's.
So. You know that John Green quote from The Fault in Our Stars? "I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once." That's not a bad way to summarize my writing journey thus far.
I've always been a talented writer. For years I was praised in school for this ability, and I wrote all the time on the side as well--the beginnings of things that petered out after paragraphs, pages, chapters. In middle school I teamed up with a friend to co-write a vampire novel. We finished a draft and, despite lots of talk and planning, never quite got around to revising it to our satisfaction.
I went to high school, and then college. I found National Novel Writing Month and won it with ease, writing in circles for years without really finishing anything. I took a lot of creative writing workshops that focused on literary fiction to the exclusion of genre and children's books, but there weren't any other workshops available. So I wrote literary fiction and was bored by it. I was the champion of false starts. I told people I wanted to be a writer when I grew up--or go to law school.
I graduated. I had to make a decision: go to graduate school, or get a job and try to do this writing thing. I still wanted to be a writer. I got a job at a university press and told a long-suffering colleague that I could probably finish my work-in-progress, get an agent, and sell it in a year, probably for at least $30,000. (Ah, the sweet hubris of youth.)
I've always been a talented writer. I haven't always been a consistent, or persistent, one. But I got serious. I finished a first draft and revised it. I sent over 100 agent queries, garnering a handful of requests for the full manuscript but no offers of representation.
I had been out of school for two years. I had reached a plateau. I needed something different. Some new way to challenge myself and help me grow as a writer. It was either that or go to law school. I still wanted to be a writer. I wasn't willing to give up on it. So instead of studying for the LSAT, I applied to the Simmons College MFA program in Writing for Children. (Do you need to do an MFA to be a writer? Absolutely not. But I needed a kick in the pants, a leveling up experience, and Simmons provided that for me.)
I moved to Boston and got a job as a bookseller at an independent bookstore. I entered the MFA program and met some excellent people and got a whole lot better at writing. I found a critique group worth their weight in gold, and then some. I put my first manuscript away and started something new. I worked on that book for two years, during which time I graduated, worked full time, and moved temporarily to Australia. I decided it was ready to query.
I sent 11 queries and received 11 requests for the full manuscript. A few weeks later I received three offers of agent representation, and was thrilled to sign with an excellent agent. I was on my way. My agent and I worked over six months to polish up the manuscript until she said it was ready for submission. That book (my second) was on submission to publishers for about nine months, and did not sell.
I was crushed. But I still wanted to be a writer. I got slowly back on my feet. I put away that manuscript and started something new. Again. (Are you sensing the theme?)
I wrote in bits and spurts. It took me close to two years to draft my new manuscript, to revise and revise again with the input of my critique group and my agent. Finally I thought it was close to being ready. I sent it to my agent, who agreed. We did one more quick round of revisions. Then it went on submission.
Children of Ash--my third book--had been on submission to publishers for about a month (a blink of an eye in publishing time) when I got the call that there was an offer. I had to run out of my workplace into 25 degree weather without my coat on so that no one would realize I had started crying on the phone. There was about a week before we closed the deal with Catherine Laudone at Simon & Schuster, and then a few days more while we finalized the language that would be used to announce it to the world. (I was lucky--I only had to keep the secret for two weeks. This is good because I am absolutely horrendous at keeping secrets.)
Remember the John Green quote? It took a month for my book to sell. But it also took eight years of writing seriously, three full manuscripts, and two books on submission. Slowly, and then all at once.
The point is--there are lots of points. The point for me is that this has been a lifelong dream, and it's finally starting to happen. But everything that is happening now is a result of the foundation I built over years of believing in myself when few others did. Of understanding that I had talent as a writer--and that talent without commitment and persistence is not enough. Of putting down word after word when it mattered to literally no one except myself that I did so. Of not giving up, at least not for too long.
I am so grateful to my agent Rebecca Podos, my editor Catherine Laudone, and everyone else who has cheered me on and helped make my dream into a reality. I truly cannot wait for everything that comes next.