Harsh criticism. We all get it as writers, but it is how we deal with that criticism that shows our true character. In today’s Writer Odyssey Wednesday, Stephanie Garber shares how she used criticism to push herself and her craft. Her journey is filled with ups and downs, but what impressed me the most was how she never wavered in her dedication to her writing and her stories. I hope her journey will inspire you as much as it did me!
Many thanks to Stephanie for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Stephanie: This kind of snuck up on me. For a long time I didn’t want to tell anyone I was serious about my writing, including myself—I was so afraid of failure and rejection. So even though I wrote my first book in 2008, it wasn’t until around 2010 that I fully committed to writing for publication.
Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?
Stephanie: Depends on what you mean by complete. I completed a draft of my first YA manuscript in the summer of 2008. I wrote it in three weeks and it was terrible! Thankfully my computer died. I did have the manuscript backed up, but I took my computer’s death as a sign that I needed to rewrite the ms from scratch, which I did the following year, in the fall of 2009.
It was still pretty terrible.
Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish LOST STARS BROKEN GALAXY? If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?
Stephanie: Good question! When I first queried LOST STARS BROKEN GALAXY I actually didn’t have any beta readers (other than my family). I wanted some, very badly, but I was still a little shy about my writing at that time, so I wasn’t on twitter and I only had one critique partner who read the entire thing.
So, after getting a good amount of agent requests, only to be followed by a good amount of rejections, I entered Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars, and that contest changed my life. Elizabeth Briggs picked me as her mentee, and I believe her feedback helped me find my agent—and become a much stronger writer!
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Stephanie: Querying was pretty rough on me.
Before I found my agent I queried two other books. I won’t say how many agents I queried with my first book, but it was a lot, and I did not get a single request.
The thing that kept me going was the belief I could do better. And my second querying experience was better. I had about a 25% request rate for that ms. So, I actually enjoyed sending out queries that time, but some of the rejections I received for requested material were rough.
One agent, who offered me an R&R, included notes from her intern—the notes were right on as far as feedback, but they were harsh. The intern called some of my scenes tacky, and said there were problems with the writing that she didn’t believe were fixable.
I wish I could say that was the harshest feedback I received. But, even though some of the comments I received were hard for my tender heart to handle, I’m really thankful for all them. I believe querying made me a stronger writer. It forced me to work harder and do the one thing I’d always been terrified to do—learn about writing by actually attending SCBWI conferences, which I now love to go to.
Amy: How many agents did you query for LOST STARS BROKEN GALAXY?
Stephanie: For LSBG I queried 42 agents. I also entered several contests, like Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars, and Cupid’s Blind Speed Dating, but it was a query that helped me find my agent.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
Stephanie: For LOST STARS BROKEN GALAXY I received most requests within a week or two, and I heard back on most requested material within a month. Although my agent took a little longer to read, she took about two and a half months.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Jessica Negrón? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Stephanie: When I was querying I read this great quote and it said, “Your dream agent should be the agent that falls in love with your book.”
While I no longer believe things are as simple as that, one of the things I loved about Jessica was that she loved my book. She is also an incredibly sweet and intentional person. Her style of communication is very open, but she’s also extremely professional. And I connected really well with her ideas for revision.
Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What has inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?
Stephanie: At the sake of sounding totally unoriginal, my family, my friends, and my faith. I left a totally different career to write, and I could have never done that on my own.
Amy: What is one piece of writing/publishing advice you got early on that you still use today?
Stephanie: So, I’m going to cheat on this one because I don’t remember any early advice I received. But, I did recently hear a great piece of advice from Kelly Loy Gilbert, and I think it’s my new favorite saying: “Don’t quit on your worst day.”
Stephanie Garber is a YA writer with a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction. When she isn’t writing about pirates in outer space, she’s teaching creative writing at a private college in northern California, where she tries to convince her students to write books set in exciting places. She’s represented by the amazing Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services. You can find Stephanie on twitter, @sgarbergirl, and she blogs occasionally at www.stephaniegarberwrites.blogspot.com.