Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.
Today, I’m pleased to share McKelle George’s writing journey…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
McKelle: 2011. I remember, because I’d been living in Hungary for almost two years. Before then, I’d been studying illustration. I switched to English (which isn’t necessary to write, but it was for me and my focus) when I started university the fall of 2011, and now here we are!
Amy: How many completed YA manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
McKelle: One and a half? I queried the first book I ever wrote, and it was terrible, and though I did get a few full requests, it really wasn’t that good and I’m glad it will never see the light of day. The half is because I submitted my next book to a contest before querying, and it got signed with a small press as a result. However, when I signed with my agent with my next book, we got out of the aforementioned contract.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
McKelle: It wasn’t easy, exactly, but also not that hard. For my first book, that was because I didn’t put as much time into research because I had no idea what I was doing. For the book that got me my agent, I only queried 20 before it was in the Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness contest, and also got some requests from #PitMad. From first query to offer was only about two months, and I blame those two contests for propelling my querying process so quickly.
Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE?
McKelle: I wrote the first word of the first draft July 20, 2013. And I had the phone call with the editor who signed my book December 2015. So, two and a half years.
Amy: Do you have critique partners? If so, how critical are they to your writing process?
McKelle: Yes! Sometimes I will give my manuscripts to other author friends and I always appreciate their feedback. But I have two critique partners who read everything I write. I met them in college and we went on a study abroad to the UK together and are still really good friends. It’s not at all necessary for CPs, but even more valuable than their feedback on my writing is their friendship, so I love being able to call them to get ice cream with me if I need it—as well as critiquing my work. (:
Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author?
McKelle: Holding my physical book in my hands, seeing it on a shelf. So many of the “perks” of publishing are not in your control, and every journey is different. But nothing can take away from having the published finished result of your hard work in front of you.
Amy: What was your “call” like with Katie Grimm? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
McKelle: So, I actually had another offer and another phone call with another agent first. After I sent the courtesy will-you-let-me-know-if-you’re-interested-because-I-have-an-offer e-mail to the other agents who had the full of SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, she was one of the ones who got back to me and was still interested. And her e-mail was like, ha ha, this huge paragraph of things she thought needed to be fixed in the manuscript, and the end of it was basically, “I would expect a lot of work, but if any of my notes are resonating with you, I’d love to chat.”
I remember being really stressed out about choosing the right agent between the ones who offered, because there wasn’t a bad choice. Katie had all the professional things I was looking for in an agent (I had a small checklist of qualities), but in the end, it was also a gut feeling. She just sounded so smart and tough on the phone! I knew she was someone I’d want to have in my corner, and someone I could trust to know the business and get things done. I haven’t regretted the choice once.
Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?
McKelle: I don’t know if I still use it, but I still stand by it, and that was: put your first project aside. It was revelatory to me, to stop picking at the same story again and again. Writing more books taught me way more than revising the first old one.
The other thing (and sorry to be cliché and use Stephen King) was reading the book On Writing, and reading the passage that starts: do not come to the blank page lightly. It was the first time it clicked for me that I would need to sacrifice other things to do this, that it was a serious thing that deserved to be pursued seriously, and not just some fun hobby.
McKelle George is an editor, perpetual doodler, associate librarian at the best library in the world (the Salt Lake City Public Library), and lover of quiet adventures. Her debut novel SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd. For more on McKelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@McKelleGeorge).