In a recent Monday Musings I talked about how too often we see negativity in the writing community. I’m tired of opening social media and seeing authors tear each other down when we should really be building one another up. Supporting each other.
With that idea in mind, I reached out to some friends who have had AMAZING publishing journeys and asked that they share (in their own words!) what they went through before they saw their publishing dream realized.
My hope is that these posts will light a fire in each and every writer who may be struggling. Encourage those who wonder if they can take another month in the query trenches. Build up those feeling low from being on submission for what feels like forever. Each post will be proof that if you hold onto that dream it CAN and WILL come true.
Fired up Friday – A Post by Joy McCullough
In the fall of 2016, I sold my debut novel. It was only on submission for a week before the editor wanted a phone call.
BUT WAIT. Before you rage against another quick-sale-story while you’ve been languishing on sub for months and months and maybe even years, let me back up.
First of all, I wrote five middle grade novels before I signed with my first agent. I detail that in this blog post (http://joymcculloughcarranza.blogspot.com/2014/02/how-i-got-my-super-amazing-agent.html), but here’s the short version: 290 queries, 47 full requests, one offer from a really well-respected agent.
I was with that agent for two years. I kept writing. She put three different manuscripts on sub. (New ones, not the trunked ones from before I signed with her.)
Eventually, I went through the really agonizing decision to part ways with that agent. I blog about that in this post http://project-middle-grade-mayhem.blogspot.com/2016/01/on-parting-ways-with-literary-agents-by.html but here’s the short version: leaving an agent is scary, but worth it if they weren’t the right match, and it’s really very common. You’re not alone, if that’s your situation.)
Since it had taken me so long to sign with my first agent, I was pretty convinced it might take me another five novels to do it again. Or maybe I’d never have another agent. But as it turned out, I signed with the amazing Jim McCarthy quickly, did some revisions, and got out on sub, sure that this time would be different!
And you know what? That book didn’t sell either.
But! Jim was supportive and lovely (and still hasn’t given up on that book). Once that book had gone on sub, I had sent him a list of pitches for what I should work on next. There were five or six things on the list. At the very end of the list, I tacked on an idea that seemed so wildly unmarketable that I was almost embarrassed to include it.
But I did. (Because I’m a glutton for rejection? I don’t know.)
And Jim wrote back (within five minutes, probably, because that’s how he is) and said, WRITE THAT LAST ONE. (And then he hedged to say how several of the other ideas were good too and I should do what I wanted to do, because he’s always trying to let me be me. But it was clear how he really felt. And I really trust him.)
That last pitch? Was for BLOOD WATER PAINT.
It’s a historical verse novel set in the 17th century. Also partially set in Biblical times. Super feminist. I didn’t know what Jim was thinking. But it’s a story I’ve loved for a long time—an adaptation of one of my own plays. And I was excited about the possibilities of making it a YA novel. So I wrote it. And revised it. And it went on sub. And guys, this was my fifth book to go on sub. The tenth I’d written. My hopes? They were LOW.
Low really doesn’t begin to describe it.
And THEN. A week after it went on sub, my phone rang. I was at my sewing table. It was Jim. Jim hadn’t called me at all during the submission period of the first book we tried to sell. A phone call seemed like it might mean something.
He was calling to tell me an editor wanted to have a phone call with me. (And not just an editor. THE editor that I had freaked out to see on my submission list.)
“WHAT DOES THIS MEEEEAAAAAAN???” was my immediate response.
Jim didn’t know for sure, but it definitely wasn’t bad news. So we set up the call (blessedly for just a couple days later).
I have phone anxiety. And this felt like maybe the most important phone call ever. But the editor was incredibly lovely, and mainly wanted to talk about how I’d come to write this story and what my hopes were for it. And at the end of the call, he said he “hoped to offer” and would know in about a week if he could.
Of course, publishing is publishing, so it was more like three weeks before my phone rang again. With Jim’s number. I was at my sewing table again. (I really don’t sew that much! Next time I’m on submission, though, I’ll probably sew non-stop.)
And he told me Andrew Karre at Dutton Young Readers had made an offer on BLOOD WATER PAINT to be published in 2018.
More things had to happen before all was final, including another phone call with Andrew, throughout which he was standing in an NYC Whole Foods. Also several phone calls with Jim, during which I was so grateful he already knew I could form actual sentences, because I was probably less coherent than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
And then, finally, it was real. It was happening. I didn’t believe it, of course. Not when I signed the contract. Not when I finally got to announce it. Not even now that I’ve been working with Andrew (who is straight up brilliant) for a couple months. It probably won’t feel real until I’m holding the book in my hands.
But it IS happening. There’s even a Goodreads page! (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33301702-blood-water-paint?ac=1&from_search=true) My book is going to have a cover and ARCs and even be on bookstore shelves one day!
And yours will too, eventually. It might even happen on your very first book. If so, that’s AMAZING! But if your journey is on the longer side, just know you’re on a well-trodden path.
These are my trail essentials for the long route to a book deal:
- The AMAZING kidlit community—find your people and surround yourself with them.
- Your next story: As soon as you begin querying or subbing one manuscript, start the next thing. Getting invested in a new project has always been key for me.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to step away for a bit when rejections get to be too much and/or it’s not fun any more.
You’ll be back. Because you have stories to tell—and I can’t wait to read them.
Joy McCullough’s debut YA novel BLOOD WATER PAINT is coming from Dutton in 2018. She’s a freelance editor, ghostwriter, and Pitchwars mentor. You can find her on Twitter at @JMCwrites and on her website at www.joymcculloughcarranza.com