Even though we are in an age where information is readily at hand, it still seems many things in the publishing world are kept in the dark. Things that we’re taught not to talk about or share. One of these things is rejection and how long it takes to sell a book.
The authors who seem to get the most exposure are the ones who have whirlwind experiences. They write and sell their first book in a year and suddenly they’re on the New York Times Bestseller list. As most writers know, this is NOT the norm. But for those outside of publishing, that’s all they see. This exposure puts pressure on a lot of writers to sell the first book they’ve got out on sub. If they don’t, they walk away feeling like they’ve not only let themselves down but others who believed in them (agent, family, critique partners).
This leads me to a conversation I had with Christina Lee when I attended my first RT convention. One evening the organizers arranged a scavenger hunt through Bourbon Street. While I was in one location, a good writer friend, A.J. Pine introduced me to an author I really admired, Christina. I actually had a hard time speaking after we met. I’d just finished her book, ALL OF YOU and loved it.
As we talked, Christina opened up to me about the ups and downs she went through in publishing before she sold her first book. That conversation was over a year ago and to this day I still think about it vividly.
Her story makes for the perfect “Behind The Curtain” post because many times writers don’t talk about what happened prior to selling their first book. Rejections, unsold books, and failed agent relationships are forced back into the shadows like pieces of dirty laundry everyone is too afraid to talk about. To be honest, by keeping quiet I think we’re doing the writing community a disservice.
If you want to write, then I think you should go into the publishing world with your eyes wide open. You need to be aware that there’s not some magical formula you can create to sell a book. It takes years of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance for many writers before it happens.
So today I’m proud to share this guest post from Christina Lee. I hope it will touch you and open your eyes to the realities of publishing. We each have our own path and it takes bravery and guts to follow wherever it may lead!
BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Guest Post From Christina Lee
Thanks for inviting me to write something for your Behind The Curtain series. To tell you a little bit about my journey, I wrote my first book in 2008. It was like a hybrid NA/YA romance that will thankfully never see the light of day. HA!
But finishing that first book was so liberating because I gave it my all and figured out my passion for writing fiction in the process. Plus, I began learning my craft. You can only do that with lots of practice, rewrites, revisions and critiques from other writers.
In hindsight, that wreck of a book still wasn’t ready and no surprise that it was never picked up by an agent. So I began writing another young adult novel immediately. That one got some attention from a few agents but ultimately I had to shelf that book as well.
I landed my first agent with my third YA book. We went on submission, but then something strange happened. She left the business suddenly with no forewarning to her clients. There were other disappointments that went along with that situation (that I won’t mention publicly) but honestly, I should’ve known better. Because in the end, I never listened to my gut when I signed with her. I was so excited about being repped—she seemed cool, legit, loved my book, and had the right contacts—but other things were way off that were red flags.
So I queried again with the same book while writing my fourth. I found an awesome and reputable agent who loved that book, was really passionate about it. We went on a couple rounds of submission, got rejections and R & Rs (revise & resubmits) with no result. So we tried my next book and got even fewer bites.
It was around that time that I got an idea for a new adult romance, but I knew my agent only repped YA. I wrote the book anyway and did it with wild abandon. It opened up this new world for me. A world I didn’t realize I was passionate about from the writer’s side, only from the reader’s side. The world of new adult and adult romance.
I had a candid discussion with my agent about my desire to write in a new category/genre and we ended up parting ways. Our goals had become vastly different. And that’s okay. The important thing was to recognize it.
I considered querying a few agents who were accepting NA submissions at that time, but I was also asking myself some tougher questions about my future goals. Did I want to continue with my dream of traditionally publishing my first book or should I go with a smaller press or maybe self-publish? Just keeping it real here. I wanted to be an author and get my book in reader’s hands. But I also wanted to be smart and put out a great product.
So I queried a handful of agents I thought sounded like the right fit, while I studied the market and talked to other writers about their experiences. I got an immediate response from my current agent, Sara Megibow, who asked for the full, and then contacted me with an offer a couple of days later. And this time around felt especially right. We were on the same page, had the same general philosophy and goals. Especially when it came to communication.
It was all such a whirlwind after that. My book went to auction with six publishing houses. I accepted a two-book deal with Penguin. This spring, my fifth and sixth books will publish with the same house. One is a gay romance and the other is an adult contemporary, so I’m still evolving and challenging myself, and I have an agent in my corner who supports all of that.
So my advice to any new or even seasoned writer would be: Ask yourself some difficult questions and then really listen to your gut. It sounds cliché but that little voice inside of you will never lead you astray. If something feels off—with an agent relationship, or your book, or your offer—if you’re not writing in the genres or age categories you’re most wild about, LISTEN!
Ask yourself what you can or should do differently to meet your goal. And then do it—even if it feels uncomfortable and disappointing at first. Because later on the discomfort may be greater.
Keep trying new things in the general direction of your ultimate dream. Don’t stay static. Always move forward, even in baby steps, to learn and grow and change. Eventually something good will happen!
Mother, wife, reader, dreamer. Christina lives in the Midwest with her husband and son–her two favorite guys. She’s addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. She believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job. Author of the Between Breaths series including ALL OF YOU, BEFORE YOU BREAK, WHISPER TO ME, PROMISE ME THIS, and THERE YOU STAND are all available now from Penguin. Her latest release, TWO OF HEARTS, an adult contemporary romance, is now available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
She is represented by Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency. Also the creator of Tags-n-Stones (dot com) jewelry. For more on Christina, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.