My journey (or, there's always more to the story than you know.)

Elana Johnson has a great post up on her blog this morning about the four years it took her to become published and the milestones along the way. One of the things she points out is that everyone's journey is different, which is one of the truest things you can ever say about the publishing business. Everyone gets there a different way, and there's no better example of that than me.

To illustrate, I thought I'd share some of the journey so far:

1997: I'm a sophomore in high school, with minimal social skills and an addiction to books. I start writing a novel based on the computer game I'm playing.

1998: My English teacher and I start a writing club. I write a really horrible poem about Christmas trees and change my novel's beginning three times.

1999: The year I graduate, my teacher finds me some information on the Institute of Children's Literature, a mail-order class operating out of Connecticut. They have a test/writing sample that you have to complete and send in. I do and immediately they write back saying I'm eligible. But I don't have the money, so I ignore them. I continue to get letters from them about once a year reminding me that I have applied and been accepted and I show talent.

2000: I start my novel over. Also, I learn to play guitar and decide I want to do music as a career. It doesn't work out.

2002: I decide that being a writer is what I want to do, and I finally sign up for a class from the Institute. My family has been telling me since high school that I was meant to be a writer, and they enjoy saying "I told you so." I work on finishing my novel from high school and then rewriting it.

2003: I know nothing about publishing--other than what I've learned in market guides--and I don't use the Internet a lot so I start querying my high school novel by snail mail. (To all the big publishing houses, of course.) Form rejections pour in. Discouraged, I switch to short story and article writing, and take a class in that. I don't sell anything, but I get very close several times.  I keep writing.

2007: I sit down in a coffee shop with a notebook (since I don't have a laptop) and start writing my second book, about an estate where girls are groomed for all kinds of different fates. I call it The House of a Thousand Dolls. I draft it longhand and then revise as I type it in.

2008: I write the last sentence of Dolls and start a blog that same night.  Six months later, after diving into the online writing community, I figure out what agents do and decide I want one.  Also in 2008, I join a critique group for the first time.

2009: I start querying agents about The House of a Thousand Dolls. I get a few partial requests but nothing pans out. I make online friends and study everything I can about querying agents. And I start writing my third book, about a girl who dies and comes back as a cat.

2010: I write my fourth book, a middle grade about dragons in Alaska. I keep querying Dolls, and at last get a phone call from an agent, who ends up passing on the book. But he wanted to see my next book, so I shelve Dolls and get to work on the cat book instead. The cat book brings me mostly form rejections, and two full requests. I write another book, a thriller set on a cruise ship. At some point, I go back and completely rewrite Dolls, but I keep querying the cat book. No dice.

2011: Deeply discouraged, I send out one query for Dolls to Jenn Laughran, just so I can feel like I'm moving forward. I don't expect much, but in a hilarious twist of fate, she loves it. And then she finds an editor who loves it too. I call my mother, who screams so loudly you can hear it across the room. The rest of 2011 is taken up with sporadic happy dances, writing another middle-grade and more edits than I've ever seen in my life.

Which brings us to today.

If you only saw the public parts of this story, it would be a story about how, in the span of five months, I went from hopeful querier to agented author with a two-book deal. If you focused only on the book I sold, then the process took four years from first draft to book deal.

But the reality is, the story is much, much longer than that. From the time I first started pursuing publication until now, it took almost ten years. From the time I first thought, "I like this world, I should write a book about it," it took fourteen.

Five months
Four years
Ten years
Fourteen years

It's all in how you tell the story. And I guarantee you, for every "overnight" success you see, there is more to the story than you know. More work. More rejection. More failure. Heck, there are parts of my story that aren't in here, or that I can't talk about for various reasons.

Elana asked this question at the end of her post: "Do you have a time frame for how long you'll stick with this before you re-evaluate your writing career?"

For me the answer is yes and no. I'm always re-evaluating, trying new things, reaching out in new directions. But if you're talking about whether or not I would give up on writing after a set period of time, well...

That answer
has always
been
no


How long have you been writing or pursuing publication? Do you have a timeframe in mind? Would you ever give up?

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.