Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Path to Publication, Or How to Succeed in Publishing by Really Trying

Today's blog post is written by Sara Lindsey. Sara is the author of Promise Me Tonight and the upcoming Tempting the Marquess.



I've always loved writing. In high school I had delusions of grandeur, or maybe just delusions, about writing the next Great American Novel, which would be picked up by Oprah for her book club... Then I realized I really hated most of Oprah's book club picks because I couldn't get past all the dysfunction. I think The House of Sand and Fog did me in. The writing was wonderful, and the story itself was interesting, but the book left me so depressed. As someone who battles with depression, I really don't need an extra fix.

When I was in my junior year of high school, I had a particularly nasty case of the flu. To distract me from my misery, my mom gave me Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I devoured it and the next three books in the series (that's all that was in print at the time), which amounts to about 3600 pages, over the course of four days. And then I kept rereading them. In an effort to broaden my reading horizons, my mom asked a bookseller for a recommendation along the lines of Outlander. The bookseller, bless her heart, handed my mom Linda Howard's Son of the Morning. I was introduced to the romance genre - where the ultimate goal was leaving the reader feeling happy - and I never looked back.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college (circa 2003) when I'd exhausted the backlists of several authors and was looking for a new author to glom. And by looking for a new author to glom, I really mean looking for was to procrastinate from doing chemistry labs. In any case, I browsed Amazon lists based on authors I loved, and one name kept coming up over and over, so I decided to check out this Julia Quinn chick.

As I read the bio on her website, I felt an eerie sense of deja vu. Art history major? Check. No future in it? Check. Aversion to being a lawyer? Check. Doctor by default? Check. I went out and bought The Viscount Who Loved Me, which will always have a special place in my heart as my first Julia Quinn novel and because it introduces the Mallet of Death. I'd managed a fair bit of romance reading - most of it historical - in the four or so years since I'd first been handed Son of the Morning, but JQ was the first laugh-out-loud funny romance author I encountered - and I loved it. And, having taken creative writing courses in high school and college, I had an inkling of what my voice was, and I thought it would appeal to what appeared to be a not insignificant fan base for historical romances with humor.

Discovering JQ’s books planted the first seeds in my mind that maybe my voice had a place within the genre I'd come to love so deeply. Those seeds sat dormant while I finished up college. I wrote a bit, but it was lots of little things rather than any concentrated effort on a single project. Eloisa James's Dreaming Up Gabriel contest was what really made the seeds start to sprout. Not only did I have a blast writing my contest entry, but the validation from one of my very favorite authors was a major catalyst to really write a book and not just think about writing one.

Shortly after that, I was fortunate enough to win lunch and a critique with my idol, the great Julia Quinn herself, through an auction to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims. Getting to pick JQ's brain about the romance industry was amazing, and getting her feedback on the early chapters of Promise Me Tonight was invaluable. (If she ever auctions off another one, I've got to say JQ does a marvelous critique!) At our lunch, JQ also happened to mention an upcoming Avon project she was going to be involved with - FanLit - and encouraged me to participate. This was lucky since I had thought FanLit was going to be a group of readers writing scenes about their favorite characters in existing Avon books. FanLit really built up my confidence as a writer - not to mention the fabulous feedback from the author judges - and it gave me the best group of friends, many of whom were also just starting out as authors and struggling through the same things, and all of whom supportive throughout crazy process of writing a book.

FanLit and all its wonderful craziness finished in either November or December of 2006. I'm terrible at remembering dates. I do know, however, that I had a self-imposed deadline of April 1, 2007 to finish my book. I remember this date because 1) it fell during a family trip to Cabo (during which I maybe saw the outside of the hotel room twice), and 2) I actually finished a day early because I knew my mother wouldn't believe me if I told her I'd finished the book on April Fools' Day.

Now, most writers finish a book and begin the revision process... not me. Partially because I revise as I go, and partially because I was terrified to read my book all the way through and realize that it sucked, I began sending out queries about a week after finishing. I sent out my first round of queries on April 8, 2007. I received my first form rejection letter on April 9, 2007. Yup, my book was rejected in less than 24 hours. It stung a bit – not gonna lie – but, on the bright side, a rejection letter qualified me for PRO status in RWA. I began hearing from other agents, almost all of whom wanted to see a partial or the full manuscript, which was very encouraging. I sent my baby out into the cold world, crossed my fingers and settled down to wait.

I received lots of rejections. They were positive for the most part, but they were still rejections. No one loved my book enough to want to represent it. The characters didn’t ring quite true for this agent; the plot wasn’t fresh enough for that agent. I was getting mixed feedback from the few contests I’d entered as well. Judges either loved it or hated it, but none of them ever loved or hated the same elements. I was thoroughly confused by the time summer rolled around, and with it the RWA national conference. Thanks to my PRO status I had signed up for agent/editor appointments. These led to more requests and, ultimately, more rejections.

Shortly before conference, I had received a rejection from an agent whose assistant really loved my book. She was an aspiring writer as well (and I’m thrilled that she’ll soon be published) and knew the frustrations of endless querying. We began an email correspondence and she offered to see if any of the editors she was in touch with were interested in reading my book. The name she got back to me with was that of the late, great Kate Duffy. I approached Kate (with not a little trepidation) at RWA while my manuscript was still winging its way to her office, and she was wonderfully warm and encouraging; her excitement over finding (potentially) a new author was infectious. I went home from conference in high spirits.

A few weeks after conference, I got a call from New York on my cell phone. Well, my mom actually fished my phone out of my pocket since when I got the call my hand was being covered in plaster to make a model for my sister’s prosthetic arm. As I waited for the plaster to dry I instructed my mother to compare the phone number with all of the business cards I had accumulated at conference. It was Kate Duffy. I fretted impatiently while I waited to get the use of my arm back, and then I ran out into the parking lot to call back. I was certain this was it. It had to be, I told myself. Editors didn’t call with rejections, right?!

Wrong.

Kate was very complimentary about my writing, but she had some reservations about the book. My heroine, Isabella, was too young, she told me, and the whole story felt a bit too youthful. She told me she had no doubts I would be very successful, but she didn’t feel she could buy this particular book. She urged me to submit any and all future projects to her. I will always be saddened that I never had the opportunity to work with Kate Duffy, but her words – her belief in my ability and my future – have sustained me through the many bouts of depression and insecurity that seem to plague creative people.

After Kate passed on the book, I let myself mope for a week and then, faced with the prospect of either revising the book or starting a new one, I opted to begin revisions. In the fall of 2007 I attended the New Jersey RWA regional conference and met with two editors. I particularly clicked with one of them, who requested the full manuscript, and I walked out of the meeting room in a happy daze. (In all honesty, the daze had a lot to do with my migraine medication, but I was genuinely thrilled someone wanted to read my book.) “I think,” I told my friends waiting outside, “I just met my editor.”

After the NJ conference I continued to work on my revisions. When I could put it off no longer, I began querying agents again in early spring of 2008. Except in one or two cases I didn’t query agents who had rejected my book before because I felt a) the book hadn’t changed *that* much, and b) if the agent had really loved it, he or she would have been able to suggest the necessary revisions. I was at work when I got an email from an agent saying she wanted to represent me and asking me to call her. I burst into happy tears and called my mother with the good news.

I dutifully sent emails to all the other agents I had queried informing them that I had received an offer and asking them to let me know their decisions within the next two weeks. I honestly expected all of them to politely decline. I was stunned when I received two more offers of representation, one of which was from my dream agent, the wonderful Kimberly Witherspoon, who also represents Eloisa James. I signed with Kim in late spring of 2007, and I went on submission shortly after. My one request was that the book be sent Kerry Donovan, the editor who had shown such interest in me and my book at the NJ RWA conference. I am eternally grateful to have made this request since, as I had prophesied, Kerry did indeed become my editor.

So, in a nutshell, I have always wanted to write. The focus on historical romance grew out of my Diana Gabaldon obsession, but it sharpened into something more concrete when I discovered Julia Quinn's books. Of course, there's a definite difference between wanting to write and believing you actually have the ability to write an entire book. That last developed out of the combination of support from my favorite authors and from my friends in the romance community, which is the loveliest, most giving network I've had the privilege of belonging to. And that (more or less) is my publication journey.

Sara Lindsey began writing during her senior year of college. The rest, as they say, is history... or rather, historical romance. Sara divides her time between her native Los Angeles and Manhattan, where she is pursuing her graduate degree in information and library science.

Having read a number of romances featuring librarians, Sara figures this profession bodes well for someday getting her own happily ever after. In the meantime, she plans to turn as many unsuspecting library patrons as possible into fellow romance addicts.

Visit Sara at her website.

1 comment:

Glynis said...

Fascinating post, thanks for sharing!