First, my disclaimer: there is no “standard” in how long it takes to get published. Each person’s experience will be different. But one of my most frequently asked questions is, “How long did it take you to get published?” And I totally get it. When I was still querying, I looked for any scrap of information I could find that would give me hope. We’re taught for so long that if you do X and Y, that Z is sure to follow, so it’s hard to throw so much heart and soul into something that isn’t even guaranteed.
So here goes.
1996: In my senior year of high school, I had a book about four brothers who were vampires, and they were living in the suburbs. I had joined a writing group on AOL (this was when the internet was relatively new, and mostly consisted of chat rooms and message boards), and one guy said he really liked my writing. He said his best friend was a literary agent, and would I mind if he shared my work with him.
At the time, I didn’t know what a huge deal this was. Remember, before the internet, agents were not anywhere near as accessible. Of course I said yes, and off my manuscript went. A few weeks later, I was represented by George Scithers of Owlswick Literary Agency.
That book, obviously, never sold. He asked if I had anything new, I said no, because I was off riding horses and working, and we eventually terminated our contract.
2006: In the ten years after high school, I messed around with writing, but never wrote a full length novel. I had lots of stories that I’d started and abandoned, but I never did anything with them. Well, after I got married in 2006, I decided to sit back down and rewrite that book about the four vampire brothers. I went out on the internet and found a great critique partner (hi, Bobbie!), and started trying to find out how to land a literary agent.
I learned that my writing really needed to get up to snuff. My book was 130,000 words long, and full of meandering scenes that I thought were pretty cool, but didn’t really add anything to the plot. I’ve never taken a creative writing class (aside from in high school), and I don’t have a college degree, so there was a lot of “learn as you go” going on. I worked very, very hard to learn my craft well.
2007: By late 2007, I’d sent hundreds of queries on that vampire novel, then titled Wicked Sensibility. I got several full requests, so I knew I was on the right track, but no one bit. I kept revising, and resubmitting, and revising, and sending more queries. Then, finally, an agent took the time to write me a personalized rejection letter. At the time, my first son wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, so when I was up at 2am, I checked my email.
I will never forget this. It said, “Hey, Brigid, there’s no plot here.”
Now, I know that sounds harsh, but it was THE BEST EMAIL EVER. Seriously. Because it went on to talk about the strengths, but told me I needed to focus. I’d been writing and revising the damn vampire brothers for so long, that I realized I could easily get sucked into that trap of working on something for ten years without it going anywhere. So I cut the cord.
I started something new.
2009: By the middle of 2009, A Wicked Little Rhythm was done, a story about the son of Apollo running a music store in downtown Baltimore, who meets a young woman who has some mysteries of her own. I started querying. I got a lot of partial requests. A LOT.
I also got a lot of rejections. A LOT.
On one of the partial requests, I screwed up. She wanted 50 pages hard copy. The previous agent had only wanted 30 pages. Now, I write single spaced, and when I send something out, I double space what I need, and print it. When sending the partial, I forgot to double space the final 20 pages.
I was horrified, and actually sent her an email to explain that I wasn’t trying to put one over on her. But it must have worked to my benefit, because she was the only agent who requested a full manuscript. She requested a revise and resubmit, and by fall of 2009, she became my agent.
That book did not sell.
I put that sentence off by itself because it’s so common. You think, “Oh, I’ll get an agent and life will be sunshine and unicorns.” NOT SO. The hard work doesn’t stop. Being a writer is not for the faint of heart.
What did I do? I started something new.
2010: By the end of 2010, Storm was done. I hadn’t been able to get those four brothers out of my head, so I tried to think up an entirely new plot for them, and it worked. It went out on submission in November 2010.
2011: By the middle of February, I had a publication deal. (I blogged about going through a book auction before, and you can read about it here.)
2012: Storm debuted on April 24, 2012.
So there you go. If you throw out the high school experience (which is fine), it still took me 6 years and three full length novels before something sold. Even after that, I still have a day job, and while I’m not going to lie, the writing money is letting us do a few things that we couldn’t have done otherwise, it’s not enough to cover the mortgage.
I wouldn’t give up one minute of it, I can promise you that. Every second of hard work and waiting and worrying and stressing and revising and editing and nailbiting was worth it. EVERY SECOND.
Isn’t there a saying about how anything worth having isn’t worth having fast?
(Or is that one of those things we tell ourselves, like rain being lucky on your wedding day? :-P)
What do you think? Is this encouraging? Depressing?