Yeah, that’s a total lie. My destination of choice has always been “traditionally published YA author.” I want my book on the shelves of the bookstores that remain, and to be available through Amazon. I want to go speak to classrooms on writing and do book tours. I want teens to send me e-mails about how much they love my characters.
But the one thing I learned a little over a decade ago, through fellow writer and teacher and best friend Joyce Sweeney, is that rarely happens overnight. I was in her Thursday night critique group for a long time before it disbanded, and the biggest takeaway I had was PERSEVERANCE. This industry is HARD. It can take, Joyce suggested, ten YEARS to get an agent/book deal/etc. And a lot of people don’t want to hear that, nor accept it, and they quit trying or they decide to self-publish. And while I have nothing against GOOD writing being self-published (sadly, a high percentage of self-publishing does NOT fall into that category), I was determined that if I didn’t traditionally pub my YA, I would not publish it at all.
So while Your Mileage May Vary, my journey to this point has taken about ten years. Once upon a time, I went to a panel on why boys don’t read. It was mostly aimed at librarians and teachers, and I fall into the second category. Two of the speakers that day were Joyce Sweeney and Alexandra Flinn. While getting my copy of Breathing Underwater signed by Alexandra, I mentioned that someday, I’d like to be on her side of the table. She wrote a web address on her business card and handed it to me. She said if I was serious, this was the best organization to be a part of. So the next day, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
And I kept writing. And I went to conferences, which scared me to death. I’m an introvert recovering from low self-esteem, so it was really intimidating to be around and talk to published authors. My first conference critique netted me a fan – author Gaby Triana – who offered to look at a revision and, if she liked it, pass on a recommendation to her agent. I thought that was IT! Connection made, my book would be published! Ultimately, her agent at the time passed on my book, but it didn’t stop me.
I kept writing. I kept going to conferences, and workshops, and learning and writing and schmoozing and everything you do to try to break in to the business. I actually became FRIENDS with Alexandra Flinn. She critiqued one of my manuscripts at a conference and really liked it. That manuscript got a revision request from an agent, who helped me realize the book was trying to go two different directions. Shelved and moved on.
Rejections are a part of the business, and as much as they hurt, every no is one step closer to a yes. My next foray into securing an agent was almost successful as well – except the book I was pitching had a character dying from leukemia, and John Green had just released The Fault in Our Stars – no one wanted “sick lit.”
Back to the drawing board. More writing, more workshops, more conferences.
Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll is the book of my heart, more than any other I’ve written to date. And I went through a couple of rounds with agents who liked it, but didn’t love it. My current agent took over a year to offer representation. She requested the full, suggested revisions, and offered to look at it again if I chose to revise. I did, and resubmitted, and she’s now my agent.
It took about TEN YEARS. Ten years, five books, countless workshops. And I’m still not at the destination. Getting the agent is one step on the path. Now, I have to revise the book one more time, work with my agent on a business proposal to present to publishers, and wait.
But while I wait, I must keep writing. Because writing, after all, is a journey.