Monday, February 23, 2009

Roundtable Discussion - How We Got Published

Patti here: On the last Monday of each month, we choose a topic all of us are eager to talk about. This week, we want to encourage you in your journey toward publication by sharing our unique journeys. We don't know each other's stories, so this will be a day of discovery for us, too. I suspect some distinct commonalities and surprising detours to surface. After all, some of us took the scenic route! We've agreed to keep our accounts short, so feel free to ask questions. We'll be here! We are also open to discussing your questions about the publishing process. If we don't have the answer, we'll find someone who does. Don't be shy - if you're wondering something, you can be sure many other people are wondering the same thing!

Patti's Story:
I first heard I should be a writer the year Jesus came into my life at age fourteen. My first novel, Like a Watered Garden, released 34 years later! In between, I wrote Christmas letters, the instructions for a new line of fertilizer, and tons of college papers. I fell 17 quarter units short of a journalism degree (got my M.R.S. degree instead), so I returned to college much later to get my English Literature degree. I taught for four years, but read books about novel writing and attended a fiction writing class during school breaks. It took me months and months to write the first chapter. I sent the chapter to a writers conference for a paid critique. The critiquer suggested I write two more chapters and send them to Bethany House, who eventually rejected the manuscript.

*INTERMISSION for 2 years to recover from injury. No writing! A difficult, yet rich time.

I submitted the completed manuscript to an agent who took it to ICRS. Six houses requested the manuscript and three made offers. Bethany House--hmm--made the best offer, so they published my first three novels.

Kathleen's Story:
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to write. At every stage in my life there was someone - usually a teacher - who encouraged me. But in my little bean, authors were like rock stars. I couldn't imagine ever becoming one of them.

Finally, in 1999, a friend encouraged me to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. While I wrung my hands wondering if I should go, my husband helped me pack and pushed me out the door. I arrived at lunchtime just before the opening ceremony, and found myself in a dining hall full of really, really normal looking people. There were hundreds of authors in the room, some of them famous. Not only that, but there were editors and agents, and if authors were like rock stars, well, these guys were the erudite, all-knowing gods and goddesses of the publishing world. They scared me to death.

Except, standing in that room, I couldn't tell who were the editors, the agents, the really famous authors. When I did begin to sort them out, I was struck, more than anything else, by their chewed fingernails, their graying or thinning hair, their struggles with their weight. Their normal-ness. Their friendliness.

I returned every year, and in 2003, I showed a short story to Gayle Roper, who suggested I turn that story into a novel, the first I ever wrote. In 2004, I showed my manuscript to Jeff Dunn, then an editor at David C. Cook. In 2005, he told me Cook was buying my novel, and it now sits on bookstore shelves as To Dance in the Desert.

Yes, the first novel I ever wrote was bought by the first editor to see it. No, things don't happen that way very often. But yes, writers who attend conferences do gain the knowledge and confidence, and make the friendships and connections they need to succeed. That happens all the time.

Bonnie's Story:
I wrote this novel, see, and then, when I was finished, I didn't have a clue what to do with it. I mean, don't these things just sprout legs and walk to their intended destination? Apparently not.

So, I sent to The Writer's Edge. I paid my money and I took my chances. Turns out it was a good move for me. A few months later there was some interest in the novel, then, there was more. Suddenly I had more interested publishers than I knew what to do with. A nice dilemma, but I still didn't know what I was doing.

I e-mailed a smart and well connected friend I trusted and asked "What would you do if you were me?" Her response was, "Girl, you need an agent. Now!" Then she offered to send a letter of introduction to an agent she knew well (actually she knows many agents and she sent me a list to choose from). I picked one I had heard many good things about and my friend sent the e-mail that day. I didn't think much would come of it, but I was grateful to my friend for sticking her neck out for me.

Later that same day, the phone rang. It was the agent. She had read chapter one on my website (you can too, if you like). She said "I wanted to ask to see the whole manuscript- if for nothing else than I wanted to keep reading. That's a rare thing for an agent with a pile of reading."
Geep! I sent her the manuscript (I LOVE e-mail and all it's instant goodness) and wondered what, oh what would happen. She called me the next day and said she would be happy to represent this book.

And Wow, that's when things started to move fast (well, fast is a relative term in publishing). She jumped on and starting pitching the book right away. Zip Zap Kapow! I was amazed. She knew things I didn't even know enough to know I didn't know. Within weeks she had a firm offer on the table. They didn't just want Talking to the Dead, they wanted a second book.

My book landed at David C. Cook. Wow. What an amazing group of people they have assembled there. I have loved every moment working with them. I'm currently working on that second book - due out June 1, 2010.

Sharon's Story:
Looks like mine's the most "scenic" route so far. It was 22 years from the time I began seriously writing, with an earnest view toward publication, until Every Good & Perfect Gift was released in 2008. I did have some articles published during that time, otherwise it was 22 long, frustrating, emotional years. I tucked away several hundred rejection letters, then I finally quit saving them. But like Katy, I went to Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2004, met an editor who liked my work, and signed with my fabulous agent, who negotiated my first contract.

Well, not really my first. Not only was my route scenic, it was costly. Very costly. I'm going to be more transparent here than I've ever been publicly before to prevent others from falling into the trap I fell into. In 2000, I received an answer to a query letter for a suspense novel I'd written with the news that I was being offered a contract (by a publishing house that will remain nameless). In that moment I felt like I could fly. After so many years of rejection, finally a contract. I signed (I had no agent at the time) and things got underway. A few months later the top dog himself called and asked if I'd be willing to "invest" in the project to get things moving more quickly. Yes, this is where the audience sees the villain's mustache and cape, and gasps. Unfortunately, I didn't. My husband took $14,000 out of his business to help make my dream come true and we handed it over. Under the terms of the contract, they had 3 years to publish the book. They worked with me right up till the very end of that 3-year period, doing the edits, the cover, etc, in a grand and successful effort to string me along. But by then my husband and I had become very uneasy. I stayed in close communication with the company, hoping . . . hoping.

But one week before the contract expired -- with them still promising the book would be released as scheduled -- I received a letter saying the company had filed bankruptcy. The contract and the money were gone. I know you've heard it before, but take it from me. A legitimate royalty publisher will never ask you for money to publish your book. Never. If they do, run the other way!

It's hard not to be embarrassed by having been so blatantly duped. But I've put that behind me thanks to NavPress, the honest, reputable publisher who beautifully and with integrity produced my two novels released last year. I know my sister authors here at Novel Matters will concur that their publishers have been professional and aboveboard, performing their half of the publishing equation admirably.

Latayne's Story:
One accurate way to describe my path to publication is to say that the Lord's hand has been heavy on me, my entire life. Perhaps in a later post I will describe the command from Him that completely shut down my writing career for years. But His hand also nudged me toward publication initially and repeatedly. I won my first award for writing in the fourth grade when a teacher entered my essay on fire prevention to a contest. Later, in high school, a teacher noticed my poems and entered them into a contest. In fact it was another writing contest that awarded me a college scholarship. I took classes in poetry and magazine article marketing and believed I would work with such short genres all my life.

Leaving Mormonism at age 21, after ten happy years, was a devastating, emotionally-draining experience. I wanted to keep writing but the idea of writing religious materials never entered my mind. I enjoyed a small group Bible study with some other women, and when the author of one of the books we used, Joyce Landorf, came to my hometown I wanted to go to the bookstore where she was signing books, just to tell her how much I appreciated her books.

In a way that could only be described as extraordinary, the packed bookstore suddenly emptied out, leaving only me, the bookstore owner, and the author. I was so bashful and awkward that Joyce began making small talk with me (just to set me at ease, I think), in which it came to light that I had published some magazine articles. I told her that I'd only been out of Mormonism a couple of years and she said, "One of my publishers would love to publish a book by an ex-Mormon!"

I really thought I'd made her uncomfortable and she was just trying politely to get rid of me. But she'd given me her mailing address, so I went home and began writing the book that would become The Mormon Mirage (in longhand, nursing my new baby.) I typed up and sent the first part of it to Joyce, who sent it to Thomas Nelson.

An editor from TN called me with a problem -- if they published the book, they would lose their largest KJV Bible customer: the LDS Church. So in an unprecedented move (in a string of unprecedented events) the head of TN sent it to the head of Zondervan.

And Zondervan published it. Just like that.

Debbie's Story:
I sold the first article I ever submitted to a publisher and never sold another thing for about 16 years. The article was purchased for future publication and the magazine folded before it was published. So I had gotten a taste for writing and I began to write a novel during the nap time at my home day care when my children were young. Eventually, I had a manuscript to take to the Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference, where it received good reviews, but the market was saturated for that genre and I put it away in a drawer. After breast cancer treatments, I 'sold' my personal experience story to Coping With Cancer magazine for copies, and finally saw a byline! I sold a few more articles and personal experience stories (Chicken Soup for the Bride's Soul) for real money because I enjoyed the structure of articles and having a finished product. On the day of my last radiation treatment, my family waited in our packed car to go to Disneyland, and on that road trip I began writing Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon, which helped to land an agent and a publisher. It was published in June 2008. I will add that I work full-time and it's been a wild ride, but it's a life I feel called to.

A footnote to this post about the current state of Christian publishing: Allow us to point you to this insightful article from the people at Publishers Weekly regarding the various publishers and what they are currently able to sell in this tightening market.


Susan Storm Smith said...

Thanks ladies for the encouragement to continue through reading about your roads to publication

Patti Hill said...

I really should give credit to three people who helped me say yes to God's calling: my husband who thinks I can do anything. I don't know where he got this idea, but it's contagious. Write a book? No problem! [Insert roll of eyes here.] No surprise here, I have to thank my mom. She paid my way to a Learn How to Write Great Fiction class taught right here in my lil' home town. This is nagging put in overdrive, but she wasn't afraid to shove me towards God's will. Thanks, Mom! And certainly not finally, because all writers rely on the talents of others to learn, stay focused, and motivated. Lastly, my heartfelt thanks to Lauraine Snelling for teaching that class. She gave me what no other writing teaching could...a place to start. All I needed was a huge notebook and about 3 million dividers! Thanks to Lauraine, too!

What's your story and who do you have to thank?

Nichole Osborn said...

Thank you ladies, your stories are very inspiring and encouraging.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks for reminding me, Patti. The first fiction class I attended at Mt. Hermon was taught by Lauraine Snelling. What a great experience! I still have the cassette tapes (even though I no longer have anything to play them on). She critiqued my first novel, and then pulled me aside on the last night of the conference and asked me why it hadn't been published. I said that I didn't know, and could she please tell me what was wrong with it? She said, "Absolutely nothing." Bless her, she gave me the confidence I needed to keep writing, even if it meant trying a different genre.

Latayne C Scott said...

When I tweeted about this column, I said something about there not being a "royal road" to publishing in the Christian marketplace. Boy, our diverse experiences surely do prove that!

I love and admire Bonnie, Patti, Sharon, Debbie and Katy for their devotion to their craft and to their Lord!

Latayne C Scott

Lori Benton said...

I've had the privilege of learning from Lauraine Snelling, too, at an Oregon Christian Writers conference, many (many, many) years ago.

Thanks so much for sharing your stories, ladies. They've encouraged me to keep on with my own story (which is getting to be about as long as one of my novels!). I sure can relate to that *Intermission*, Patti. Had one of those myself.

Laura J. Davis said...

Thank you ladies. You've given me the courage to actually submit my next book to a publisher (instead of self-publishing).

Patti Hill said...

Lori: Thanking God for his grace in your life. You're rich in him with so much to offer. I hope we get to sit down and share stories someday.

Laura: Woohoo! You go, sister friend! Keep us posted.

Kathleen Popa said...

While we're thanking people, I should mention that one of the best gifts Mount Hermon gave me was writer friends! I met Sharon Souza the same year I showed my manuscript to Jeff Dunn. She and I read each other's chapters and immediately became friends and critique partners. Then the next year I met Debbie Thomas, and again, we were instant friends. I don't know what I would have done without their friendship and encouragement.

I should also mention that I met my agent, Janet Grant, at Mount Hermon. She was one of those erudite goddesses in the dining hall in 1999. I do think she may be just a little bit all-knowing. I'm thrilled to have her on my side. And see? Again, I thank the conference.

Have I made myself clear? I think writers should go to writers conferences.

Now I'm over the moon to be teamed up with all five of these ladies. What a lot we all can learn from them. What an encouragement to hear their stories.

Kathleen Popa said...

Susan, Nichole, Lori and Laura: We were so hoping that our stories would encourage you to keep writing, and to approach the all-powerful Wizard of Oz with your manuscripts. God bless you all.

Anonymous said...

Katy is absolutely right. Writers conferences are important on so many levels. Mt. Hermon was central to my finding editors who like my work, to signing with my agent Wendy Lawton, and to connecting with my closest writing friends. Even though we live a long way from each other, we're very connected.

I neglected to say in my post, in an attempt at brevity, that I signed with an agent my first year at Mt. Hermon, but it turned out not to be a good fit. She was going in one direction and I was going in another. After our parting of the way I felt a bit like I was floundering for a while, but God knew I had to be free to sign with an agent who really would be my advocate.

The thing I've learned most in my writing life, is that God truly is in control. I don't always understand the path He leads me on, but I don't have to. I just have to trust.

Bonnie Grove said...

What I love about this discussion is the FACT that there is no one way to being published. Everyone's story is unique.
You can read all the "how to" books in the world, and they will help to a point, but somewhere on the journey, you have to forge your own path - and find your unique way to the destination. (not like it is a singular destination, either!)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I also had an agent early on that didn't turn out to be a good fit before I found Wendy Lawton. I was agent-less for awhile in between, which turned out to be a good thing. I don't think its unusual, because it's a learning process for new writers.

Judy Gann said...

Ladies, thank you for sharing your writing journeys! I'm in a difficult place in my writing. Today God used your stories to remind me of how He has guided my own writing journey, and that He will not abandon me now. Bless you for your vulnerable sharing.

I hope everyone sees the one pattern in your journeys--the value of writers conferences. Like many of you I re-connected with my editor and met my agent at Mount Hermon.

Bonnie Grove said...

Wonderful to see you on the blog, Judy!
You're right - conferences can be a wonderful training ground for a writer. Gets the creative juices flowing like nothing else!
And networking is important. Notice in my story, I was already connected with other writers who were connected to others.... it's important for both career (we all need help sometimes) and sanity (we all need a friend who understands us) to get to know other writers!
Blessing, Judy!

Patti Hill said...

Judy, I think of Jeremiah 29:11 for you. God has his plans and they're to profit you. I'm holding my breath in anticipation.

Letterlady said...

Thanks ladies for sharing your stories. I hadn't actually thought about writing for money. But I think you might have given me a bug. Is 50 too old to go to school?

Kathleen Popa said...

Letterlady, my friend, I'm speaking for your grandma here: NO, 50 is not too old for anything! Are you trying to insult me?

But really, you don't have to go to school, to write for publication. My publishers never even asked to see a degree. It is a good idea to get around other writers, and a conference is an excellent way to do that, and to also hone your craft, and make contacts with editors and agents.

I'd love to see you pursue that bug. Your grandma would be so proud.

Anonymous said...

As a member of that same critique group at MH 2004 with Gayle Roper, I must say how delighted I am to see Sharon and Katy publish. Wonderful writers, yes, and special women as well.

It's helpful for me to remember the gifts God gave me are His to use how He sees fit. A lot more goes into the writing process than what we see as the ultimate reward--publication. Sometimes God can use our journey to accomplish far more that we anticipate.

Meanwhile, back to the keyboard for me! :-)

Steve G said...

There's a lot of luuuuuuv out there today. I think I need a tall glass of testosterone or something like that to balance things out. Could we get the next blog post to explode or morph it into a Wittenburg Door event?

I think the stories are great! I have wanted to write for a long time (I remember seeing ads for the Write! Canada event in Bible College). Life got in the way, so now I just live vicariously through my wife! I so appreciate the effort it takes to get published. It's like building a house. We've all used hammers and 2x4s but it ain't gonna happen until you "pull up your big boy panties and get 'er done!" Congrats to all 6 of you for where you are at.
word verification - hononas: Phrases a reggae Santa uses...