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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.