The Adventures Of Becoming An Author
I have a distinct memory of reading an excerpt from a story I wrote back in middle school. It was 'show and tell' day in 7th grade homeroom, so I whipped up a chapter about a poor farm boy who found a magical gemstone, and with it, his destiny. One of the kids asked me: "what do you want to do with this?" And I said, "one day I'm going to get published". I knew what I wanted to be, even back when I was thirteen. I wanted to be an author.
I started writing when I was five. I remember looking through some old word doc files on my parent's computer, and I found a short I wrote back when I was an itty bitty thing.
Three unicorn friends were playing tag when a dragon came along and kidnapped one of them, locking her away in a dark and scary cave. (I know, dramatic). And while the dragon was sleeping, her friends crept in to free her. BUT the dragon woke up, AND right when they were about to get eaten, a mighty earthquake came. The cave collapsed, crushing the dragon. (But of course, the unicorns got out in time).
I read that mini adventure with the biggest grin on my face. Even back when I used 24 point font and had no idea what punctuation was, I had a story in me. I think a writer has it in their blood. It's not something you do, it's something you are.
I got serious with it in middle school. The day after that 'show and tell', I started writing like crazy. I was pumping out a chapter a day for a while, pouring my mind onto the page.
With each round of schooling, my writing matured. I started new projects in high school and even more in college, and as my writing style developed, the number of unfinished books grew.
I was waiting for something big - that one story that would take me from an unfinished, half-baked idea to a completed manuscript. Because in all my years of writing, I had never finished a stinking book. Not one!
I got close my freshman year of college. I started a promising story set in Medieval times, which I STILL haven't finished - something my sister will never forgive me for. (I left her on the biggest cliffhanger. Whoops...)
But I knew that one day I'd get my big break, and the summer after my junior year at Biola University was it. A whole cast of characters and an entire world walked into my head one sunny California afternoon, and that was it. The first draft of THE DISEASED ONES was finished four short weeks later.
I remember the moment I wrote the last sentence of the manuscript. I had moved back to Biola for the start of term. I was sitting at my desk, typing away, and when I hit that final keypad stroke, I cried. I hugged myself and balled my eyes out. It was an overwhelming mix of joy and excitement. I was amazed, and I was so proud of myself. I had FINALLY finished a stinking book, and I had a feeling in my gut that this book would get me published. This was the one - the something big I'd been waiting for.
Ah, the messy, messy world of revision!
I'd heard about editors and what they could do to a manuscript. I'd heard the phrase "hold it with an open hand" and "I know it's your baby, but you're probably going to have to rewrite the whole thing". And I was like "YIKES, what have I gotten myself into?"
Well, I didn't know much about it, and I didn't want to dabble with it at that point. My story was still in its infant stages, and on top of that, THE DISEASED ONES was meant to be a stand-alone book.
*Cue sister rage again.*
She bugged me for MONTHS about writing a second book. She was like "no, I refuse to accept that ending, you need to write another". So, she wore me down, and the first draft of book 2 was written over the six week Christmas break between semesters my senior year of college. AND THEN, let me tell you, my brain unlocked the four book series. (Honestly, thanks lil sis!)
I knew I wanted to wait until I had most of my series done before pursuing publication. I didn't want to get stuck with a publishing contract for a series that I hadn't fully thought out. So I wrote the majority of book 3, and planned out book 4. It wasn't until last year (~2018) that I dug my heels in and got myself an editor for book 1.
Unfortunately, he wasn't the best fit for me. He made my sentences beautiful, and cleaned up the rough edges, but he kinda just said he loved it - and while that was exciting feedback at the time, it didn't help me improve my story content. (Aspiring authors, do your research!).
The one helpful thing he told me was "go to a writer's conference". So I did.
The Southern California Writers' Conference in Irvine changed my life. I went there thinking I was a great writer, and I left acknowledging the fact that yes, I would need to rewrite my ENTIRE book. But I attacked the challenge with a new fervor. The conference gave me the tools I needed to succeed, the do's & don't's of the industry, and the encouraging message of "suck less" - and that's exactly what I was going to do.
The full manuscript revision took me four months. When it was done, the book was ~25,000 words longer, and I was ready to sink my teeth in and get myself a literary agent. So I started the daunting task of querying. (That's when you pitch your book to an agent in the hopes of getting a contract).
I was dead-set on traditional publishing. I didn't want to self-publish. I'd researched into it, and decided it wasn't for me.
Rejection. Rejection. Rejection.
I took about six months of it, which, in the grand scheme of things isn't terribly long. I got a few full manuscript requests from agents, but nothing turned up. So I went to The Southern California Writers' Conference again in San Diego. I learned more, I revised my query letter, and polished my first pages. But it was at this conference that I ended up in the right place at the right time. I thank God for this!
I read my first 5 pages in a Read & Critique workshop, and the right set of ears heard it. The next day, one of the co-founders of Acorn Publishing approached me, and the first words out of her mouth were: "I heard your book is the next Hunger Games. I'd love to read your first chapter."
I literally had to pull myself together, pick my jaw up off the floor, and act like a civilized human being. After the brief conversation, I ran to the women's restroom, checked the stalls for occupancy, and then FREAKED OUT.
Post-conference I was still querying agents and receiving rejections, but Acorn's invitation lingered in the back of my mind. So I sent off my first chapter, and their cordial reply read: "you've written something special... If for any reason you decide you would like to give another (publishing) option a try, we'd love to talk."
So after some thought, some more querying, and some more rejection, I decided to try my luck.
It was the FASTEST email turn around I'd ever seen! I sent them my book, and the next morning I woke up to a contract. After years of writing, revising, crying, celebrating, and reading my story to any and everyone who would listen to me, I'd finally caught my big break. I had a publishing contract, and after doing some thinking (and some careful research), I SIGNED IT.
Truly, one the best days of my life (along with getting married & graduating with a chemistry degree.)
*Cue Panic! At The Disco's "Hey Look Ma, I Made It".*
So this is it. This is the book - the one that little middle school me dreamed of publishing one day. I'm still at the start of the process, but I'm loving every second of it! AND, surprise, surprise, I'm working through yet another manuscript revision. It's the eternal plight of a writer.