Saturday, March 23, 2019

Mostly for Writers: The Timeline

A year ago, I signed with my agent, a super smart woman named Joanna MacKenzie who works at Nelson Literary Agency. And next year at about this time, my first novel will be out from Penguin Random House and available for purchase in numerous venues.

It feels crazy and surreal.

Way back when I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Hollenbeck, said I was the most likely in her class to publish a novel. I was flattered by this praise, and, in fact, I planned on writing several novels. I'd already begun one or two, and my mom said they were quite good.

I'm sure that as a fifth-grader, I didn't think it'd take me 30 or so years to actually put a book in the publishing pipeline. Other things got in the way, of course--exciting and important life and career events. But now, I'm happy to be living out the destiny prescribed to me by my teacher, Mrs. H.

Since I announced my book deal in December, lots of people have expressed surprise about just how long it takes to get a book into actual stores. "Spring Twenty-TWENTY?!" they exclaim when I mention the release date. I agree that it seems like an insanely long process, but by publishing standards, my path has been pretty short and straightforward.

Sometimes people like to know these things, and so I'm going to write it out. Here's the "when" of the path to publication for Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes so far:

Fall 2004: I started writing this blog after writing nothing but academic papers for at least 10 years. The reason the earliest posts aren't here is that I first used a now-defunct platform, the name of which I can no longer remember. I wrote like crazy on this website, usually posting more than a hundred short pieces per year. I worked on dialogue and humor and crafting stupid little life experiences into things I felt were worth saving. I interacted with other writers and felt like a real writer myself. Basically, the blog changed my life, and though I wished it were more popular, it didn't really matter that almost no one read it.

January 2014: I decided to "reclaim my reader identity" (I'm sure I got this phrase from Lee) by resolving to read 52 books per year. Best resolution ever. I read lots of books I wished I'd written.

January 2015: Since I liked my new reader identity so much, I decided to work on my "writer identity" (again, stolen, I'm sure), and I started drafting a way-too-ambitious family saga that spanned generations. Beginning that book was an important step, but it wasn't really meant to be.

December 2015: Over winter break, I started writing a different thing about a woman who ran through a crowd of kids at her son's school, checking the drama bulletin board to see which part he'd gotten and injuring a teenaged girl in the process. KK and I had dreamed up this scenario between classes at the middle school where we taught. We thought it was hilarious.

Spring 2016-Fall 2017: I took several online courses about how to write a book, met a fabulous critique group, worked with a developmental editor, and coerced several people into reading my manuscript about the theater mom and (of course) a beleaguered English teacher. Finally, I felt the book was finished enough to query in early 2018.

January 2018: I sent out an initial five query letters to literary agents, none of which resulted in manuscript requests.

February 2018: I finaled in a contest called Sun vs. Snow that helps writers get their work in front of agents. I got my first two manuscript requests this way, and I felt more confident about the whole process of trying to get an agent. My submission materials were better after working with a mentor through the contest. I also hired an editor to help me polish them.

February-March 2018: I sent an additional seven queries to agents I thought might like my book. Two of these people asked to read the whole thing and then offered to represent me. I picked Joanna.

May 2018: Joanna and Angie, the in-house editor at Nelson, sent me an eleven-page editorial letter along with line edits. As gently as they could, they told me I'd need to rewrite the book to fix character and conflict problems before we tried to sell it.

May-August 2018: I wrote and rewrote and cried and had panic attacks. But, even as I suffered, I realized Joanna and Angie were right about all eleven pages of their feedback. The book would be way better after the rewrite. Elated and exhausted, I turned it back into Joanna in the first week of August.

September 2018: Joanna wrote me a much shorter editorial letter in which she detailed about three-weeks' worth of further revisions. When I first got the email, I freaked. I couldn't even open it, feeling like I was in for another ten weeks of tortured self-doubt; but my writer friend Alison read the suggestions first and talked me down.

October 2018: I did a few more clean-up edits, and then, by the last week of the month, Joanna blessedly said it was ready to send to a list of about twelve editors whom she'd contacted.

November 2018: The book sold to Kerry Donovan an editor at Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in what's called a preempt, which means they paid a little more so other people couldn't also look at it. Berkley announced that the pub date would be "Spring twenty-TWENTY," and away we go.

There's a whole new timeline about what happens next. It's exciting, right? But, I don't want to be boring about the whole thing. I'll be back to amusing anecdotes about daily life in no time.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Status Report

Television: After a long and frustrating search, Dan and I have landed on The Americans as our new joint show. I think we can all agree that The Americans is superior to the Bachelor Franchise, which has, unfortunately, provided most of our entertainment in the last several years.

Last night while we watched the first three episodes of The Americans, in which the leads are married KGB agents, we started suspecting one another of being spies. While it's still possible that Dan is a spy, he did finally come around to the realization that while I have many gifts, I'm not really suited to covert operations. The reasons include the fact I already work at two verified jobs, I go to sleep between 9 and 10 every night, and most damning, I can only understand people with midwestern accents. I'm not proud of this last fact, but it's undeniable.

Books: Yesterday, I finished a round of developmental edits on my first book and sent them back to my editor. Although I did beef up the arc of a teenaged character in a satisfying way, there wasn't a whole ton to do this time, I think because of the Massive Rewrite of the Summer of 2018. That rewrite was incredibly painful, but many times I've been grateful that I did it. I was grateful once again yesterday while I danced maniacally around my living room, celebrating "The End" for yet another time. We're close to the last "The End" now, and I can't believe it.

Daylight Savings Time: I've never been a huge fan of this day or program; however, I will persevere. It's better now that the children are older and unaffected. Yes, I'm disappointed that I have one fewer hour in which to finish my lesson plans. I could try to stay up later, but it turns out I'm quite rigid on bedtime. As I mentioned before, that limits my potential as a spy. On reflection, I'm realizing it might limit my potential in other areas, as well.