Being a writer is full of moments. For me, there have been some memorable milestones along the way that I'd like to share with all of you, and I hope you can get some inspiration from checking out some of my bright spots, regardless of where you are on your own journey.
Let's start at the beginning. . . .
1. Finishing a book
It's no secret that actually finishing the darn thing is a big deal.
I have finished writing ten books in my life. Each one was like a weird miracle: you can't believe it's actually done, but at the same time it seemed like forever that you were swimming in that fictional world, trying to write those final words. I finished my first book when I was fourteen, all handwritten and terrible. I finished my most recent fiction book on June 3, 2012. All of the books I've written have been equally satisfying to complete, and finishing them was both a relief and an anxiety-filled experience--because now there would be so much work to do, and now there was still so much path to travel. But finishing the book: that's the first thing. And you can't do any of the next things until you do that.
2. Submitting to agents for the first time
It's a weird feeling when you're ready to pull that trigger.
I began to contact agents for the first time in 2006. It turned out to be with a book that was not ready, as I would later rewrite it as a trilogy instead of a gigantic hulking monster of a doorstopper, but that was the first time I decided something of mine might actually be ready for popular consumption and I summoned up the courage to try. Sending your stuff out into the void is terrifying and exhilarating. It's fun and exhausting and weird and frustrating. But it's also a really inspiring hope-filled experience; you've made the decision that you're not just writing for yourself, and you're looking for a partner to help you bring this thing into the mainstream. You're sharing your stuff with people who read a LOT of bad writing and a LOT of stuff that isn't right for them, hoping your work will beat the odds. Will they respond? HOW will they respond? What a roller coaster.
3. My first full manuscript request
I started querying agents in the days before electronic querying was the most common way to do it, so my first full manuscript request came in hard copy. It was a strange mixture of form letter and personal, meaning that I received a single sheet of paper that was literally a form but was responding to my query-and-ten-pages submission with this full manuscript request. It was from Laurie at Larsen-Pomada. She did not end up offering on the manuscript after digging into the full, and I ended up rewriting it as a trilogy partly based on her advice, but this marked for me a first inkling of my chances for success; publishing industry professionals thought I had potential and were responding to my work with requests for more of it, which meant I wasn't wrong to think I could actually do this. I got multiple requests after this, too, with somewhere around 70% of the agents I bothered requesting samples of my work. It was a little intimidating and scary when that happened, and I knew I had to close the deal.
4. My first offer of representation
On August 8, 2012, I got an e-mail from Michelle Johnson, who asked to set up a phone call with me. I connected with her the next day and she said those lovely words:
"I would love to offer you representation for Bad Fairy."
After sorting out some other business and considering my options, I ended up signing with her on August 20, and there I was with my first actual publishing-industry contract. Now I had a partner in crime to help me get my work out there, and it was a huge confidence boost, thinking someone who'd read so much had chosen my work to pitch to publishers. Michelle was also not the last to offer me representation; I also got an offer of representation from Andrea Somberg, who represents my nonfiction. That was really excellent too!
5. My first offer of publication
I received three offers of publication for the book that later sold. My agent Andrea got the publishers to update and change some things in the contracts they offered, and after more than a week of back-and-forth, I got a contract that I was willing to sign.
I accepted an offer of publication with Skyhorse Publishing's Carrel Books imprint. This is the kind of thing you dream about when you're an author--having publishers making competing offers and having a smart agent on your side negotiating better terms for you, and then looking at all the dates and rules and percentages and knowing that all of this is about making your idea into a tangible product that is one day going to hit shelves. It's beginning! But in a way, it's an ending too. You did it, you know? Your book sold. It happened. Somebody wants to throw money at your idea in the hopes that consumers will shell out cash for the privilege of looking at your words. Incredible.
6. My Publishers Marketplace announcement and cover
My book getting announced in the official publication of book deals was pretty awesome. It was especially cool when friends who were members started tweeting at me with excitement before I'd even announced the deal myself. Publishers Marketplace kind of scooped me! It came out so fast, which I understand is unusual--people wait for a long time to see their submission sometimes, and mine came out the day after I signed the contract.
Some time later, I got scooped again:
My book, whose title had recently been changed to The Invisible Orientation (from the title I sold it as, So You Think You're Asexual--much better, I agree), suddenly had a cover one day when I looked it up on Amazon. This cover ended up getting attached to the Advance Reading Copies and the Kindle edition, but a different cover popped up on the final books. It was really neat, in any case, seeing both of these electronic representations of the book's REALNESS on the Internet. Like, oh look, here are all the signs and signals that the book is on its way, and they're treating MY book just like all the other books that are real. It's happening!
7. Getting paid
In February of 2014, I got my first advance check--and I had officially been paid for writing for the first time. Which meant I was this weird mythical creature called a Professional Writer.
You know, an Author. A real one.
I never believed that you had to get paid for your work to be a legitimate author, but there's something about being paid for what you wrote that definitely makes you feel like it has value--and not just because people like it or find it useful. Getting paid for your work makes you feel like people somewhere out there want to give you an incentive to do more of it--that you've created not only some enjoyable writing, but a product that is worth treating like other things of value. My writing is worth paying for, and for the first time, I had proof that someone in the publishing industry agrees with me.
8. Receiving copies of my book
Boy oh boy, is that a big one!
Now, technically the first copies of my book I got were advance reading copies that my editor gave me to use at a conference. (And I guess that was also technically my first book event--another milestone--but it was before the book came out, so I didn't include it.) But these were the official hardbacks--a box of ten--that were given to me as part of my contract to do whatever I wanted with.
So I got to see a bunch of copies of the book I wrote, with my name on the cover, with my photo on the rear inside flap, with my words filling all those pages. The back flap covered with blurbs from people praising my work. The front inside flap pitching the book to potential readers. The little price quote on the book cover, and an ISBN and bar code on it. Publishing info. Copyright. All that official stuff. You know, a real book. That people I don't even know can buy and read. Pretty dang amazing.
9. My book release
On September 2, 2014, my book was released into the wild and I became a published author with an actual credit to my name.
I didn't actually do much on the actual day--I wanted to be alone, 'cause I'm weird--but the day before, I got a surprise party with friends and my mom, and got a cute little cake and some company. (And a framed poster of my book cover!) It was cool to know this was a cause for celebration, and that my friends and family who had supported me were so proud of me, and then of course it was so great to have the book published and out there and ready for people to order or borrow from the library. There were so many messages of congratulations and people expressing excitement about getting to read the book. It was just kind of overwhelming. It was what I'd worked for all that time, and finally it had happened.
10. Getting reviews--and more
There's a very weird feeling that accompanies getting feedback. It's sort of this mixture of pride and fear--people can now publicly react to your work, and there's nothing you can do about it, and if they hate it they might say so . . . possibly even in horrible ways. I've been fortunate in that very little of the response has been negative (and literally all of the off-the-wall nasty stuff has been done in passive-aggressive ways, like the person who created a Goodreads account JUST to give my book one star and never did anything at all else with the account; sounds like a personal feud to me). You have to learn, as an author, to not take negative reviews personally, and to not argue with them (oh believe me, I would never do that), and to avoid acting like a jerk if you get reactions to your work that you don't like.
All kinds of slightly terrifying, mostly delightfully surreal things happen when you get a book published. Your book gets mentioned in and reviewed by publications large and small sometimes. (I got excerpted in TIME, featured in the Washington Post, interviewed in Salon, discussed on the BBC, invited on Australian television, written up in Library Journal, and profiled in the New York Times. Among others.) You see people recommending it to other people. You see it on shelves in places you've never been. You see it listed on Goodreads and other book review sites. You see people wishing it was translated into their country's language. You see people doing cute things like tweeting about getting your book for Christmas, or asking for how to get an autographed copy, or getting excited that there's an audio version (which was also cool for me--hearing someone else narrate my book!). You have created a wanted product and you get to see people treating it like a wanted product. And when you hear about your sales numbers, find out they justify bringing the book out in paperback, learn you've gone to reprints . . . it all hits home that so many people WANT to have your book.
That silly thing that you banged out a while back and typed "THE END" on.
Being an author is awesome. And I love looking back at that list of milestones, and knowing that I may have a whole new set of milestones to hit--perhaps like selling another book, hitting a bestsellers list of some kind, doing a real book signing, and getting a multiple-book deal. Hey, a girl can hope.
Wishing my author friends luck on their own paths, whichever of these signposts might be in their futures.