The Dream Becomes a Reality!
My long-held dream of becoming a traditionally-published author is close to becoming a reality. But the journey has been a long, arduous one. Here’s how I did it.
Several years ago I started working on a new manuscript. It wasn’t my first attempt at publishing a novel, but it is about to become my first successful attempt! This experience has convinced me that in addition to the obvious requirements of talent and having a good story to tell, two additional items factor into any success story: luck and perseverance.
I’ve written in several genres over the years, ranging from urban fantasy to middle reader to humor to script-writing to sweet mystery to sweet romance. A few years ago I asked myself what was selling, and one of the answers was Christian romance.
Since I’m a Christian and I love a good romance, I decided to give it a try. I’ve always enjoyed reading Amish romances, and since I live in Amish country, it seemed like a good fit. So I gave it a shot during Nanowrimo one November and finished about two thirds of the manuscript. After that, it was simply a matter of sticking to the project, and before long I had a completed first draft.
It’s important to understand that a first draft is not a finished book. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through that novel and re-written, revised and revamped it! But it is a lot.
When I was satisfied, I started querying agents. Another very important thing a writer must understand is how very important it is to follow the directions clearly stated by literary agents as to whom they represent and how to submit to them.
If you’ve written a steamy romance, don’t submit it to a Christian literary agent. If you’ve written a work of fiction, don’t submit it to an agent who only deals with non-fiction. Seems obvious, right? But apparently, agents are swamped daily with emails and snail mail submissions containing work they have clearly stated on their websites they do not represent. By submitting to them, an author wastes her own time and money, and the agent’s, as well as looking unprofessional.
That’s not the way to get a literary agent. The way to get one is to have your very best work ready to go, free of errors, and submitted in exactly the way requested by each agent. Then you have to be patient. It can take weeks or even months to hear back. You’ll collect an impressive assortment of rejections. But remember, each rejection gets you closer to an acceptance.
Conventional wisdom in the industry suggests that an author will probably have around 10,000 hours of writing and editing in before selling that first book. Of course, some people get really lucky and sell a book faster, while for others it will take even longer.
But I’m convinced that if you spend that much time practicing your craft and polishing your work, eventually you’ll sell it.
I wrote my first manuscript, a middle reader, in 1994. It was pretty good. I secured an agent . . . but unfortunately, another similar series was just about to be released, so I was out of luck!
A couple of years ago, an editor at Harlequin was interested in my Amish romance. But it hadn’t been written with Harlequin’s publishing requirements in mind. The editor worked with me, teaching me a great deal in the process, for a couple revisions before deciding the book wasn’t going to be able to be hammered into a Harlequin book. But she told me she liked my voice and my characters, and would welcome another submission later. That was both a thrill and a disappointment rolled into one!
I knew the book was good; almost good enough — so I revised it again, and tried querying agents again. All that hard work finally paid off when I received an offer for representation by an agent in early 2022. She loved the book, and believed it would sell. She believed in me!
I wrote that first middle reader in 1994, and wrote steadily, book after book, until I finally sold the manuscript in 2022. You do the math.
Securing agent representation is not the last step in your journey to traditional publication. After you get that thrilling offer, you wait longer while your agent tries to sell the book to a publisher. For me, that took about five months. Was I afraid the book wouldn’t sell? Oh, yeah. But it did, and now I’ve entered into the next phase of waiting; I’ve submitted the completed manuscript, as polished as I could make it, to the publisher’s editor, and now I’m waiting for her to tell me what needs to be cleaned up.
My book, Ruth’s Ginger Snap Surprise, will be released on December 1. It will be the second book in a new series from Barbour Publishing called Heart of the Amish. The first book by a more experienced author, Mindy Steele, will be released in September. Her book is called “The Flower Quilter”. I can’t wait to read it! There is a third author as well, though I don’t know his or her name yet. And most excitingly, we each have a two-book deal! My second book in the series, “Mary’s Calico Hope”, will be published in the spring or summer of 2024.
My dream is coming true. And all it took was nearly 30 years of hard work to make it happen.
So don’t give up on your own dreams. I may not be 30 any more, but success still feels just as good as it did then. And maybe it’s all the sweeter for having taken so darned much work to achieve!
Watch for my cover reveal on April 1. I can’t wait for you to see it – I LOVE it!
What Makes me Get off my Tuchus and Write?
I’m working on the second book in my Willow Creek Amish Kittens series, Mary’s Calico Hope, and I’m pleased with my progress. I like the people in my story – even those who might be hard to like in ‘real life’. After all, they serve the purpose of moving my plot, so how can I help but like them?
It’s not always easy to sit down and write, though I attempt to hold myself to something of a schedule. I try to write at least something every day…but I’m firm about getting in a good three days a week. What’s made this fairly easy for me is something my writing group does.
They call it Sprints, and they do it three nights a week. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night from 7 – 9 p.m. anyone who likes can check in to the group’s Facebook page and join the sprints, which are generally led by one of the group’s officers, although we’ve all taken turns leading from time to time.
You boot up your computer, open your document, find the place you want to write or edit, and when 7:05 hits, off you go on a 20 minute sprint, trying to write as much as you can in that time. At 7:25 there is a 10 minute break, and most people check back into the Facebook page and comment on how many words they wrote in that sprint, or problems they’re having with plotting, editing, etc. The members give each other helpful advice, or maybe just a sympathetic ear. At 7:35 the second sprint begins, ending at 7:55. From 8:05 until 8:25 the third sprint goes on, and the final sprint takes place from 8:35 until 8:55.
I can churn out a couple thousand words in two hours, and I confess that if I’m on a roll, I don’t stop for the 10 minute breaks. You can do one sprint, or all four, joining in whenever is convenient.
There is also a document available through the group’s website called the Magic Spreadsheet, which allows members to keep track of how many words they write each day in a particular WIP. The person who writes the most each month wins bragging rights, and if they attend the monthly meeting in person, they get to take possession of the coveted stuffed Emu for a month.
I’m pretty competitive, and this stuff motivates me. During Covid, when there was little to distract me, I churned out two complete novels by sprinting three times a week and competing for the highest word count. I won a couple times, too – though since we weren’t meeting in person, possession of the Emu remains an unfulfilled dream for me.
I took a break from sprinting during my querying period, but now that I’ve found a wonderful agent and publishing my first Amish novel, “Ruth’s Ginger Snap”, looks like a real possibility, I’m back at it, writing hard with a self-imposed goal of having a first draft done by Memorial Day.
I’ve found that if I sit my tuchus down at my computer and start banging out words, ideas soon follow. Sometimes they’re terrible ideas, and I end up deleting whole scenes. But sometimes they work out very well, and I feel buoyed up by my accomplishment, small as it may be.
Writing is like a job – currently one I’m doing for free, admittedly! You have to show up to work and WORK if you want to get anything done.
The fact that I work as a newspaper writer and editor all day every day can lessen my thrill in sitting down again to write at night – but I just remind myself that the thrill will be very real should I publish, and especially should I get paid for all this hard work.
That is my ultimate goal; and it’s looking as if it may be attainable.
So Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to write I go!
30 Day Decluttering Challenge: Day 3
It’s April 3, and that means it’s the third day of the 30 day challenge I accepted from a co-worker. Each day of this month, I must fling an increasing number of THINGS out of my house, and out of my life.
So far, I’ve gotten rid of some old toys, a blanket, a theater prop, a huge bag of cereal we didn’t mean to buy, a file cabinet, a big suitcase and a bunch of gifts I’ve been meaning to mail since CHRISTMAS! (Is that cheating? They’ve been sitting in my house for months, so I think it counts.)
This gets harder each day, and by the last week of the month, it should prove interesting finding 26, then 27, then 28, 29 and finally 30 items to fling out of my house. I’m counting heavily on clothing donations to get those big numbers moving late in the month. How many items fit into a 13 gallon trash bag?
Mustn’t forget my junk drawer(s), and it’s possible I have too many kitchen items. Marie Kondo wants me to start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (misc), and finally tackle sentimental stuff. But I’m an out-of-order kind of person, so I’m going to go out of order some. Don’t give up on me, Marie!
More tomorrow as I find four things to toss.
I accepted a 30 Day Decluttering Challenge! Want to Join me?
While I declared 2022 to be the Year of Decluttering in my home, and got off to a pretty good start, it will come as no surprise to most that I’ve slowed down a bit. Life happens, right?
That won’t do! So yesterday I accepted a 30 Day decluttering challenge that fits right into my goals for the year.
The 30-Day Minimalism Game:
The idea is to motivate yourself to get rid of STUFF you no longer use. It works even better if you can talk a family member, friend or co-worker into decluttering with you, as you’ll egg each other on.
You can donate, trash or give away your stuff. Just get it gone!
Try not to give up; it gets harder with time. I’ll be on a mini-vaca for a few days this month, so I’ll add the totals for those days to the following week.
On Day One, which was April 1, I actually gave away six items I no longer use. And today, April 2, I stuck to the program and put two items into my car. One went to its new owner, and the second will go to its new owner later today.
The idea is that at the end of the day, the items you are flinging are out of your house and out of your life. Since this isn’t always handy, I’ll accept out of my house and into my car . . . where they may ride around for a few days or weeks, but will NOT reenter my home.
Who wants to join me? I’ll post some photos in the days to come.
Plotting during Savasana
by Anne Blackburne
I went to Yoga today. This is something I try to do every week, so that I can look into the mirrors in the ballet studio where we practice and confirm that I’m still the fattest, oldest person there.
Perhaps this is not what I’m supposed to be thinking about in a class which is supposed to help me transcend earthly worries and increase my confidence, strength and balance.
Alright, it does those things, with the added bonus of increasing my flexibility and helping to prevent the pain we all seem to be prone to as we reach a certain age. Having had two total hip replacements, I’ve found that regular Yoga keeps me from suffering the debilitating pain that results from too much sitting around on my tuchus. After all, they’re saying that sitting is the new smoking, as far as what’s going to kill you!
Hence, Yoga class. And I really enjoy it. I’m not too bad at it, either. But then comes that period of quiet contemplation at the end of each class, known as Savasana.
Savasana, also called Corpse Pose, is the period of resting on one’s back, completely still, for a period of time. Some people think that it is the hardest Yoga pose, because it’s not easy staying still.
BlissYogaStudio.com has this to say: Savasana (Corpse Pose) is much more than a moment’s rest at the end of a yoga class. The essential pose is crucial for calming the mind and body, here are additional benefits: Calms central nervous system, aiding the digestive and immune systems. Calms the mind and reduces stress.
So Savasana is a time of meditation. My teacher reserves the final 15 minutes of class for this. She turns out the lights, puts on relaxing Eastern music, and murmurs relaxing things to us about becoming aware of our breath, and of taking inventory of our bodies.
Sometimes I find myself drifting off to sleep during Savasana. Maybe this is okay, as sleeping is certainly relaxing.
Sometimes I can get with the program and simply “be.” But today, I found myself contemplating what will happen to the protagonist in my second Amish romance, “Mary’s Calico Hope,” which I’m currently writing.
I’m done with the first chapter, in which Mary has met her man – though she doesn’t know he’s her man, of course. As I lay on the floor in the dance studio, undistracted by images of myself in the mirrors because of the darkness, it occurred to me what could happen next. I had to keep from squealing and doing a little butt wiggle dance of happiness as I lay there.
I also came up with a BIG QUESTION I’ll need to address – a plot question about possibilities and impossibilities as to what can happen in Mary’s world.
I lay there quite pleased with myself, and was almost startled when the teacher told us it was time to return out attention to our breath, wiggle our fingers and toes, sit up and see ya later!
I’m sure plotting isn’t supposed to occur during Savasana, but I have to say it was the best 15 minutes I’ve spent lately. Now to stop blogging about my story, and go write it!
Writing Journey: The Process
The Agent Contract is Signed!
Yesterday I passed an exciting milestone in the process of publishing my first book. I signed my agent contract, and returned it to my agency! Now my agent is hard at work trying to match my book with the right publishing house. It could take days or months. I’m hoping for days, of course! But it’s already been a three year process to this point, so a little more “hurry up and wait!” isn’t going to kill me.
What boggles my mind is the idea that, should a publisher pick up my book, they’re going to want to see a sequel in a much shorter amount of time than it took to write the first book. Of course, I had no pressure for that one, so I dawdled along. And I’ve always worked well under pressure!
But I believe I’m getting the buggy before the horse, to switch up the old saying to fit my Amish romance genre! I need to give this one to God, as they say, and concentrate on the next one. More on this soon!
The Publishing Journey: It Begins!
From a Newb’s Limited Point of View!
A number of years ago, I decided to write a book. I’ll tell you now, this is a process requiring courage, commitment and preferably total ignorance of what lies ahead. Not for nothing, but finishing an entire book is a big deal, even if it isn’t very good.
I’ve written a number of books, ranging from a really bad romance back in the 90’s to a couple of middle readers that never saw the light of day to a silly look at those lying letters we all get at Christmas to a paranormal romance to an Amish romance that may be getting some traction. More on that . . .
Back to the process. So you write a book. Then you have to edit that book, meaning you read it over and over again several times from front to back, looking for errors, finding gaps in your plot and patching those up. This becomes more difficult each time you read the thing, because all the scenes melt together until you can’t remember whether you’ve read that section this time through, or if you’ve got the scene when they do whatever in the book more than once! I recommend taking notes. It kept me on track.
Once you decide your brain child is ready for someone else to see, it’s time to give it to your Beta readers. These can be friends who read the genre you’re writing in, members of your writing club or paid pros. Doesn’t matter. They’ll read your book and then give you – hopefully honest – feedback. This part can hurt! But honesty is what you need, because agents and editors won’t give you feedback on a bad book; they’ll toss it and say, “Next.” Better to hear it when you have time to fix it.
So working with the helpful input from your Betas, you tweak that book some more, and then maybe you decide to enter it into some writing contest or other. If you’re lucky, you’ll get feedback from the judges, who are going to be even more brutal than your friends and your Aunt Sally. You won’t like some of that feedback. I remember reading feedback from judges a couple of times and arguing with them out loud, as if they could hear me. But you NEED this feedback. Listen and learn. Start at the beginning again, and read the book through again, trying to see what those Betas and judges meant by things like, “Needs more conflict,” or “Why would he ever do something like this? Doesn’t play.”
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to decide whether you’ll try to go with traditional publishing, or independent (Indy) publishing. I went with traditional, so I don’t know much about Indy. I was exploring it as a possibility when I found an agent, so I let it go. You can find a lot of information online on this option.
If you’re going traditional, this is the time to query agents, to try and find representation for your book. This is really scary. If you do it right, you painstakingly research which agents represent your specific type of book, and you go to their websites, and carefully follow their directions for submitting your baby to them. Follow these directions like it’s your new religion. There is no point wasting anybody’s time by sending your steamy romance to a conservative religious agency. Nor is there any point in sending your thriller to an agent who represents non-fiction self-help books. You get my point; agents take the time to say what they want. Stick with that, or you might as well save your time because you won’t get anywhere.
So follow the directions and take the plunge! Keep notes on whom you’ve queried, and about how much time they say it’ll be until you hear back from them.
Then . . . you wait.
Agents can take a really long time to tell you no.
Some will be very nice when they tell you no, saying things like, “Thank you so much for considering me to represent your book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet my needs at this time. But another agent may feel differently, so keep trying!”
You’re not going to get a letter telling you your book stinks. Don’t worry.
Don’t let the accumulating rejections get you down. Each rejection gets you closer to the agent who likes your work and asks to see your full manuscript, until one bright and glorious day, an agent offers to represent you in the big, scary world of book publishing. You’ve hopefully done your homework before soliciting that agent, so you already know he or she is legit. So you say Yes! Please! Represent me! Thank you so much! Where do I sign?
And you’ve got an agent. Congratulations!
This is where I am in the publishing game right. now. My shiny, brand new to me agent has my book, and wants to represent me to potential publishers! I’ll tell you what happened the day after we first spoke in my next post.
For now . . . just keep writing!