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!