Monday, January 11, 2021

Overnight Success

At a time when many of us are sitting down to get a leg up on those New Year’s resolutions to write that novel or find an agent or get published, it can be too tempting to compare ourselves to the Angie Thomases, the V.E. Schwabs, the seemingly overnight success stories. That success feels so far out of reach, it’s almost enough to stop our work in our tracks.

Just before publishing ground to a halt for the winter holidays, I signed my first “big girl” contract.


I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn (while I’m here, though, TOOT TOOT), but to give you some perspective. To those who don’t know me, they might assume it just happened, instantly and without years of hard work and waiting to back it up. They would be woefully wrong.

To demonstrate, a timeline:

2008: Though I’d been writing for “fun” for several years, as a new mom staring down the rest of my life, I decided to write “seriously.” My first manuscript was a Twilight rip-off called Eternity, in which my main character, Catherine, comes into the crosshairs of a football-playing family of vampires. No, you can’t read it. I’ve burned every word.

2009 – 2011: After Eternity’s failure, I decide I’m not a novelist. I am, in fact, a short story writer. I write and submit over a hundred and fifty short stories in this time. None of them sell. I join a Goodreads group called On Fiction Writing where I meet my first mentor. She not only has the balls to tell me my writing is “very not good,” but that it could be if I was willing to work my ass off.

2012: Back to novel-writing. Though I write two books this year, I am still too new to know how to property edit a manuscript or query an agent. I am full of optimism and too much caffeine. I manage to get a couple of short stories published in anthologies edited by writer friends.

2014: After six years of hard work and failure, I land my first paid writing gig at Dark Comedy Productions. I write an interview column called “The Rack” in which my interviewees, lovingly dubbed “victims,” are stretched out on the rack in a combination short story/interview format. To this day, it is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

2014: After being rejected by every agent known to man, my first published novel, REAPER, is published by a small press in Minnesota. It barely sells—and for good reason. It was not up to snuff. But it was the stepping stone I needed. Someone out there thought I was good enough. Maybe I could be.

2015: My second published novel, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, is published by another small press, Red Adept Publishing. Though I’m pleased with the book, I suspect the small press route isn’t for me. Too much of the production and marketing is up to the writer. Being a mom of two, I work paycheck to paycheck. Fronting the money for blog tours and reviews and giveaway copies without the privilege of an advance just isn’t in the cards.

2016: I self-publish a book that, though it got some full requests from agents, never panned out in the traditional market. A TALE DU MORT is part Terry Pratchett, part Florida love-affair. In truth, I only published this one to see if I could. Several hundred rejections do a lot to a person; I wanted to know if I could do it on my own.

Late 2016: My third published book, ALL DARLING CHILDREN, is released by Red Adept Publishing after a few full requests by agents end in more rejection. It’s my first foray into the crossover horror genre I’d later figure out I love.

2017: Almost ten years after I started pursuing a writing career, I finally signed with an agent with my manuscript, HEART OF SNOW. We spend nearly a year on editing and submissions and receive almost a dozen rejections, all mostly complimentary and encouraging. Their one gripe? No idea where to put in on the shelf, or how to market it. I learn my first hard lesson—there are no guarantees.

2018: I write another manuscript, CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT. This one went through two complete rewrites before it even saw an editor’s inbox. Though I get close—an editor tells my agent she is taking the book to acquisitions—in the end, I’m rejected. At this point, my agent has signed a few authors after me, all of which have landed their first deals. I’m feeling disheartened and frustrated and wondering what the hell to do next. The answer is easy: write another book. So I did.

2019: I write two more manuscripts, one of which is shelved for having no plot. The other is still sitting in limbo.

2020: The editor who took CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT to acquisitions, only to have it rejected, reaches out to my agent. She tells my agent she wants to try again, if I’m willing to play a little with the genre. It’s a challenge, but I whole-heartedly accept. The book goes through its third complete rewrite before she takes it to acquisitions again. It’s twelve years later, and I finally get the call I’ve been dreaming of since Catherine tackled a vampire in a game of touch-football.

What I’m saying is this: it’s difficult, the waiting feels like it’ll kill you, and you will be rejected more times than you can count. That doesn’t mean you should give up. I didn’t.    


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Every pre-published writer should read this. It's the reality check we all need, but never get.

Karissa Laurel said...
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