Some of you have followed my writing journey for quite a while. One thing I haven’t discussed on the blog is what happened between being in the thick of submitting my work and signing my book contract.
My journey to publication has been a bit of a winding road. It took some unexpected detours along the way that landed me where I am now (Ha, ha, especially if you look WAY back into my childhood writing archives). To make a very long story short, I connected with my acquisitions editor through a Twitter pitch event called #FaithPitch.
It wasn’t until after I had received an offer from my publisher that I signed with my agent. If you know anything about the publishing process, my story is a little backwards from the normal way things work. If you’d like to hear the longer, detailed version, read on ;).
The Edge of Belonging, as the book is now titled, was a story I’d started writing in 2016 after my first writer’s conference with American Christian Fiction Writers. The Edge of Belonging wasn’t the first novel I had written and pitched, but I really felt like this story would be the first thing I’d publish.
I finished the story nine months later and started sending out query letters.
In 2017, I took this novel to my second ACFW conference and pitched it to agents and editors. The year prior, when I had mentioned this new story idea while pitching a different book, there seemed to be interest in my concept. I was really excited to pitch the finished work.
While I received positive feedback in my pitch appointments, I sensed hesitancy. To sum up what I was hearing from them: My writing was strong, but they weren’t quite sure how to categorize my work. (Translation: It didn’t fit neatly into a genre category, and they weren’t sure if they could take a risk on me as a debut author)
I won’t lie, during that conference, I struggled with discouragement and frustration. I found myself continually drawn to writing stories that didn’t quite fit into a mold. Therefore, making me a risky choice, especially as a debut author. My writing life felt like it had hit a wall. This current story didn’t seem like it was going anywhere, and I had zero new ideas burning in my heart at that time. You can read more about where I was as a writer in this post.
As I was about to leave the conference and head to the airport, I had an unplanned encounter with an agent. I casually chatted about writing, and my desire to discover my next step as an author. Through this individual’s advice, I came up with an idea to do a major rewrite, adding another timeline to help my novel tick more of the genre boxes it currently lacked. This agent was interested in taking a look at my completed rewrite for potential representation.
It felt risky to make such major changes on a maybe, but this truly felt like the next step I had prayed for. I spent the next nine months taking apart a story I loved and wrestled through writing and incorporating a new timeline (a few times over, because honestly, it just wasn’t coming together like I wanted it to). Finally finished, I sent it off to the agent. I had succeeded in making major changes to my novel without sacrificing the heartbeat of the story. Because of the little things that had happened over the course of the year, I really felt like this was going to be a huge moment for my writing life.
Not in the way I thought. The agent got back to me with very kind feedback on my quality of writing, but ultimately couldn’t offer representation. Their suggestion was to shelve this story and work on something new. This post from 2018 shows the resolve I found with my writing life just before everything started to shift.
In May of 2018, I took the agent’s advice and shelved it. I still believed that the story would be published someday, but maybe it just wasn’t the right timing. No matter what, I had polished my manuscript to the best of my ability, and I was ready if an opportunity presented itself. If some great idea blipped into my head to address the issues the agent identified, I would’ve jumped on that in a hot minute. But at the time, I couldn’t stand the thought of analyzing that story for another second. I was way too close to see clearly.
In June of 2018, while scrolling through Twitter I realized it was the day for a #faithpitch event. Just for the fun of boiling my 95,000 word novel down to a single tweet, I put a pitch out there. I ended up with two likes from industry professionals, which meant they were interested in my work. One from an agent and one from an acquisitions editor at one of my dream publishing houses.
I had pretty much given up on this story (at least for the time being) and didn’t believe that anything would come of this. Still, I had promised myself two things when I started exploring publication: To make my writing the best I could and to have the courage to pursue the opportunities I was given.
This new agent got back to me within the same week with another complimentary rejection letter. (I joked to a close friend of mine that if my rejections got any nicer they would be yeses) I figured I was getting closer to my goals because I was no longer getting form letters, or worse, cricket chirps in response to my submissions. However, this agent echoed the similar concerns as the previous agent.
I sighed, just KNOWING that the acquisitions editor would say the exact same thing. And thus began the wait…. And I did what writers do…I wrote new things. I did everything in the world I could to not allow myself to hope that this was “the yes” I had been working for.
In October, the notification went across my screen that I had a new email from the editor. I said to myself, “This is a rejection. That’s okay. You’ve survived rejection before. You can do it again. This does not define you as a writer.”
I couldn’t believe it. The editor wanted to take my manuscript before the editorial committee. I was officially in uncharted territory in my writing life. Over the next several weeks as it was brought before committees within the publishing house, I refused to believe anything would come out of all this and kept working on a new novel.
After each progressive step, I expected that The Edge of Belonging would be rejected and I’d be right where I started back in June. During this time frame, I continued talking to an agent I had met at the 2018 ACFW conference and kept her posted on the progress with the publishing house.
On the day of the final decision-making meeting in November of 2018, I tried to be a productive human being. I really did. Before long I ended up binge watching The Great British Baking Show on Netflix trying to remember how to breath. The banner notification went across the top of my phone screen. I froze, wide-eyed with a ridiculous smile on my face. Even though I could tell the news was positive by the subject line, I couldn’t turn off the show and read the email for a good ten minutes. Pretty sure I was in a literal state of shock… I was offered a 2 book contract with a publishing house I had only daydreamed about.
Around the same time, I signed with the agent I had been talking to since September. After all the waiting, all the things I had been working toward since 2013 (when I began seriously pursuing publication) happened at once. It was so surreal.
My publication date for The Edge of Belonging was set for September of 2020. Even by average publishing standards it was a pretty long wait between signing a contract and publication. For me, the wait was worth it. I was getting to be a part of a publishing house I was excited about. I had an editor who saw my vision for the book, who “got” my writing, and who I trusted to push my work to new levels. (And she has. It has been a great experience, pushing this story to it’s full potential alongside her!)
So what is my advice to aspiring authors?
Is it a Twitter pitch party that made this possible? Is the key found in being a part of a writing organization and networking with other writers and industry professionals? Sending out query letters into the (seeming) void? Going to conferences and meeting face-to-face with agents and editors? What is the key ingredient to publishing a book? The “must do” advice you’ll find out there is endless.
For me it was a composite of all these things. A writing organization (ACFW) connected me with critique partners and industry professionals who helped me hone my work and learn what it meant to make stories marketable without sacrificing the story I wanted to tell. Even the agent who advised the major rewrite, but felt like we weren’t a good fit, gave me the one next step my writing life needed. Rejections can be blessings and learning opportunities too!
The process of sending out query letters to agencies taught me how to communicate my book premise with clarity. It taught me what I really wanted in an agent and publishing house.
Conferences expanded my world as a writer. I met some great people in the process who I could call up and ask their advice when I was lost in the middle of it all.
#FaithPitch gave me an opportunity to pitch my story in an unconventional way. Maybe that was part of why my editor and I connected. My somewhat “out-of-the-box” story met someone looking to acquire in an “out-of-the-box” way. It just fit.
My advice? Write that book. Treat every step on the journey as an opportunity to learn.
Work hard. Hone your craft. Do your research. Meet other writers. Have the courage to send your work out there. Trust God with the details.
Even if you get a no or two (or a hundred) you’ll learn something if you are looking for the lesson. Let go of what you expect the process of publishing your book will look like. Everyone’s journey is different. Decide areas of your writing that you can be flexible with and the non-negotiables–the things that make you who you are as a writer. And while you are in the process of trying to get that first “yes” write, write, and write some more.
On September 8, 2020, the world will finally get to meet The Edge of Belonging. Click cover image to learn more.