This is NOT a click-bait title. It’s real. It’s true. I really sold my first book!
I signed with Wings ePress and the release of my romantic suspense novel is scheduled for March 2022. Mark your calendars. Over the next eight months I plan to share progress reports as I march through the steps toward publication.
But I thought today I’d share how I got to this moment. It hasn’t been easy. Or fun, at times. And it certainly hasn’t been fast, elegant or pain-free. Even so, here I am, telling you that I have sold my first book.
First Assignment in Freshman English
I graduated high school when I was 17. Turned 18 over the summer and in September of 1984, my dad put me on a plane from a small Wyoming town and, hours later, I landed in New York City. Alone. Scared. And excited beyond belief.
For the first assignment in freshman English, I wrote about the experience of arriving in NYC, including the part about crying myself to sleep on that first night alone in my dorm room as other freshman partied outside my door. I was both in awe and felt complete horror with the way it seemed they fit in and felt comfortable so quickly. I turned in the paper and at the next class, the teacher read one student’s paper aloud. Mine.
That was when I decided I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t the attention I got from fellow students afterward who felt my pain and fear. It wasn’t the “limelight” of being paraded in front of the class. Even though I’d been an avid reader, I’d never given any thought to the creation of those books or the act of writing. But in that single simple moment, I understood the power of words in a way I never had before. My words. I understood that you can put something on the page and, on the other end, cause another human being to feel something.
It was a powerful moment for me. One that certainly changed the trajectory of my education and, I suspect, my life.
Post-College Goal Sheet
Despite a rocky start at NYU as a pre-med student—it lasted all of five minutes—I graduated four years later with a degree that was new to NYU. The degree option rolled out my sophomore year, the same year that it hit me like a brick wall that I, of course, was destined to be an English major.
My degree is Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a Specialty in Creative Writing. Yeah, it’s a long one and it meant four more writing classes. I loved every one of them. I always puzzled over why it wasn’t simply a major and a minor but, at least for the first students offered the degree, it wasn’t and I’m stuck with a rather silly sounding degree.
This next memory—though 33 years old—is so clear to me. Just as clear as sitting in that always-cold classroom at 8 a.m. while the teacher read my paper aloud. I’m 21 and newly graduated, sitting at a desk in my first apartment, writing my post-college goals. And while I don’t remember most of them, I do remember the writing goals I made that day.
The goals were simple: 1) get my first publication credit by the age of 25 and 2) get my first book published by the age of 29.
When it comes to publishing, there’s a fundamental secret. Want to know what it is? You actually have to write. Shocking, I know. And the truth is, I just didn’t.
And years flew by like whispers on the wind.
So, I got this idea that what might kick me in the pants to write was graduate school. Five years after graduating NYU, I headed to Alaska to the University of Alaska Anchorage to try again.
The good news? With deadlines and grades depending on results, I started writing again. And when I was 29 years old, I got my first short story, a flash fiction piece titled 1972, published.
I graduated in 1996 just before I turned 30 with a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Over the next couple years, I worked to place most of my thesis pieces into literary magazines. So, by 1998 I had about 15 short stories and essays published and a collection of a hundred or more rejection letters (a rite of passage for every aspiring writer).
But, without the stick a classroom setting provided, the carrot of publication wasn’t enough to keep me going. Once again, I stopped writing. You know, life happens. Time marches on. And every other cliché.
And, suddenly, 10 years and my 30s were in the rearview mirror.
The truth is, almost everything is easier than writing. Walking the dog is easier than writing. Reading is easier than writing. Cooking, spending time with friends, watching tv, doing nothing…all easier than writing. To write, you have to consciously sit down and face the blank screen. It’s hard. It’s intimidating. And I just didn’t do it. Every single day I didn’t do it…for 10 years.
Do You Want to Try Writing Again?
When a friend from the MFA program returned to Alaska in 2007, we got together to catch up. During our conversation she asked the easiest, simplest question that, much like that freshman English class, changed the trajectory of my life once again. She asked if I wanted to try writing again.
I wasn’t promising anything, but I said yes. I wanted to try. (Thanks, Karen, I owe you one!)
We started by meeting once a week at various coffee shops around Anchorage and wrote for two hours. It snowballed from there. I took some writing workshops, formed a writing group that lasted for the next 8 years, went to a few conferences, started writing more than the two hours when we met.
Then, in mid-2011, I decided 2012 was my year.
I was finally going to do the thing I, literally, put on every single New Year’s Resolution List for more than 20 years. I was going to write a book. In fact, I committed to either writing a book or to stop talking about writing a book.
So I did. I started January 1, 2012, and in late November, I wrote “the end,” after more than 100,000 words.
The first half of 2013 I worked to revise it and during the second half of 2013 I sought an agent. I made in-person pitches at writing conferences to six agents and five asked to see the manuscript. Two passed on the book and I never heard from the other three (another version of “no thanks”).
I didn’t pursue it further because right about that time, I got a new idea.
A Radical Change
In the spring of 2014, I made the decision that I wanted to write. Really write.
To do that, I needed to figure out a way to create more time and space in my life because writing a book in the course of 11 months while working a demanding full-time job was hard. Really hard. It consumed my weekends, my holidays and my vacations. Additionally, I got up every morning at 5 a.m. to write an hour or two before work. In 2012, I did little else but work and write. Write and work.
I went through several ideas of how to create time and space, eventually dismissing them all. Then—and I still have no idea where this came from—I stumbled on this weird and random thought…I could live and write in an RV. Bonus: I could travel while living and writing in an RV.
It was a year before I dared tell anyone about this off-the-wall and so-not-me idea, an idea that had rapidly become an obsession. It was another year still, in mid-2016, when I launched this blog and started telling anyone who would listen about my brilliant, financially-unsound, life-changing idea.
Fifteen months after that, I was on the road.
As a fun aside, this blog launched on my 50th birthday, exactly five years ago this week. Yep, this post is also my five-year blogiversary. In that first post, I shared my big changing-my-life news and today, exactly five years later, I get to share more big news.
You got to love the symmetry in that.
In a very early post of this blog I created a list of things I wanted to do on the road, things I couldn’t do in my normal sticks-and-bricks life. One item was to participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s known.
I made that bucket list item a reality in 2019. And again in 2020.
Spoiler Alert: The book I wrote during 2019 NaNoWriMo is the one I sold. And the one I wrote in 2020 is Book 2 in the series though I haven’t yet offered it to my publisher (my contract says they have the right of first refusal on any new work) because 1) one thing at a time and 2) it’s still in first draft format.
Getting the Offer for My Book
So, after November 2019 (NaNoWriMo month), I stepped away from the manuscript for several months to see it with fresh eyes. Then spent six months revising it. Revisions, most writers think are harder than writing the thing to begin with. I tend to agree. Though, truthfully, I find it all incredibly difficult. Just before NaNoWriMo 2020, I submitted it to the publisher I had in mind from the moment I wrote “Chapter 1” on November 1, 2019.
Rejected. I was so sure they were going to accept it that I didn’t have a Plan B.
Once the bruise to my ego faded a little bit, I brushed the proverbial dust off the manuscript, deciding it wasn’t going to publish itself. I researched a bunch of publishers and then created a priority list by ranking them 1-5. In February of this year, I sent the manuscript to the first “5” on the list. Their guidelines said if you didn’t hear anything in 12 weeks, take that as a “no.”
Twelve weeks later, having heard nothing, I sent the manuscript to the next “5” on the list. And a few weeks after that I got a reply that started…
I’ve read through Alaska Shelter and believe it would make a good addition to the Wings’ catalog. Our readers love a good romance and this one will certainly please them.
Attached was a contract.
Signing the Book Contract
Now, you would think the fact that I rated the publisher a “5” and the fact that I have wanted book publication for so long would make signing the contract easy. A no-brainer.
It was not. It was the opposite.
I’m still struggling to figure out why. So, I am not going to speculate here as to what was going on in my head and my heart except to say I think, in part, it had something to do with this famous quote:
There are two great tragedies in life.
One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it.George Bernard Shaw
I held on to the contract for a full month before I signed it. Every day of that month I felt terrified I’d get an email from the publisher telling me they changed their mind or that I was taking too long to commit to them.
What was wrong with me?
Exactly one month after the contract arrived in my inbox, I woke up and decided that day—June 21—was the day. I intended to finally sign the contract. It was a noteworthy day on its own but made monumental by my conviction to officially put myself under contract with a publisher.
On its own, why was it a noteworthy day? June 21 is the summer Solstice and for those who have been reading the blog for a while will know, the summer Solstice is the made-up birthday I gave the three-month-old puppy I adopted on September 21, 2007, who I named Solstice.
What turned a noteworthy day into a monumental one? The book I sold is set in an animal shelter in Alaska. In it, there is a three-month-old black Lab puppy that I modeled after my Solstice and, of course, I named the pup in my book Solstice as well.
Though she’s been gone two years, I feel like remembering my Solstice on her birthday was the nudge I needed to set aside my fear and doubt to sign the contract.
And if that wasn’t enough to make it a surreal day, on the evening of June 21, I ended up on a four-hour phone call with an old boyfriend I hadn’t talked to for more than 15 years. In fact, it was the apartment I shared with him 33 years earlier where I created that post-college writing goals list. Within minutes of seeing his name come up on my phone, I was crying, pouring my heart out, telling him about Solstice, about writing that list in the apartment we shared and that I sold my first book.
As you can guess, it was a strange, almost-unreal day all the way around. A thousand emotions. Happy. Sad. Connected. Disconnected. Fulfilled and empty. All at the same time.
I’ll say this for that day: it’s not one I will soon forget.
Almost a Month After Signing the Book Contract
So, where do things stand now? I received my first set of editorial suggestions from the executive editor and am diligently working on rewrites. I am waiting for communication with the artist who will create my book cover though she already has a photo of Solstice (the one above) because a black Lab puppy was the one “must have” image I wanted on the cover.
But this post is not about those things. This post isn’t about the thousand other things running through my mind on a daily basis now. I am not going to share how much I feel the pull to finish Book 2 or the pressure to reach a certain self-imposed sales threshold with no idea how to make that happen. I’m not going to share how I struggle with feelings of imposter syndrome and panic about having fulfilled my heart’s desire.
No, not today. Today, I allow no room for that nonsense—very real feelings, but nonsense never the less, my logical mind knows.
For this day, this post, this moment, I am just going to celebrate and say: I finally did it. I accomplished a goal 33 years in the making (37 years if you count from that freshman English class where it all started). I just sold my first book!
Hashtag: Never Give Up Your Dreams
Links to Relevant Posts:
- Giving Up Greece or Why I Started This Blog
- Hitting the Road: 10 Reasons to Be Excited
- NaNoWriMo and Stargazing: Two Bucket List Items
- NaNoWriMo: Writing a Novel in 30 Days
- Obituary of a Supersize Dog
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- NexHome Quilt Set
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