Maybe this should be filed under front-story instead of backstory?
It finally happened. As many of you already know, my novel, COVER OF SNOW, has sold to the great Linda Marrow at Ballantine. Linda edits some of my all-time favorite authors, and enough New York Times bestsellers to intimidate the bejeezus out of me.
Here are the deets (as literary Janet Reid, aka Query Shark) taught me to say if I wanted to sound cooler than I am.
Ballantine will do the hard cover version, Random House the trade paperback, and RH has the world rights, which means my agent called me one day and said, “They’re talking about your book at Random House UK.” And I swooned.
Seriously, guys. After over a decade at this, to go from not being able to get in the door, not able to squeeze one toe through the door–or worse, to be standing in the doorway, all bright-eyed and smiling hello, only to have it slammed against my nose, ending up at Ballantine with (should I say it again?) the great Linda Marrow is more than a dream.
How did it happen? A lot of you have asked that, and I feel as if Suspense Your Disbelief readers, authors, and contributors are the best kind of family, supportive and boisterous and always ready to chime in. So I am honored to tell you this.
But I also have to say that this is in some ways an intensely private story. It’s a story of being desperate, of wanting something so badly that even with my nose broken and bleeding, I decided to try again.
And it’s a story that can’t help but name names, because I am all about giving credit where credit is due, so I would just ask you guys to be your tactful selves with those names. Obviously nothing is confidential on the blogosphere, but as I say, you guys are like family, which is why I do find myself spilling a lot of confidences here.
OK. So where were we in the backstory? The party had fizzled. I was t-h-i-s close to an offer from Viking, manuscript up there at the very top, process drawn out over weeks and months, as is often the case, and the possibility dried up. No offer was made. My agent and I, even the editor herself (who will be thanked in my acknowledgments–hear me now–because she made me believe in myself in a whole new way) were flattened.
I began to develop a new plan. Someone approached me, and she had a really great idea. An alternative, brave new world idea, but you guys know how I like those. Maybe traditional publishing just wasn’t for me.
It wasn’t as if the books needed more editing, or work on craft (beyond the more work on craft every writer needs at every point in her career). We’d gotten all those almost offers–weren’t they proof that things were in good enough shape? Maybe my work just didn’t fit a genre perfectly enough. Except authors were telling me it did, expressing surprise (and dismay) that I hadn’t been published yet. In fact, authors had been an enormous source of support, often heartening me when I was most flagging.
So I wrote to another. An all-time favorite author, whose work seemed the closest to what I aspired to write, and whose latest novel had been all the talk at a mystery list-serv I spend many of my waking minutes at.
“I never do this,” Nancy Pickard said, after I told her my story, gave her the stats. (Remember? 11 years. 3 agents. 5 novels. 14 almost offers.) “But your story really touches something in me. Send me the manuscript.”
Nancy Pickard read my work (I know, let me rephrase: Nancy Pickard read my work!!!) as the final word was coming down from that last almost offer. It was during a cold, bleak, winter-intruding-into-spring night, when the writing was beginning to appear on the walls that this time too would come to nothing. My husband called me upstairs to say an email had come in.
I read it with my eyes all but squeezed shut. I just couldn’t stomach any more blows.
I will never forget Nancy’s words. “I couldn’t wait till I finished to tell you how impressed I am,” she wrote. “Unless it totally lets me down at the end–and I can’t imagine it will–I will want to recommend it personally to my editor.”
And she did.
I emailed Nancy as soon as I heard that Linda Marrow liked the book. “I’m afraid to hope,” I typed. “But I do know this would not be happening without you, and even if it doesn’t happen, I owe you so much for bringing me this far.”
Don’t I sound gracious? You can’t hear the clenched fists or gritted teeth (please. let. this. work) in there at all.
Actually, every word was true. I was immensely grateful. No author can get a book sold for someone else. But for Nancy to have done what she did was spectacular. Simply reading the ms was spectacular.
Anyway, Nancy is far more gracious than I. She wrote back words to the effect of: “Linda is incredibly busy. If she didn’t truly love your book, she would not be doing this, no matter what I or anyone else had done.”
So Nancy’s editor has become my editor.
What do I take from how this happened?
Well, first of all, keep knocking on doors. If one doesn’t open, knock on wooden things that aren’t doors. And if that doesn’t work, start knocking on things that aren’t even wooden.
If you’re a writer and want to be traditionally published by a major, the road can be extremely long. Mine was longer than extremely. I had a lot of learning to do about craft and I also had not a little bad luck, with the almost offers. But since this novel, COVER OF SNOW, wasn’t done until right about now, and certainly not in this (let me say again, great) editor’s hands, the “bad luck” was maybe good luck after all.
I would also add that the road doesn’t have to be as long as all that. Traditional publication a) can happen somewhat faster–not a whole lot faster maybe, but even half my time would be considered more than putting in one’s dues and b) is not the only way to get your work out there. Not even the only respectable, optimal, wonderful way. New doors are opening every day, and the e-volution will return power to the up and coming writer, the mid-list writers, and the mega star alike.
Decide what you want and go for it. Be open and flexible to new ideas. I’m not saying anything new, or anything unique to writing even.
More in my graduation song? Make as many friends as you can. Be as good a friend to others as you can.
Know that the world of writers is the most loving and supportive you could find yourself in and the only way we flourish is all together.
And never, never ever, give up on your dream.