I gained a lot of weight with my first pregnancy. So much that I closed my eyes during weigh-ins at the doctor’s office. I didn’t want to know the numbers on the scale. After I had my third child, I started dieting and exercising, and after many months of limiting my chocolate and ice cream intake (torture!), enduring aerobic classes, power walks, etc., I finally lost most of the weight. Many people asked me how I did it. Surely I knew some secret. A half a grapefruit before meals? Eating anything I wanted but stopping at 4? Eating only purple food? No one wanted to hear the truth. Lately several people have asked me about how I became published. But, like my weight loss, what they really want to know is what’s the secret. These writers (and I used to be one of them) have written a book, queried countless agents and editors, and still have no publishing deal. There must be a secret they don’t know about. Well, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t. The road to publication is a long one, filled with pot holes, detours, and road blocks.
My debut novel, The Exceptionals, was published last year. It was my third finished novel. It took eight long years from the date I started writing my first novel until my third one was published. And six years of writing, revising and editing two different manuscripts, querying agents and submitting partial and fulls until The Exceptionals sold. I asked the writers here at Book Pregnant what their experiences were. Most of us have written at least one other (often several other!) book that never was published. So, like me, our “debut” novel is really our third, fourth, fifth . . . you get the idea. Several BPers (as we call ourselves) found an agent, but the agent couldn’t sell that manuscript. One author worked on writing and revising her book for seventeen (yes, seventeen!) years. Two different agents tried to sell her manuscript but were unable. Finally she sold it herself. Another worked on her novel for eleven years, and she had two different agents and two different editors. In fact, many of the authors in this blog have had more than one agent. As Lydia Netzer, author of Shine, Shine, Shine told me: “Shine was not my first book, or even my second or third, that I got through a FIRST draft of, however it was the first book I got to a FINAL draft of.” One writer told me that the reason he thinks his debut novel (not his first finished manuscript) sold was that he had thirty years of rejection behind him, to learn from.
And that’s the key. To learn from the rejections. Maybe the novel needs more revising, maybe the plot is too convoluted, maybe the characters aren’t compelling enough. Take a long, hard look at your book and try to find areas for improvement. Why do I tell you all this? To depress you? No. Exactly the opposite. There is no trick. There is no a secret that we published authors know that you don’t. If you hope to be published one day, work tirelessly on your manuscript. Revise and edit, and then revise and edit again. Join a critique group or find a critique partner if you can, a fresh set of eyes (not a friend, or a family member, but another writer!) can make a huge difference. Sometimes I know the story I’m writing so well that it’s hard for me to see the problems with it. Read everything you can get your hands on. Devour books. It will help you “know” if something doesn’t ring true or is stale or cliché. And most importantly, don’t give up. We didn’t!
Erin Cashman is a YA author. Her debut fantasy novel, THE EXCEPTIONALS, was published by Holiday House in 2012 and named a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. You can find her at the group blogs The Enchanted Inkpot, BookPregnant Blog, and on Twitter, Facebook, and her Website