Today is the day I can finally say I am a published writer. (Click HERE to purchase your very own copy!)
Sometime last July, I sat in church, and we discussed the story of Jonah, and how we should be obedient to God’s signs. That same week, I woke up with a book title in my head: “Once Upon a Time and Happily Never After” (I will get to the change later one). Then, a few days later, I sat at the local wine bar with my best friend, Brittny, and had a complete breakdown. I sat there and cried as she told me I needed to start giving people chances on first dates, and I tried to explain that I emotionally could not. I woke up the next morning, and I started writing.
I spent the remaining weeks of July writing nonstop. You can ask my room mates: I stayed up until odd hours of the night, woke up, went to yoga, came back, and wrote. I skipped a few showers, ate whatever bags of carrots and popcorn we had in the pantry. My laundry got so bad that it invaded the hallway, and my sister/roommate decided she would do it. At the time, I was still working at the golf course, so I even took my computer with me so I could write there. Unfortunately, school started back in August, and since I needed to pay my bills, I had to put writing on hold for the ten hours I spent at school. I kept a notebook so that, during the day, if a topic popped into my head that I had to write about, I could keep track. And, when I came home, I wrote until midnight, woke up, went to school, and did it all over again. At the time, I was still in grad school, teaching three preps, helping with student council, head coaching a dance team, enrolling in professional development courses, running a Bible study, and of course, religiously attending yoga classes. It got to the point that I was SO overloaded that when I woke up in the morning, I had to take a shower by candlelight, because the lights were just too stimulating. And, on my way to work, I had to listen to music with no words, because there were so many already running through my head. But, I also knew that this was the peak time for me to write, and if I was going to do this, I had to do it NOW.
And, I found out that publishing a book is much more complex than just writing one. Anyone can just write a book, but writing a good book, and getting it published, is a whole different animal. Good writing must not only include good command of language, but also good ideas, so I had to figure out how to accomplish both of those things simultaneously. To be a successful author, on top of writing a book, you must also build a platform, learn how to navigate the publishing world, enter into contests, market yourself, etc. The traditional way to publish is you craft an e-mail about your idea, send it to an agent. If the agent likes the idea, they ask for a sample, and if they like that sample, they ask you to sign a contract, and then they attempt to sell your book to a publisher. Once that gets sold, all the editing, cover designing, and distributing goes into effect. A very small percent of manuscripts actually go this way.
Sometime in September, I completed the first draft, and decided to hand it off to a few trusted editors to give me their opinions, and also received my first agent-interest-e-mail.
Agent #1: I started sending out query e-mails probably WAY earlier than I should have (just because I knew that the publishing industry is notoriously slow, and I was on a time crunch to get this thing published), and when Agent #1 requested material, I was NOT prepared at all. The first draft was a disorganized mess–a conglomeration of those random ideas from my notebook. So, I spent the entire next weekend at my kitchen table, physically cutting and taping parts together so whatever I sent off could be somewhat coherent. I received my first rejection e-mail a few weeks later: “This project just doesn’t fit our list at this time”.
How publishing a book is like finding a husband: Timing is everything. In this case, I just wasn’t ready. In ‘Happily Never After’, you will read more in depth about another guy I dated soon after ‘that dreaded phone call’ that ended mostly due to the fact that I just was not ready to open myself up to someone else; I was too guarded, much like this first manuscript version.
Agent #2: I met this agent at a writer’s conference I attended in October. When I told her my title, she laughed, and suggested I change it to just “Happily Never After”. I pondered for a while whether I should write under a pseudo-name or not, but she told me my last name was so unique (and timely) that I should keep it. Of course, she told me I needed to keep working on it before she would consider a contract.
How publishing a book is like finding a husband: Confidence is key. It was through speaking with Agent #2 and attending the writer’s conference that I realized, while what happened to me is not unique, I was potentially the only person in the world who could deliver this message, and I had a moral obligation to follow through. Much like finding a husband, I had to realize that I had value, my writing had value, I was meant for great things, and there was no option to NOT follow through.
Agent #3: This agent came via query e-mail. I bought Chuck Sambuchino’s ‘Guide to Literary Agents’, highlighted every single agency that might consider my work, and e-mailed them. What was difficult about this particular project was choosing which genre it fits under; it is semi creative nonfiction, semi memoir, semi self-help, women’s issues, dating and relationships, potentially blog to book, etc. Agent #3’s rejection: “This does not fit with our list at this time”.
How publishing a book is like finding a husband: Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with you. We have this misconception that when we get rejected (whether that is from a significant other, a job, audition, etc), there must be something wrong with us. However, it could just be that it isn’t a good fit. In the case of an agent, they perhaps have connections with publishers who strictly print books about German Shepherd puppies, and it’s not always a reflection of your work if they can’t take it; they just don’t have the resources to match. Same thing with a husband: perhaps he just isn’t a good fit.
Agent #4: “We don’t connect with the narrative voice”.
How publishing a book is like finding a husband: Sometimes, criticisms can make a better product. This was actually a very valid comment. When I wrote the first couple of drafts, I was still in the midst of the emotional turmoil, and wrote from a distance; the tone was very academic, didactic, and distant. So, I went back through my writing, re-framed the voice. I realized that I needed to do a better job of showing how I felt versus just telling. I took some time away to learn how to do this: I read more, I practiced writing more on my blog. And, when I felt like I had the skill developed enough, I went back to the manuscript, and re-wrote the entire thing (this was probably Draft #4). But, the same is true in a relationship; perhaps someone points out a dysfunctional tendency that you did not know you had (for me, it was “You put up a drawbridge and I have to swim across a moat to get through”). And, by taking that criticism, it’s actually making you a better person.
Agent #6: “We think you should re-write your beginning”.
How publishing a book is like finding a husband: And, sometimes, criticism is just one person’s idea. This agent suggested I “begin my book with the happiest moment, or the moment of deepest despair”. Up until this point, all the criticisms I received were valid: switch this organization, show versus tell, re-write your narrative voice. As I went through the manuscript with this criticism in mind, I realized that, changing the introduction of the book would change the entire narrative structure, and I just wasn’t willing to do that.
It was the sixth agent’s rejection that directed me towards self-publishing on Amazon. I realized that I knew enough people and enough about writing, the idea itself got enough attention and my video attracted way more views than I ever imagined, that I could probably publish this on my own. Originally, I made a goal to have the final manuscript done by December, but then, that long term boyfriend got engaged, and I took that as my cue to publish as soon as possible. So, that next day, I picked up the phone, called a lawyer, and sent out my manuscript.
I would say that nothing in this journey ever discouraged me. Sure, rejection sucks, but I found that, anytime I faced rejection, something encouraging would happen. The day after I received my first rejection e-mail, Thought Catalog posted one of my articles. When things were feeling dry and barren, I started receiving fan mail. #OnMogul signed me as a contributor, along with TheHauteMess. I kept running into people who connected to my book in some kind of way.
I have always been a ‘returns’ kind of person. If I do something, there must be a visual and equitable return. I am donating time to filling out this scholarship application so that I can receive $1,000. I am training so that I can make this dance team. I am picking up litter so I can be nominated for a citizenship award. I am going to write this piece so that it gets published. But, what working on my book taught me was that not everything we do necessarily leads to an end, but it will eventually lead to some kind of end. Not everything I put into my book will be shown in the final product. In fact, the book itself has been through five or six drafts, and there have been many, many good ideas that had to be cut out because they just didn’t fit (as a writer, this is the most painful thing to do).
Much like finding a husband, publishing ‘Happily Never After’ has been a journey. In all, its been a really fun and really rewarding process. I tried really hard to stay true to the integrity and authenticity of where I was a year out from the break up. Of course, if I were to write the book today, it certainly would have a different aura, but as I went back to edit and revise, I tried to maintain state at which I was in.
For me, publishing ‘Happily Never After’ is way more than just a book available for your Amazon Kindle. It’s a feat, and an indication of just how much personal growth I have done in the last couple years. It required me to be patient (something against my personality); I had to be patient waiting for the agents to respond to me, patient for editors to send the manuscript back. The time in between drafts required me to be patient (I often forced myself to step away for 3-4 weeks at a time so I could gain some enlightenment and a new perspective). It required me to rely on other people. Even the best writers need editors, people to help develop ideas and marketing plans. There is NO way I could have done it all on my own. And, it required me to have a whole lot of faith. There was no one holding my hand, telling me what I should and should not do. When I was stuck at a crossroads (such as, do I tell the people I wrote about them?…), I would look for signs, and sure enough, one would present itself, and I would just have to trust that answer. I had to just trust my instincts, trust the power of prayer, and keep chugging along, and pray, pray, pray that it would work out.
Why I think it’s a valuable read?
The book itself is not meant to be a slam on my long-term boyfriend. It’s not really about what a terrible person I think he is and about how much I hate his new girlfriend (like you might expect). It’s really about me, and the things I had to go through in order to heal from the breakup. Of course, these things are not unique to me. I think, no matter what kind of relationship you had or what kind of breakup you underwent, these are still understandings and processes that are universal to the human condition.
My advice to aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Like anything, your brain is a muscle, and the more practice you give it, the better it gets. You can go back to some of my early blog posts and see that they are not very good. My writing didn’t really start exponentially improving until August 2014, when I started writing my book, and started developing my own style. But, even that took discipline, dedication, and practice. Writing a book is different than just writing a blog entry, because you must find ways to conjoin ideas and weave threads throughout the pages. ‘Happily Never After’ started with a bunch of blog-length entries, and with each draft, I moved sections, deleted sections, added common elements and transitions. To edit, I loaded the document onto a flash drive, marched to Office Depot, and printed all 225 pages. With each edit, I began with a specific goal: screen for repeating passages, ensure all names were changed, focus on transitions between paragraphs, add humor, check for mechanical errors. Of course, its still not perfect (no writing is ever officially complete) but I reached a point that the edits themselves were so minor, and I knew it was done.
I can’t end this post without sincerely thanking all of my editors, idea-developers, emotional-supporters, marketers, and readers throughout this journey (and, also those who dumped me). It’s been amazing. Two years ago, I would have NEVER thought my life would end up this way, and today, I could not have imagined it any differently.
I look forward to your response of ‘Happily Never After’. If you like it, feel free to comment on what your favorite part was (I, of course, have mine), and pass along to your friends, so they may indulge as well.
In reading it, I hope you laugh; I hope you cry; most of all, I hope you resonate with my story, because this is something so universal about being human.
I will be responding to reader questions, so if there is anything you are just DYING to know, leave me a comment and I will dedicated a post to responding!
(Click HERE to purchase your very own copy!)