On Patience, Perseverance, & the Elusive Book Deal

In case you missed it, Kissing Max Holden sold to Swoon Reads/Macmillan!

What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been! I’m thrilled, grateful, overwhelmed (in the best way), and just really, really relieved.

You see, I was starting to think this publishing thing might not happen for me. I’ve been at it a long time. I’ve had a lot of almosts and not-quites and so many incidents of um, maybe… wait, actually… no, thanks I’d need a bazillion blog posts to cover them all.

Real talk: It’s been a challenge to press on, to keep at it through years of polite declines. It’s been tough to keep writing through persistent disappointment. I’ve considered giving up more times than I can count.

Some backstory…

I began writing with the goal of publication when my daughter was a year old. We lived in a rainy Washington town, then moved to beautiful Monterey, then to the steamy Florida panhandle, then to bustling Virginia – moves during which I continued to draft stories. As I’ve meandered around the country and along the rutted road to publication, my husband has left for and returned from four separate deployments and earned a master’s degree, and my daughter has become a confident, story-loving third grader. I’ve written through tons of change and loads of personal challenges, along with countless revisions, hundreds of rejections, and dozens of Katy’s a wonderful writer, but

Kissing Max Holden‘s sale hasn’t come easy.

When I started my first manuscript in 2008, I was convinced it would be The One. I would field multiple offers from agents, and then my tome (let’s call it what it was) would sell at auction and be loved be all, the end.

That manuscript didn’t sell, or even score me an agent. It was really, really bad.

I wrote a second manuscript, the plotless, melodramatic story that, after many years and many rewrites, would become Kissing Max Holden. Even then, messy and flawed, I loved it. I queried it, and while it was received with more enthusiasm than my first effort, it didn’t go anywhere.

It was around this time that a lot of my writer friends were starting to sign with literary agents and (seemingly quickly and with very few hurdles) began to sell their books. I was thrilled for them. Truly. But I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a little jealous, too.

I wrote a third manuscript — a ghost story, my strongest yet — and signed with an agent. She submitted the manuscript to editors. It didn’t sell, but that was okay because it’s not uncommon for first-books-on-sub to go unsold. I started working on that plotless, melodramatic manuscript again, the future Kissing Max Holden, because Jillian and Max were still in my head. But then I had to set it aside because things went awry with my then-agent, who I ultimately left.

I was discouraged – I felt like I’d taken a huge step backward – so I worked harder. I signed with a new agent, Victoria Marini, who is awesome. I wrote a new manuscript, a bleak tale with three 3rd-person points of view and a tragic ending. Drafting it was difficult but fulfilling, and editors generally liked the story, but not enough to buy it.

I was really disappointed.

So, I went back to my previous manuscripts; I was looking for familiarity, for comfort. I worked on the ghost story I’d first been signed for, and the manuscript that’s now Kissing Max Holden. I developed characters. I raised stakes. I intensified relationships. I improved pacing. I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. My work improved and, in the meantime, I experienced some submission close-calls. But no successes.

Years had passed since I started writing and, honestly, I felt like I’d done my time in the trenches. I’d congratulated my more triumphant friends with sincere smiles and undeniable pings of envy. I’d waded through some serious BS and a lot of rejection. Surely it would be my turn soon.

I wrote on, because what else was I supposed to do?

I branched out; I drafted a story about an epic road trip, and worked on a NaNoWriMo project with bits of verse. I read a lot. I revised a lot. I went on a writing retreat. I traded manuscripts with my talented CPs, and learned from their writing. I tried to focus more on the craft, the art, the experience, and less on the business.

Still, Jillian and Max and their complicated romance lingered. Kissing Max Holden was my second attempt at a novel, and the first time I felt like I might be able to make it at this writing thing. Authors often talk about the “book of their heart” – a story that is personal and particularly significant. To borrow from Beth Revis, a project that is “ripped from their soul” and means more than any other. For me, that book has always been Kissing Max Holden. Even as I wrote new stories, lovely stories that made me proud, I couldn’t let this story go.

And then I happened upon Swoon Reads

See, the Swoon Reads model is different. Instead of manuscripts languishing in slush piles or on editors’ desks while writers wait and wonder and stress, Swoon Reads puts power into the hands of real readers. It works like this: Writers upload their manuscripts, promote them as they see fit, and hope Swoon Reads members will read, rate, and comment. Manuscripts that are highly rated are read and considered for publication by the Swoon Reads staff.

To me, Kissing Max Holden felt like the perfect Swoon Reads story – it’s about falling in love, after all. And so, after several months of research and consideration, I uploaded my story to the site. Then I (anxiously) waited for the November 15th deadline – the date after which the Swoon Reads staff would start considering manuscripts.

While I waited, I did two things: I started a new story (it’s currently sitting pretty at 30K words) and applied to be a substitute teacher in my daughter’s school district, mostly because I was tired of piling all my eggs in the book deal basket.

Seriously. What if it never happened?

Between drafting my new story and obsessively checking Swoon Reads ratings, I accepted a one-month substitute teaching position. I figured Swoon Reads would need weeks (at the very least) to read manuscripts and come to a decision about which stories to pursue. I figured I’d be done with my long-term sub job by the time I heard anything, good or bad. I figured I’d keep busy while I waited…

Wouldn’t you know it — I got an email from Swoon Reads just as I was leaving school after my very first day of substitute teaching.

They wanted to talk about Kissing Max Holden.

I had a delightful chat with Swoon Reads staffers Lauren and Holly — about my story, its strengths and weaknesses, revision ideas, and an actual publishing contract. My heart was pounding and my head was spinning, but there was never a question in my mind as to whether I would choose to work with Swoon Reads; I couldn’t wait to work with Swoon Reads!

Lots has happened between then and now: emails with my agent, emails with Swoon Reads, phone calls with my husband and my family, a celebratory pizza-and-Bud-Light dinner, revision brainstorming sessions, and a mock-up book cover drawn by my daughter.

Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. But it is, and I’m over the moon. I have been since the day I got that first Swoon Reads email…

I’ve been at this writing thing long enough to learn some stuff, and since I’m being all reflective and candid, I thought I’d share the nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected over the years…

  1. Everyone’s journey is different. There is no right or wrong road to publication. Don’t be afraid to try knew things – to take chances!
  2. Positivity is crucial. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed as badly as you want to succeed yourself.
  3. Timing is very much a factor. So is luck.
  4. Nobody is judging you for how long you’ve been at it — except for, maybe, you. Keep your eyes on your own paper is very good advice.
  5. If you seek representation, sign with a competent, encouraging, savvy agent. Trust your intuition.
  6. Be kind. Be gracious. Return favors. Say thank you. People will remember you and the way you’ve behaved.
  7. Write the sort of book you want to read. Your story has to interest you before it’ll interest anyone else.
  8. Related: Write the sort of book that’ll stretch your skills and your creativity. Learn. Grow.
  9. Find smart, supportive CPs. When in doubt (or in need of a boost), turn to those CPs.
  10. Always have your next project(s) in mind.
  11. Don’t. Give. Up.

Finally, all the gratitude to my husband and my daughter, my parents and my in-laws – thank you for believing this would happen. Victoria – thank you for sticking with me, for your savviness and positivity. Alison, Temre, Riley, Elodie – thank you for years of friendship, emails of commiseration, and words of encouragement. You (and your writing) inspire me. Tracey, Amie, Jessica, Liz, Erin, Amanda, Jolene, Jaime, Kate, Taryn, and Christa, thank you for your support and feedback and enthusiasm. My writing is better because of you. And to everyone who read, rated, and commented on Kissing Max Holden over at Swoon Reads… I owe you oodles of cookies!

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16 responses to “On Patience, Perseverance, & the Elusive Book Deal

  1. This is like the best post EVER. Seriously, Katy. It just makes me smile so big. You finally did it – and maybe it wasn’t 100% traditionally but like you say everyone’s journey is so different. I cannot wait to meet Max & Jillian in 2017!!!! Um, I also CANNOT WAIT to vote on the cover! 🙂

  2. I’m so happy you are finally able to make this post! Thank YOU for sharing and being an inspiration yourself. 🙂 Hugs hugs hugs!

  3. Such a great post. I’m adding KISSING MAX HOLDEN to my TBR-list with a giant star next to it!

  4. Congratulations on the next step in you journey.

    Very encouraging, which I needed today. thank you.

  5. Have I mentioned how happy and excited I am for you?! Well, I am. Times a million. 🙂

  6. congrats! so happy for you!

  7. Thanks for sharing about your journey to publication, Katy! The honesty in your post is encouraging. I’ll try to keep this in mind the next dozen times I’m clinging on to writing by the tips of my fingernails lol. Congrats again! 🙂

  8. Words cannot even begin to describe how proud we are of you….
    Your drive and preserverence has always amazed us. As you Well know, I live vicariously through all you do … So with happy tears in my eyes, I can’t wait to see what other wonderful surprises you have in store for us! We Love You our sweet and talented daughter😘
    All our love, Mom and Dad

  9. Alexandrina Brant

    Great to hear your story, Katy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. Thanks for sharing your story w/us! Gives me hope. =) I’ve been writing for seven years, and have written four books. I’ll be querying the third book soon, and keep thinking surely this will be when I get an agent/or publishing deal. But it might not be. And that’s okay! Sometimes it just takes awhile to get where you need to be. Congrats again, Katy!

  11. Katy, I am simply overjoyed to see this post!! As a writer, it is so incredible to see someone with SO MUCH talent and dedication get the recognition they deserve! As a friend, there is absolutely nothing better than seeing something wonderful happen to someone you care very much for. Thank you for sharing this post with us all, Katy! It is honest, encouraging, and so very inspiring! Thank you most of all for letting me walk alongside you these many years. You did it!!!!! And there is so much more to come 🙂 P.S. Regardless of the beautiful covers ahead, I am pretty sure none will ever compare to the one C made for you – so, so precious!!

  12. I’m one of Liz’s CP, so I’ve heard your name over the years. I’m so excited for you! This is a wonderful story.

    And what a cool model for a publishing house–I didn’t know there was anything like this. Congratulations, and I’m excited to read KISSING MAX HOLDEN when it comes out!

  13. It’s long journeys like these that are the most inspiring…and it worked out great! SO happy for you 🙂

  14. Super congrats! So happy for you!! 🙂

  15. Congratulations! Your post is an inspiration to keep my chin up and my eyes aimed forward because sometimes this whole getting published thing is haaaaarrd!

  16. Yay, Katy! I love reading these types of blog posts. I’m so excited for you! Enjoy every moment!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines