by Joelle Anthony
It’s always sad to me when a writer tells me that they really need to finish their novel so they can get an agent because they’ve been at this for a couple of years and they “need to be making some money soon.” My answer is to tell them they should get a job. Not because you can’t make money selling books, you can, but because the time it takes will undoubtedly be longer than you think.
The Short Sixteen Years to Becoming a Published Author
Here is a timeline of how the last sixteen years have gone for me. And I hope that you will take this as encouragement and that it will instill in you the belief that IT WILL HAPPEN because I do believe this. I admit it, I am a naturally upbeat person and quite frankly, every time I got a rejection, I was surprised because I was sure “this was it” but it usually wasn’t. Unlike a lot of people, this didn’t bother me very much. I suppose you could read my timeline and want to throw in the towel, but I hope you will see it for what it is…a long process that will pay off in the end if you stay after it.
I began writing sixteen years ago, and about four years ago, an editor at FSG took an interest in one of my manuscripts. Eventually we met, and over tea, she told me she thought I should start looking seriously for an agent, and so I did. I consider that the moment I really “turned professional” even though prior to that, I definitely considered myself a pro.
- Agents queried: 40+
- Requests for partials/fulls: 10 or so
- Agent offers: 3
- Time from first agent query: 15 months
- What happened: Chose an agent, signed with her, didn’t work out.
- Left after 7 months.
- Time it took to find a new agent: 3 months (2 offers)
- Time from signing with new agent until book went out on submission (revision required): 4 months
- Time from signing with my agent until my book Restoring Harmony sold: 6 months
- Time between acquisition and publication: Just under two years (acquired Fall 2008, will come out Summer 2010)
Novel Contracts: Talking Money
For those of you wondering about money, I will say this. I received the first half of my advance a few months after they offered, and I’ll get my second half when we’re finished editing (which is soon, but not yet). So you can see that if I had said to myself, “Oh, boy! I’ve got an agent…things are going to happen now!” I would’ve been right, but they happen at the glacial speed of publishing.
7 Ways to Keep the Publication Dream Alive
Now, there are a few more things I want to share about the process. These are the things I did over the last four years that I believe made the difference between not even having an agent and now having a book coming out.
- I kept writing. – My debut novel is a novel I wrote DURING all the agent searches. I hadn’t even thought of it when I started querying. I also wrote two other novels during these years, and have begun a third. Writing is the most important thing.
- I kept querying. – I always had at least 5 queries out, usually 10, no matter how “interested” an agent claimed to be and I turned down a request for an exclusive from a very ‘top dog’ agent because I would’ve had to withdraw it from other agents, and I wasn’t willing to do that.
- I wrote articles. – I wrote articles for SCBWI about the things I learned looking for an agent. Also, I wrote articles about writing and reading.
- I kept reading. – I read over 150 novels in my preferred genre per year for 3 years (now I read about 100 and I mix it up a little with adult and nonfiction)
- I set up a website. – I hired a pro to put up a website 2 years ago and I blog regularly. This has made me a lot of friends, contacts, and given me some exposure. When I posted on there that I had sold my book, I received more than 75 congratulations emails, about 60% from people I’d never heard of who read my blog.
- I participated in the community of writers. – I left a lot of comments on other people’s blogs (not so much anymore) but people know my name now.
- I studied. – I think that this and reading are the two factors that really made the difference. I continued to study the craft of writing. I read articles, I read books on writing. I tried exercises. And most importantly, I took Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision workshop (which I can’t recommend highly enough!!!). If you can’t take her workshop, buy her book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise.
It’s a long, slow process to publication and people with a book coming out every year make it look like it moves fast, but it really doesn’t. There were 5 months between the time my editor took on my book and we even STARTED the editorial process. Yeah…5 months. But do you know what? I wrote other things during all that time and by the time we began, I was a better writer than when she bought the book. Stay after it, but most importantly, know that you can’t rush it, so enjoy it. Read, have a life, love what you do…