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Waffling and Wagers

I've written extensively elsewhere on the topic of "how I got here" but here goes anyway:

I've always written fiction. I even wrote fanfic for a while in college. I took one fiction writing class in college and I hated it -- the instructor was a literary snob who actually disqualified a fellow student who came in with a children's fantasy piece, saying in a withering voice that I will NEVER forget: "This is not a genre class." I retaliated by writing a literary ghost story for my final project. Jerk.

The man I was dating at the time was very supportive of my writing, though I didn't take it seriously, because I wanted to write genre fiction and at my school, it was pretty much Nobel Prize in Lit or bust. After graduation, I was on a plane, moving to New York City on September 11, 2001. My plane was trapped in the air for several hours, on the tarmac for several more, and then I was trapped in a strange city, trying to get either home or to my boyfriend by hook or by crook. The only thing I had to distract me was a romance novel I'd shoved in my purse. I read it several times that day -- and I mean all of it! Ads in the back, author bio, you name it. Turns out that the author, Julie Leto, was from my hometown in Florida. I later emailed her to thank her for her book, which was such a comfort to me. She emailed back that I'd restored her faith in writing romances, in writing genre. (Take that, snobby teachers!)

I made a bet with myself: write a novel, a whole novel, and you have the right to spend money on this whole writing pipe dream.
So I wrote a novel and then I used my entire meager savings to join RWA, because Julie recommended it. The novel was romance. It was... not good, as most first novels are. So then I wrote another one. By the time I got the rejection on the first (it was a category romance, so there was only one place to submit it), I was well into my third and had won a bunch of contests. (RWA is an excellent place for contests and prizes to boost your ego!) I was also attending conferences.

My boyfriend (same guy) gave me the fee for my first conference as a birthday present -- just writing that makes me tear up. He believed very thoroughly in what I was doing. We could only afford the entrance, so I slept on a local friend's couch and commuted every day to the conference hotel. There, I pitched my third manuscript to an editor from Berkley, Cindy Hwang (amazing woman!) I was shaking so hard during my pitch appointment that poor Cindy had to pat my hand. I also queried an agent (Deidre Knight) and got a request.

I finished my third manuscript while my boyfriend (still the same guy) and I were travelling abroad. There, my determination was really tested. I was away from my computer (I took my alphasmart with me and wrote in the tent, and when the machine died, it was pen and paper all the way!), as well as away from my writing friends. I was really frustrated during this time (about three years in from when I started). The agent rejected #3. So did Cindy.

The next year, I finished my fourth manuscript and decided to do a real agent search. Meanwhile, I was collecting another bunch of contest wins, but the book wasn't right for anyone (it was a paranormal romance, but neither of the leads were paranormal creatures, which was what was (is?) popular in the genre). I got 19 of those (out of 21 submissions). Deidre also requested this book.

By 2005, I only had three submissions of that manuscript still out. I believed at the time, and I still do, that you give a project a chance in the marketplace, and then you retire it. Aside from this paranormal romance, I also had a requested revision of my second manuscript (also romance) on an editor's desk. I had started on something new, based on a conversation my boyfriend (still the same guy) and I had had while packing to move to DC. I got another rejection, and then a call from an agent saying she was sending the manuscript out for another read, and would call me in a week. I was thrilled! It was the closest I'd ever gotten to a "yes!"

I finished the proposal of the new project and talked about it with my critique partner, Marley Gibson. (I'm a big believer in the "dark-room" theory of writing -- you need your ideas to be your own, alone, for a while). That weekend, she went to a conference and happened to be sitting next to an editor who mentioned she was looking for a book just like that. Marley pitched it. By the end of the weekend, I had a bunch of requests, even though the book was not complete. The following week, I edited the proposal and sent it out to everyone who had requested it, and included a query to Deidre, who had no yet rejected my fourth manuscript. She wrote back right away and said she was very interested in the new book, and which would I like her to read. I picked the new book, since I thought it had legs.

She offered me representation within the hour. Within a week and a half, we had a six way auction, and sold the book, SECRET SOCIETY GIRL, and its sequel, UNDER THE ROSE, to Bantam Dell. I'd been writing novels for four years. The book came out a year later (summer 2006), and about six months later, I accepted another contract from my publisher for two more books in the series. Since then I have also sold two YA fantasy novels to Harper Collins, RAMPANT (my reason for being on FFF) and another book.

Yes, I still thumb my nose at my snobby teacher, and yes, I'm still with that guy. I married him last month.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
That's such a great story; I love the boyfriend subplot especially!

Dec. 9th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
I had a creative writing teacher in college who was like that -- he hated one of my stories because it had a "trick" ending. Everyone else in the class loved it, had a couple people tell me it was brilliant, but he refused to give me an A unless I rewrote the ending. I refused out of principle and took my B. Still hate the man to this day.
Dec. 9th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
That's a great story! Congrats on not giving up, and on finding (and keeping) such a supportive guy!

I had some writing teachers who were tolerant, and one that was even supportive of my genre writing. For those who weren't, I try to console myself with the fact that my books appear to be outselling theirs pretty handily these days :-)
Dec. 9th, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC)
Love it!
Even though I was a part of it, I still love hearing this story. It was so excited to watch as everything unfolded and a very dedicated, hard-working writer got what she deserved!!

Marley = )
Dec. 9th, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)
Great story! This reminds me (ugh!) when I told someone in my non-fiction class in college when I landed my agent. The girl was all excited until she asked what I hooked the agent with. When I told her YA, wow, did her face ever fall. Guessing "literary fiction" would have received a better response. ;)
Dec. 9th, 2007 09:20 pm (UTC)
I love hearing this story. And now it ends with a wedding! :)
Dec. 10th, 2007 03:07 am (UTC)
Guys that supportive are about as rare as book deals. :D Yay for your success on all fronts!
Dec. 10th, 2007 07:13 am (UTC)
Oh, I was so hoping that was the guy you married! It's more exciting than the publishing story. ;) Yay for supportive men!!! I have one myself. :)
Dec. 17th, 2007 06:49 am (UTC)
Wonderful story
And one I can REALLY identify with. My experience with writing classes was the teachers who dissed a student's efforts--and choice of genre--were generally the same people who spent hours at the local watering hole complaining about "the state of publishing". (And here I thought New York was the state and publishing the industry. I can be sooo literal. LOL)
Major congratulations on the recent marriage. Ain't it grand to be married to your best friend? :-)
Also wanted to congratulate you on both SECRET SOCIETY GIRL and UNDER THE ROSE. Bought the first the day after the WRW party. When things got crazed on the RL front, I headed to Eli College for relief. Finished the book and promptly headed out to buy UTR, which was just as good as number one. Can't wait for RAMPANT and THE RIGHTS OF SPRING BREAK. Meanwhile, I'm contemplating sending SSG and UTR to a teenager I know. Maybe it will lift her spirits like it did mine.
Jean Marie
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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