Saturday, March 6

The call I didn't get three years ago today

TFC is three years old! Definitely very exciting as I loved this group blog even before I was a part of it. But like my fellow bloggers have been doing throughout this celebration, I want to tell you a little bit about where I was at three years ago today.

Three years ago, I was in the long and torturous waiting phase of my writing career that so many authors know so well. I'd lucked out in the agent department and skipped that whole part of the waiting game. I'd met my agent in March of 2005 while I was still in grad school. My school (Columbia College Chicago) had an annual festival called Story Week that all of us students eagerly looked forward to because they brought in some of the best authors and we got a chance to hear them read, ask questions of them and meet them to get our books signed. They also brought in people in other areas of the publishing industry to give us a well-rounded view of how it all worked. They had panels with editors, agents, publicists, all kinds of folks. And sometimes some of those people generously offered to meet with students. I'd been selected by my teachers to meet with Story Week guests in the past and had gotten some valuable critiques. When they told me I was going to meet with an agent, I expected the same thing. But when I walked into that room to meet Caren Johnson, who'd read the first chapter of a book I was working on about a rock n roll girl and her missing mother which I was calling the Black Notebooks at the time, she said, "I love this. I want it. When can you finish it?"

Like I said, LUCKY. Big time. I spent that summer finishing and polishing my manuscript and sent it off to Caren. She asked me to do some revisions. I did. We signed a contract. I did some more revisions and by January of 2006 my manuscript was being shopped....

And by March of 2007, I was pretty sure that it would never sell. I'd finished grad school, had a crappy administrative assistant job that I told myself I could handle because ANY DAY NOW my publishing dreams would come true. I was polishing up a second manuscript because I was sure that All Roads Lead to Rock 'n' Roll as the book was newly titled would never sell. In fact I was getting so jaded, I figured my second book would probably never sell either and Caren would drop me and oh my god, I cannot even express how much I hated my job, so I'd started to look into library science school because I figured that was the only thing besides writing that might make me happy career-wise. My agent, however, was not giving up and exactly three years ago today we got our first major ray of hope!

After nothing but polite rejections (great writing, but the story is too small/too midwestern/too punk/too we have no idea where to put it), my agent forwarded me an email from an excited editor who'd read my manuscript in one night and wanted to take it to her higher-ups. I was on cloud nine. I thought this was really it. I was going to get The Call. My agent told me when this editor was meeting with the other editors and... it fell on the day I had jury duty! ARGH! Jury duty meant a whole day of sitting in a room where I was not allowed to have my cell phone on! I never even got called for a case, which I meant I spent my entire day trying to read and running to the bathroom where I would sneakily turn my phone on and check my voicemail. But there was no news....

We didn't hear for another month and when we finally did, the answer was no. Another 'no' rolled in behind it and I replied to my agent, "I guess we don't have much hope left for this one. But since they liked my writing maybe we can pitch them the next one?" I sounded hopeful in that email, but I was honestly more dejected than ever. I felt like I wasn't cut out for this publishing thing and I'd wasted so much time and money going to school for creative writing. At least I was working at a university though, hopefully I could get into their library science program and put up with my awful job long enough to get my tuition paid for...

Then two weeks later an email from my agent that said "Call me and let's talk" with an offer from MTV Books copied and pasted below it. So I ran into a private office at work (since I worked in a cubicle, yuck!) and called in disbelief. I wasn't sure if this was an actual offer or another "maybe, depending on what the higher-ups say" like last time, which I figured would ultimately end in more disappointment. When I asked my agent exactly what this meant, she said, "Call your mother, you're officially going to be a published author."

So on April 17, 2007, as Teen Fiction Cafe was taking its baby steps, I sold a book called "All Roads Lead to Rock 'n' Roll," which would later come to be called I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE.

I wish I could say it was all wine and roses after that and speak about how incredibly far I've come, but as other authors have mentioned quite honestly on this blog (and I love my TFC sisters for their honesty), my fears and self doubts haven't disappeared. Right now I'm playing the waiting game yet again as my agent prepares her final notes on my latest partial manuscript, which I will then revise (hopefully quite quickly) and she will begin to shop. I hope it won't take over a year to sell this time, but I've learned it's often just as hard to stay published as to get published in the first place.

I quit the no-good, soul-sucking office job soon after I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone came out and went back to the far more enjoyable job that I held during grad school--bartending--because it gives me a lot more time to write. But I still go through phases where I feel like it's all too much, that I'll be stuck bartending forever and never really make it as a writer and I can barely make ends meet bartending as is, and I begin to think seriously about library science school again. But I keep writing for the same reason I always have: there are these characters in my head who really need their stories told and they are terribly insistent. Not to mention, if I'm not writing I'm miserable and don't know what to do with myself; I've been that way since I was a kid.

And now I have the additional motivation of the readers who loved my first two books. I honestly can't express how much every email, tweet or message from readers means to me. Sometimes it is what gets me past my fears and able to put my butt in the chair and write.

I can't honestly say what the next three years will bring, I've learned how unpredictable the publishing world can be, but I will keep fighting to get my stories out there and no matter what happens, I have some really amazing memories. Like the one of this girl, who missed her bus and literally ran all the way to the bookstore in Seattle to hear me read and meet me:

Like some of my biggest blogger fans who sent me tons of messages of encouragement and I think I was as excited to meet them as they were to meet me:

Like doing a signing with TFC's Kelly Parra:

And a reading with with TFC's Alyson Noel at Virgin Megastore on Hollywood Boulevard:

That reading above was actually on my 29th birthday! And in honor of TFC's birthday, I'll be giving out a signed copy of one of my books. You can choose which one you want, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE or BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. Just leave a comment to enter, tell me about the dream you have that you will fight for like we writers fight to get our stories out there to the world, and mention which book you'd like in your comment. I always like to give out extra chances to win, so you can get an extra entry for each time you blog, link to, or tweet about the TFC celebration, just note your extra entries in the comment as well. I will draw a winner via random number generator on March 15!


KrysteyBelle said...

Please enter me for Ballads of Suburbia. =)

And my dream, much like yours is to be a writer. I spend most of my time at home with my son, so I get some writing in during naptime and after he goes to bed. I've had a few nibbles for one of my novels, but nothing great yet. Still, I'll keep trying.

Thank you so much for your story.

Melissa Walker said...

Love your story, Stephanie. This birthday celebration is turning out to be really motivational! I'm so glad everyone shares those insecure feelings--it helps to get them out and know that we all feel it!

geoff said...

Hey Stephanie!
I'm so happy that you never gave up! I've been terribly lucky in that my dream actually came true. Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a dancer. I gave up all my afternoons, my weekends, my summers, and my senior year to train, and I got a job with a ballet company. Sure, its not New York City Ballet, but who cares? I'm doing what I love AND i get paid for it!

(oh, and enter me for Ballads of Suburbia, because I still dont have that one yet)

Loretta Nyhan said...

Stephanie! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I'm playing the waiting game right now and I'm a leeeetle bit stressed.

I loved reading your books. Good luck with the third!

jessjordan said...

What an inspiring story! Thanks, Stephanie, for your honesty. Writing is the fun part; everything else--that's where it gets tough, stressful, scary. Major kudos to you for keeping your dream alive.

My dream? To turn one of my many WIPs into something I'm proud of, into something an agent and editors and readers will love.

I already own Ballads of Suburbia, and I'd love to read I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. But either one would be good!

S.o.L.a.R. said...

I love your hair. I'd love a copy of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, but either book would be just great with me.

YA Vampire Books said...

Great story! It was very inspring, and I wish you lots of luck with your current WIP!

I've always dreamt of living abroad, and I hope that I someday will! I actually have lived abroad, but only for fiva months, and now I'm back home again! But not for long, hopfully! ;)

jpetroroy said...

Great story. I'd love to be entered for Ballads of Suburbia. I'm hoping to be a published author, as well. I try to fit in writing between grad classes and a full-time job! It's definitely been hard lately.

Sara Hantz said...

Great story, Steph, I love your honesty!

Heather Kelly said...

Hey Stephanie--hang in there! Thank you so much for sharing your story and hopes and dreams. And the pictures are awesome! I would love to win either of your books! I am working hard at being a writer myself, although right now I'm just working hard to finish my current novel's revision. I'm having trouble seeing past the red inked pages, at a future of possible agents and book deals. :) Maybe someday!

I have blogged about this contest last week, and when I blog again next week, I'm sure to mention it. Such fun over here!

Llehn said...

Personally, the dream worth fighting for is my writing. It's something I cannot do without and after all the time and effort I've put into it, it seems like such a waste to simply give up.

Carol(ina) said...

My dream worth fighting is to hopefully become a published author in the future, and to get into a very great college. I've worked hard for both and I hope that they'll come true.

I'd like to win either book.

mandye said...

BALLADS OF SUBURBIA if I win please.
My dream is to become a psychologist and help people that way. I'd also like to spread awareness about human trafficking since it's such a horrible thing.

Wendy Toliver said...

It's always so interesting to hear authors' stories! Thanks so much for sharing, Steph. As you know I love your books and hope there are many more! And every time you tweet about something happening at the bar where you work, I wish we lived closer so I could pop in and have a drink. :) Thanks for being a part of TFC and here's to many more years. xoxo

Justine said...

Wow, thanks for this story! I love your title for it too. It intrigued me :) And I wish you more great things in the future!

My dream would have to be to get into the medical field as a nurse, helping the young ones. I've always wanted to help people and work with children at the same time. It's something that I would love to do everyday. :)

And I'm entering for Ballads of Suburbia. I've always wanted to read that one. :D

April (BooksandWine) said...

Enter me for Ballads of Suburbia!

My dream is to be a young adult librarian. I student taught history and that wasn't for me. I know I'm passionate about books, I like students, and I really want to share my love of books with as many people possible. Hence wanting to be a librarian. Plus I love organizing things.

Bee said...

I'm under a lot of stress from college and you won't believe how much your post cheered me up, Stephanie!
My dream, like yours was 3 years ago, is to get published, because I want the world to hear out the characters who've been yapping away in my mind. I, too, have stories to tell. I've been reading all the TFC anniversary posts and yeah, I know just how hard and frustrating it can be sometimes, but I can't help it. I need to write *shrugs*
I've always wanted to read 'Ballads of Suburbia' but I'll request for 'I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone' after reading this post, 'cos well, I think a debut's different thing altogether.

And I tweeted: (@bee_muses)

Btw, your hair is so cool!

/rant ends :P

Lynsey Newton said...

LOVED reading your story! Keep going no matter what! My dream is the same as yours only I'm no where near it at the moment. Need to get the butt in the chair and start writing first!

Please enter me for Ballads of Suburbia! Thank you for the contest (hope it's international)

Lori T said...

Hi Stephanie~

I loved loved both of your books and I can hardly wait for what comes next.

My dream right now revolves around all my children. I just want them all to be happy and healthy and have the things that they want.

Happy Anniversary! said...

please enter me

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Great post, Steph!

Gerb said...

I'm glad you've stuck with it Stephanie. You have a lot going on/have a lot to say. You need to keep writing! (Don't enter me because I already have both books.)

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Great post!! And I loved our signing, Steph!! Hopefully we'll do one again someday. *Hugs*

Sara Z. said...

Oh great post, such a true portrait of the writing life for most working writers. Required reading!

Amber Lough said...

Thank you for this post. I am living part of that story right now, actually. My first novel got me an agent that I adore, but it didn't sell, and I'm starting to believe it never will. Now I'm working on my second novel, which has been difficult to write, in hopes that it will be good enough to publish. (And I worry daily my agent will decide I'm not worth much and dump me.)

My dream, however, is that my first novel will one day get published. I wrote it as if on a mission, needing to show the world how a young woman made it through a horrible time and survived with her soul intact.

Please enter me for Joey Ramone.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thank you all for your sweet comments and sharing your dreams. All of you aspiring writers and artists I salute you, keep writing and dreaming and you will get there. I love that there are aspiring librarians, psychologists, and nurses (my mom is a nurse and I have serious respect for that field) among us as well, so very vital to helping people in our own ways. This is why it is important to dream and follow our dreams!

MarjoleinBookBlog said...

My dream is to get rid of my anxiety attacks and related stress stuff, to continue reading and reviewing fabulous books, and to continue working on my manuscript!

..and to read I wanna be your Joey Ramone someday..

Laurena said...

My dream is to be a writer, and I am currently working on my novel. I love your post, though it has scared me a little about the writing world.

I'd love to read your "I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE". Thanks for the post!

hannah r0x yoUR soX! said...

You hair is so neat!!
Anyways... My dream?
My dream is to know at least one person in this world is better off because I was born into it. Cheesy, but true. :)
Another dream of mine is to become a writer. Only thats sort of inferred since I'm here... :)
Love, Hannah S.

MissAttitude said...

Ballads of Suburbia please! (Glad to see OP is represented, I live there now and I NEVEr thought it would get written about except concerning Hemingway). While I haven't read I Wanna Be your Joey Ramone, my best friend has (and she loves it!) so I want to share Ballads with her as well (and she lost her copy of joey Ramone so I can't borrow it. meh)

Thank you (and all the other TFC authors) for your honesty. As I read these posts, I have an even greater respect for YA authors and all authors in general. I always knew writing and getting published was hard, but you guys go through so much! So many rejections and lots and lots of waiting. Ugh I would die, I'm so impatient.

I have lots of dreams but my biggest one is to just do something with my life. I'm not sure what yet. I'm restless, always moving from one thing to another but I just want to be happy. I don't want to have a job that is sucking the life out of me. I want to help people and not worry about money because I am surrounded by love and i'm happy. Naive much? Ah well, it's a dream :)

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

Ballads of Suburbia please :)

My dream that I'll never let go of - writing of course but that's more a part of a whole. The whole is the dream that I am who I should be. That I don't give up parts of myself for nothing in return. I've seen myself do that over the past few years, and I don't want to let it happen any more.

Kay Cassidy said...

Lovely post, Steph! You always inspire me with your honesty and spirit. :-) *big hugs*

Sylvia said...

I loved reading about your "journey":) I feel like I can really relate with how you've felt when you thought you are gonna get stuck in a job you don't like. I'm not yet working but when I look to the future, I always imagine myself in a job I don't like and reading your story inspired me to seriously think about what I really want to do, so thanks a lot:)
As to my dream, well, this is not really a dream but instead something I'm really determined to fight for. It's a little personal but here it is, I come from a "traditional" family that values a boy more than a girl and I grew up feeling more inferior to my brother because of that, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of how I view myself because I do believe that men and women are equal:)
Thanks and I would love to win Ballads of Suburbia!

Audrey; (AyC) said...

Ballads is one of the best books I've ever read.
And my dream is to find out who I am and be who I am, not letting anyone else decide what I should do with my life.

Lea said...

My dream is to finish a novel that I can be proud of (and if it gets published, that would be pretty awesome too).

Please enter me for Ballads of Suburbia! :D