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!