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My Writing Journey (Part 2)


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

As I mentioned last week in Part 1 of my writing journey, it took me about a year to write my debut book, The Preacher’s Bride. I was only doing about 500 words a day at that point. When I finished, it was the summer of 2008—which seemed eons from when I’d been actively pursuing publication years before.

After spending several months editing the book, I decided it was time to dip my feet into the publishing waters again. I didn't know if I was ready for publication. If you remember from the previous post, I'd started garnering a little editorial interest with the last book I'd written before taking my seven-year hiatus.

But after my long break, I didn't know how I compared with other authors. And quite frankly, I wasn't sure if my writing skills were up to par.

I hemmed and hawed and finally decided it wouldn’t hurt to send my manuscript out to publishers and see what happened. So I turned on my handy internet and began researching publishers.

And boy was I in for a surprise. Times had changed drastically since I’d queried and submitted years before. I quickly learned that everything had gone electronic—that I wouldn’t need to print out my manuscript, rubberband it together, and figure out return postage. Instead I’d have to figure out the new email guidelines for sending queries and sample work.

I also learned that most publishers didn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, that I would likely need to get an agent if I had any hope of getting into a bigger traditional publisher. And so, I began to compile a list of agents who represented inspirational fiction.

As I started reading blogs about the state of the publishing industry, I listened to other writers talk about how hard it was for debut authors to get into traditional publishing houses. The statistics were grim and depressing. And even my chances of finding an agent seemed somewhat bleak. But I decided it wouldn't hurt to put my toes in and test things out.

So I sent the queries out. My list was fairly small (approximately 12), since I'd narrowed it down to the top agents I thought could represent what I was writing.

Slowly the rejections trickled back in. The Preacher’s Bride was rejected by every agent I sent it to . . .

Except one.

Only one agent showed an interest, a fairly new agent, who at that time was still building her client list. She told me she liked my query and asked me to send her the entire manuscript. So I did. But I was still very naïve and checked my email several times a day, excited and yet nervous all at the same time. I didn’t realize what a slow process submitting could be.

One week passed in to two. And then three. And then four. Months passed. And I didn’t hear one word from the agent.

I was getting a first-hand learning experience in the hard-knocks of the modern publishing industry. I quickly realized it was as tough as everyone had said—and then some.

In the meantime, I decided I would keep writing. So that year, as The Preacher’s Bride continued to languish in the agent’s slush pile, I put my heart and soul into writing another book. I also used the year to immerse myself in the industry. I read publishing blogs, joined writing communities, and even started a blog of my own. I began to meet other writers online and gained a firm grip on the pulse of the publishing industry.

So how did I finally get my big break?

I entered the Genesis contest through ACFW in 2009 (a national contest for unpublished writers). And The Preacher’s Bride and the other manuscript I had just completed finaled. Once I received the exciting phone call about my final, I contacted the agent that had The Preacher’s Bride in her slush pile and updated her on the status.

Fortunately the final perked her attention and she pulled my manuscript from her slush pile where it had been sitting for months upon months. She read it and three days later called and offered me representation. Three months later I signed a contract with Bethany House publishers. And they offered me a three book deal.

Now in 2013, after finishing two contracts, we're in the thick of negotiations for a third book contract with Bethany House Publishers.

Moral of the story? Good things come in three's? *grin*

Okay, so the real moral? My trip to publication didn't happen overnight. I had pit stops along the way, detours, and a long uphill climb. But through it all, I never gave up my passion for writing. And no matter what the future may bring, I know I'll always love writing.

So what do you think of my journey to publication? Anything surprise you? And now tell me something about YOU! Have you ever had to wait a long time for something? What was it and how long did you have to wait?

27 comments:

  1. What surprised me the most was how long I had to wait for my second book contract after I sold my first. I sold to a category romance publisher, which usually just contracts one book at a time in the beginning. It took over a year to tell them my second story (which had been half written when I sold the first). Yikes! A lot of rewrites involved in that one. But I've since gone on to sell them two more stories, which were acquired a lot easier. So my moral? That some novels don't go as smoothly as others. :-)

    Also, I would encourage unpublished writers who think their story(ies) might be ready for submitting to enter contests. I did really well by entering contests. I got my agent when one of my Genesis Contest judges sent my entry to HER agent because she liked it so much.

    I've since had a couple people interested in my agent ask what my initial query looked like. At that time, I gulp and say "Um, I kind of didn't write one."

    But I think that story says a lot about what can happen if you write a strong opening, the kind that doesn't let people put your novel down.

    And another interesting fact, I was terrified of my ms sitting in an agents' slush piles for years, which is why I targeted a publisher I could submit to without an agent. For some reason, I felt I'd have a better shot going for an editor directly, and it worked. My book sold to the editor from the slush pile, but I was already talking to my agent, so I signed with my agent and let her handle the details. :-) Gotta love that about agents! They get to mire through all the legal stuff I only half-understand.

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    1. Good morning, Naomi! Thank you so much for sharing more of your journey! Everyone reading my post should read about your story! In fact, I think I may need to share your story in a future blog post! :-)Everyone's journeys are so unique, but the cool thing is that IF you work hard enough to improve your craft AND don't give up, you'll make it!

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    2. Hard work is totally what writing boils down to. Some parts of writing will come more naturally to some than others, and some people will take longer to get published than others. But no writer gets a book published by accident. They all have to take time to learn how to write a novel (or craft, as it's so commonly called), and then be determined to write a novel that's so good no one can say no to it. :-)

      I don't feel that my story is super interesting, but if it's helpful to share it in another post, feel free. Every writer out there was once unpublished, and there's a part of me that loves helping other writers.

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    3. Naomi! That's awesome that your judge sent your entry to her agent! This really gives me that extra nudge to enter more contests. LOL :)

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  2. Love this. I remember while I was on submission reading every post on your blog. It encouraged me to watch your journey unfold.

    My first book came out last year, fourteen years after I first started writing. Slow and steady is my story, too.

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    1. Hi Caroline,

      It's so neat how we can draw encouragement from each other's journeys! And hopefully newer, younger writers can take hope as well!

      Have a wonderful Easter!

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  3. Glad to read the rest of your story, Jody. I think most of us have to wrangle in those waiting trenches to a certain extent, some longer than others. I've had a book out on submission for over a year. At this point, I've written those three publishers off and I'm trying a variety of methods to draw outside attention to my MS, including the Genesis. I'm glad to know it can be a helpful step in a writing career. It's amazing how our career directions morph and change with each book, each agent...

    I would definitely say that one thing I've learned is that I don't DO exclusive queries any more. It just isn't worth those months of anguish. I basically spray my queries out there, and whichever arrow hits the target, gets my attention. Waits are only getting longer in this biz--I've seen it happen in the past five years I've been at it.

    I think the industry is still morphing, and self-pubbing has become a very viable option for many writers who don't want to put their lives on hold for years to get published. I'm definitely thinking along those lines with my first novel. For the other two, I'll wait around a little longer to see what happens.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jody!

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    1. Hi Heather,

      Oh yes, exclusive queries are NOT the norm. I would encourage writers to query smart, but to query wide. The industry is really morphing!! I agree! It's amazing to think how much has changed in the past two years alone. Self-publishing is such a viable option! It's exciting to see many authors going that route and having great success. And it also means that if you don't do well traditionally (for whatever reason), your career isn't over (as it once would have been!). You can still keep writing and pursuing other options.

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  4. I'm surprised at how helpful a contest final was for your career.

    I think another backdoor way is a conference like Mount Hermon. I was very encouraged by the interest that a few agents and publishers had in my ms. Now I must polish profusely so I can send the requested full. Waiting is in my future.

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    1. Good point, Jenni! Writer's conferences can definitely be a backdoor into traditional publication! How exciting to hear that you had some interest! Wishing you all the best! :-)

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  5. I loved reading about your writing journey, Jody! I'm so proud of you for all you've accomplished, and I'm thankful you're willing to share all the ups and downs here. :)

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    1. Thank you, Jill! You've been there for me so many steps along the way! It's because of friends like you that I've enjoyed my journey even more! :-)

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  6. I am pretty sure I will hold the record for how long it took me to get my latest book (actually the first I wrote) published. I started the book in 1978. I finished the book in 1989. In 2011 I spent most of the year adding material to the book but 95% of it was written by 1989. The book was published in 2012 so it took 34 years from start to finish. No one can ever accuse me of being a quitter!!! It is a non-fiction book about a time in Canadian history that will never be written about again. It is biographical and I tell the story through the words of the actors, etc. I was very naïve and started to send it off to one publisher and then waited until they rejected it and sent it to another. I have the most interesting collection of rejection letters because many of them loved it but did not purchase the rights. The academic world said I was too mainstream and the mainstream said I was too academic. As I wanted to bridge both worlds I could only tell myself I had succeeded and one day some publisher would see that. I came close once or twice and finally was offered a contract in 2002. For a number of reasons it did not work out but in 2011 the same publisher said that he really did want to publish it (in the meantime I wrote six other books) and so began the editing process which took more than a year. That is a very short version of an incredible journey. There were so many twists and turns to it I can hardly believe it looking back. I never wrote a query letter but did have a two page synopsis. That and one chapter was all I needed and I do not think it would have been published any faster with a query letter. I realize it is non-fiction and you are a fiction writer but some of the principles are the same. I think luck and perseverance have as much to do with it as anything with the latter often triggering the former. At some point I will write a story of how the book happened because it really was a remarkable journey.

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    1. Hi Susan!

      Thanks for sharing your journey! It does indeed look like you have the record for the longest road to publicatin! :-) Just shows that we need to keep persevering and believing in what we're doing. It also sounds like you wrote a book that you believed in and felt passionate about, and that makes the journey so much more enjoyable! :-)

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  7. Jody, I like how you patiently waited for months before contacting the agent until you had something more to offer her (the contest info). It shows great strength and humility.

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    1. Hi Linda! Yes, it was a hard wait! But I think waiting is always easier when you keep on writing! The new story takes your mind off the other one.

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    2. What if that doesn't happen? What can you do if the proverbial "next book" just won't come?

      How did you differentiate quitting versus taking a break, however long? Do you know of any writer (personal or fan-wise) that put their writing on hold for reasons that don't involve parenting or cancer?

      I feel stalled and stagnant. But it's not parenthood that makes me feel that way.

      Do you think this break would've happened has you not had children, or had them later than you did.

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    3. I mean no disrespect to parents here.

      But I frankly feel like the only non-parent who feels stalled this way.

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    4. Taurean, I think that sometimes you have to take breaks in your writing. I would encourage a "break" as the first step before "quitting" and using the break to evaluate what's causing the stagnation. And perhaps the break will be quite long. That's okay. Sometimes we burn ourselves out on our passion and need the chance to rejuvenate our creativity by fueling it in other ways.

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  8. I loved your line about throwing your heart into writing another book while waiting to hear about others. I spent about a year wiring my first book. It was just about finished when my husband sent me to the ACFW conference in 2011. I was so very over-whelmed and felt so out if my league. I was about convinced to cancel both if my agent appointments--at least until I heard what the author who'd done my paid critique had to say. After hearing such amazing good news I went into my appointments overflowing with joy and excitement. I didn't even know what a partial proposal was, but I had two requests for whatever it was! And within a week of sending those partial proposals, I had two offers of representation. So I signed with an agent... and then my wait began. :) I think I was spoiled with everything happening so fast at the beginning of my journey. I've not given up though. I know God knows where and what and how. I just have to write more... and wait and see. :)

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    1. Oh wow, Dawn! The beginning of your writing journey DID happen really fast! That's got to be encouraging to know that you're on the right track and have what it takes! In the meantime, while you're waiting you can keep on writing and giving your agent more material to send out there! And then someday when you do get a contract, your publisher will hopefully take a look at all of your books.

      Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Jody, this post is so encouraging! I love to hear an author's story and how God works for their good in His many different ways. Love your work! Can't wait to read A Noble Groom. God bless you in your writing.

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    1. Thank you so much, Natalie! I'm so glad the post was inspiring. Hope you'll enjoy A Noble Groom! Have a wonderful Easter weekend!

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  10. "And quite frankly, I wasn't sure if my writing skills were up to par." It's interesting to hear you say this, Jody. I hear other writers say it, too, and I think it's one of my biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to querying. While I've had a few positive contest experiences as a finalist (although not as a winner), they haven't usually been in contests that offer feedback, so I never know what was seen as the manuscript's strengths or weaknesses. I suppose that suggests I should pick different contests! :)

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    1. Hi Carol!

      After my break from writing, I wasn't sure how I would compare with other writers. But once you learn the skill of fiction-writing, I don't think you lose it. It's kind of like learning to ride a bike. You might start off wobbly (after some time away), but it comes back with a little practice! (And of course there's always room for improvement!)

      As far as contests, I think it would be good to try a variety of contests. If you haven't ever entered the Genesis, it might be worth a try. The judges always give detailed feedback. If nothing else, it's an inexpensive way to get critiques from experienced writers.

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