Wednesday, August 3, 2011

12 WOW Wednesday: Natalie Whipple on Reaching Around the Bend

Today's guest, Natalie Whipple, is a YA writer who can't seem to write a straight genre to save her life. You'll get what that means come Summer 2013, when her first novel TRANSPARENT debuts from HarperTeen. It's a little bit X-Men, a little bit The Godfather, with an invisible protagonist to boot. Catch her on her website or on twitter or on twitter.

Around The Bend

by Natalie Whipple

When I first started pursuing publication, all wide-eyed and green and full of hope, I had this idea that a writer could make things happen faster if they wanted to. If I just worked harder than everyone else, I could get an agent before the year was out. If I put in my absolute everything, surely it wouldn’t take more than two years to get on a shelf.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Though I’ve been a lifelong writer, I count my publishing journey from when I started actively pursuing publication, which was five years ago. I thought I would get an agent within the first year—it took over two. I thought I’d sell my book my first year on sub—that took almost two years. I even thought my book would come out in like a year, a year and a half tops. Well, I get to wait two years for that, too.

So, all in all, a journey I thought would take like three years (oh, how I laugh at my adorable, greenie self) is going to take almost seven years in reality. I wanted to be published by twenty-five. I will be almost thirty when my first book comes out.

Now, I’m not complaining, oh no, this is just the reality of my journey stacked up against my once-na├»ve dreams of what publishing would be and a massive miscalculation of just how much I needed to learn about writing. Sometimes it can be disheartening as a writer, when we meet more trials than we thought. Sometimes we get discouraged because things aren’t happening when we want them to.

But the thing is, just because they aren’t happening now doesn’t mean they won’t happen ever.

As I neared almost 200 queries sent, you bet I started to think I’d never get an agent. I’d worked hard—I honestly have always given my all, even if sometimes my all wasn’t enough—and I wasn’t seeing results. I was getting requests, but at the same time I knew there was something wrong about my writing. I was honestly about to throw in the towel. But an amazing agent, Nathan Bransford, took a chance on me. With his guidance I finally bridged that gap between not publishable and publishable.

That doesn’t mean that book sold, though. It went through fifteen months on sub, a couple close calls, and a lot of heartache. There was never a time in my life I wanted so badly to give up, having come close enough to taste the success, only to watch it slip from my hands.

My once-optimistic self was no more. As I thought about that girl who started this journey, it felt like I didn’t know her anymore. I was a broken, jaded shell of her. I’m not proud of it, but I will fully admit that trying to publish literally drove me insane. Last fall, it got so bad that I was put on anti-anxiety medication. Because I was trying so hard, and up until then I truly believed that hard work would get me an equivalently awesome reward. Then I watched newer writers get agents, books deals, and even have their books debut all in the time I was on sub. I listened to my friends say my book was better than insert-published-book-here. I felt like publishing had a grudge against me. I was bitter and tired and one click away from walking away from it all.

This was not the future I wanted when I began this journey.

Who would want that? No one. We talk about what we sacrifice as a writer. Well, it felt like I’d given all I could and gotten nothing in return. It felt like I was at a crossroads: Walk away from writing? Or keep going?

That’s when I told myself, “One more time. If you tear yourself apart like last time, then it’s time to walk away.”

So, despite how blindingly hard it was, I finished my complete rewrite of TRANSPARENT. And my agent, Anna Webman, sent it out. Sub was even harder this time, knowing precisely how badly it could go. I had to shut off the internet, hole up, and try my hardest not to lose it. The only thing that kept me going was working on another project, its shining potential a future crossroads to stand at.

Six weeks later, I had a book deal, the thing I’d wanted for so long. And the kicker? I ended up with the editor who most-loved my first submission and couldn’t buy it. Second chances—publishing has them. Who knew?

I think the number one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that you never know what’s around the bend. I wish I could say that this business is all daisies and sparkles, but it’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life. There were no short cuts for me. No free passes. The path was bright times, and horribly dark and hopeless at others.

But you know what? I don’t think I’d change a thing. The hard times refined not only my writing, but my character. They even gave me something to write about. They taught me what it means to hope and persevere in the face of a seemingly impossible task. While I wouldn’t want to go through it again, I am grateful for the lessons learned.

I know sometimes it can feel like you are stuck in a murky publishing swamp, no end in sight. I know it might be easier to just set up house there instead of wading through waist-deep mud. But if you keep going, there’ll be another bend in the road, and that one just might be the one you’re looking for.

So keep reaching, and savor every good moment.


  1. Thank you Natalie! That is exactly what I needed to hear right now. And I'm so happy that you didn't throw in the towel.

  2. Glad you finally made it! Kudos to you!

  3. I loved reading this. Thanks, Natalie!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this, Natalie. So wonderfully honest, and it will encourage many writers! I need this, especially as I will be going on sub in the fall... Every writer's path is different, some short, some fast. We may WISH to be on the fast(er) track, but those success stories are more the exception. And you're so right--we can use our life experiences to make our novels richer and deeper! :)

  5. Geez, I'm in tears after this. Perfect proof of why Natalie is awesome, and why I will be standing in line to buy her book the second it's on shelves.

    Also, on a more personal note, I see a lot of myself in these words. It's both inspiring an cautionary. Good food for thought.

  6. Thank you very much, Natalie. It's inspiring to hear all you went through, and that you didn't give up. Congrats on your sale, and here's to many more of your books on the shelves!

  7. Ah, there is hope. Thanks for this post, Natalie.

  8. Thank you for sharing your journey, the ups and the downs. Can't wait for Transparent to debut in 2013.

  9. Natalie -

    I know I don't know you and haven't even been that active in the comments of Between Fact and Fiction, but reading this made me so happy, teary joyful. Thank you for living your publishing journey so honestly and transparently. I've learned so much from you!

  10. Great blog!!!!! Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Lola x

  11. This is such an inspiring story. I've followed Natalie's blog for a while and I was so happy for her when she got her book deal. :)


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