I started writing novels in 2002, but will fast forward to the particular novel being published, Never Eighteen. I wrote Never Eighteen, then called Mending Fences, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2008. Any book written in 30 days is going to be a real mess. I polished it up a little and entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest (ABNA) for that year. I’d entered the year before and made the semi-finals. That year, um, nope. Got ousted after the first round. I sat down and did some major revisions then sent it to different people to read—from readers to writers to people in the business I’d connected with. I took their suggestions to do yet another draft and another. By the time I felt I was finished, I was at Mending Fences, version 15.0 (that’s how I name all my novels to keep the rewrites straight)
I began querying to agents in March 2009. While many requested partial or full reviews, I got no takers. I kept going religiously for a year, taking breaks only twice to write two more YA novels (which thus far both sit collecting dust). In February of 2010, I’d decided to take the book off the market, and do another set of revisions before sending it out again.
But wait, there’s more.
A friend of mine sent me the name of another agent, Irene Kraas. He said that even though she ended up rejecting him, she gave him some good feedback, which is something agents don’t often do. I thought, what the heck, what’s one more rejection, and sent her a query. She asked to see the first fifteen pages, then the first fifty, then the entire manuscript. Within ten days of sending her the initial query, I had a contract for representation in my hands.
I did a couple more rounds of revisions at Irene’s request, and by the end of March, she was sending the manuscript out to publishers, five of them to be exact. I was in Disneyland at the time, and remember constantly checking email on my phone to keep up with what was going on. April 9, 2010, we received an offer from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was awesome that I was in Disneyland with my husband and daughters to celebrate.
I think what made the most difference for me in the shift from writer to author was being able to take constructive criticism and using it to make my novel the best it could be. We think of our novels as our “babies”, and having someone tell you your baby is ugly, hurts. I’ve learned to take a step back from criticism for a day or two, absorb it, then take what is useful, and disregard the rest.
I think the worst thing an aspiring writer can do is to give up. You can’t get there if you don’t try. Yes, the critiques are hard, yes rejection is hard, but if you want to achieve your dreams, you have to keep going. I have one more very important bit of advice, and that is, never stop trying to be better. You will never reach perfection, but if you keep practicing and keep learning, you will continue to grow as a writer.