Lauren has generously offered a giveaway of MISS FORTUNE COOKIE! Enter to win at the bottom of the post!
Getting published--a backwards fairytale with apologies to Jack London
In my teens, I read Martin Eden by Jack London, a searing semi-autobiographical novel about a passionate, struggling sailor-turned-writer that kills himself at the end of the book. When I finished the last page, I knew I wanted to be just like him.
I figured the best path to becoming a novelist would be to get a degree in creative writing. Or so I planned the summer before college. “My dad had other ideas. Don’t be an English major unless you want to bag groceries at Safeway,” he told me. You have to support yourself.
I pretended to agree, but enrolled in Classic Literature my first semester at UC Berkeley, anyway, as well as some more practical classes (Chem 1A and Mandarin). The Classics’professor hated freshmen, and the head TA had sold his soul to St. Augustine. By the end of the semester, my dreams of English Major-dom lay in shreds at my feet.
Fast-forward fifteen years and cue creepy music. I now had:
A bachelors degree in International Agricultural Development
A masters degree in Agronomy,
A nine year career at the USDA in Honolulu, Hawaii as a resource conservationist
One supportive husband
One cute and very demanding baby
3 months of leave without pay
Yep. Somehow my dream of becoming Jack London had gotten squashed along the way. Until …
…until my husband suggested that instead of going back to work, I try writing a novel. Hadn’t I always wanted to?
Except I didn’t know how. And I was too exhausted to get ice for my water let alone write a whole book. Sheesh! The idea stayed with me, though. When my son turned one, I traded baby-sitting with a friend for 2-3 hours a week. Every Wednesday, I’d run to a café with my laptop, get buzzed on double lattes, and write my heart out. I could almost see Jack London glaring over my shoulder. Are you sure you want to write about bullying in middle school?
A year later, I finished the first draft of my novel. Around this time, I did a few things right.
figured out the age of my audience and my genre
read a lot of books in my new genre
signed up for writing workshops
met with a critique group weekly
joined SCBWI and attended their annual writing conference
All this almost made up for my missing MFA. I still fell short of my Jack London fantasy, though, unable to survive on four hours of sleep like him. Writing sucked up every last atom of energy that my baby somehow missed. Then I had a second baby.
Fast-forward a few more years. Two editors from medium-sized publishers requested full manuscripts of my first novel, Vanessa the Contessa, and then rejected it. I started another book and abandoned it halfway through. We moved from Hawaii to New Mexico. I got an idea for a third book. I kept writing, reading, going to workshops, and seeking out critique. Someone once told me that you have to write a million words before you can consider yourself a writer. I was almost there. Then I finished my third novel, My Invented Life, and went on an agent hunt.
Many of the big publishing houses don’t read unagented manuscripts. I started my search by reading blog posts by Miss Snark, an incognito agent that shares an inside view on the industry. She has stopped blogging, but her posts are still up for anyone to read. I wrote and rewrote my query letter, and then sent it to Evil Editor to be torn apart publicly. I researched agents up and down and sideways. (This has gotten easier since 2005, btw. Just go here.) The fourth agent I queried sent me a request for a partial and then a full. Woohooo! I wouldn’t have to grind myself into the ground like Jack London to succeed.
But the agent passed on representing me in a five-paragraph email containing a lot of suggested changes. I asked him if he would look at the manuscript after a rewrite. He said yes. Who knew the revision would take me almost a year?
Here comes the surreal part. After resubmitting My Invented Life to the aforementioned agent, a writer friend of mine suggested we take a weeklong novel writing workshop together. Since I needed something to submit to the conference, I started on book 4. Then the agent wrote me back. “I’m sorry, but your novel is not for me.” I was devastated.
What would Jack London do? Keep going, of course. The fool.
I created a new list of agents to query, while polishing the first twenty pages of my new novel for the workshop. My writing instructor at the workshop was brilliant and helpful. He’d published many novels and taught at two different MFA programs. My week with him felt like a mini-MFA, and rekindled my desire to go for more education in writing. On the last day of the workshop, he met with each student privately. During my turn, he said, “I hear you have a completed novel, too. If you don’t mind, I’d like to recommend you to my agent.”
If I didn’t mind? I almost hugged his knees with gratitude.
The rest went fast. After reading My Invented Life, his agent offered to represent me. She brought in a second agent that specialized in YA. The second agent sold my novel to Henry Holt in a two-book deal. Ta da!!!
So what can anyone learn from this. The road to publication has many twists and turns. I did things wrong, and it didn’t work out for me. I did things right, and it didn’t work out for me. But when I least expected it, an opportunity fell in my lap. My advice to anyone who wishes to be published is this—use your head, listen to your heart, and be ridiculously persistent.
About the Author
Lauren Bjorkman is a hopeless romantic. She met her husband-to-be in her final semester of high school. He had already graduated from college. Three years later on their honeymoon to China, she learned the art of squeezin onto a very full bus, mastered chopsticks, and managed to converse with locals in Mandarin, despite a limited vocabulary. She is the author of two YA novels, MY INVENTED LIFE and MISS FORTUNE COOKIE.
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About the Book
Meet Erin. Smart student, great daughter, better friend. Secretly the mastermind behind the popular advice blog Miss Fortune Cookie. Totally unaware that her carefully constructed life is about to get crazy.
It all begins when her ex-best friend sends a letter to her blog—and then acts on her advice. Erin’s efforts to undo the mess will plunge her into adventure, minor felonies, and possibly her very first romance.
What’s a likely fortune for someone no longer completely in control of her fate? Hopefully nothing like: You will become a crispy noodle in the salad of life.
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