A lot of people ask me two questions: how did I get into writing? And can I give advice on how to get an agent and a publishing contract?
Starting with how I got into writing: It’s a long story, but here’s the short version. I was working a job in publicity (which I didn’t love) when I started to take writing classes through UCLA Extension (which I immediately loved). As a child I always enjoyed reading and writing, usually spending most of my free time–even during the summer months or over winter vacation–either with my nose in a book or with a pen in hand scribbling my own stories in a notebook. It was no surprise that after taking an introduction to writing for children class in 2002, I was instantly in love with the idea of writing something for children and getting it published. I took several classes and went to as many SCBWI (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences as I possibly could attend.
As far as getting an agent and published goes, let me first say that I decided very early on that I wanted to be published because I was a good writer and had a compelling novel. I did not want a book deal because of who I married. At no point along the way did I use Mike’s influence in order to get me farther in my career. Like most authors, I have a nice big stack of rejection letters.
I was nominated for two Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Awards at SCBWI Summer Conferences, which gave me the confidence to introduce myself to people at the conference that I was too nervous to approach. It turns out that my nominations were kind of like Dumbo’s magic feather. They gave me confidence, but the people I started networking with would have been happy to help me, with or without the award nominations.
I liked the idea of having an agent instead of continuing to try to find a publisher that was a good fit on my own, so my new friends recommended I look into a list of agents that they thought might be a good match (thank you, Lin and Kim!). I contacted Jennie Dunham after I did considerable research on all the agents from the list. She liked my writing but felt it still needed work. After I revised my manuscript taking into consideration her notes, she took me on as a client.
I started the writing classes in 2002. Signed with my agent in 2006. Signed a contract for publication in 2009. It is now 2010. I have yet to have a book in stores (but… I will soon!). These things take time. A lot of time. A lot, a lot, a lot of time. But while I was dreaming of publication, I was working hard.
I learned a lot in the past eight years, so I guess this leads to the advice part:
1. Read, read and read some more. And keep writing!
1. Learn about the craft of writing as well as the business of publication for the specific genre you want to write for.
1. It’s hard to be an author and can be lonely, so make friends with other writers. From going to the classes and the conferences, I have made great friends who are also a very important part of my writing process. They are there to brainstorm with and critique my writing in all areas from big picture plot problems all the way down to using the perfect word. No way would I have grown as a writer or have been able to make a manuscript as good as it can be without the feedback from my writer friends.
1. Join an organization. SCBWI is for children’s book writers and illustrators, but there are organizations out there for romance writers and horror writers and poets and thriller authors… you get the point. Take advantage of all that these organizations have to offer. Attend conferences to not only learn about perfecting your craft, but also to network. The person sitting next to you during a keynote speaker might be a great writer friend or even end up being an agent or editor.
1. I am working on draft 13… yes, draft 13, of my novel. Revise, revise, revise.
1. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
So keep preparing for the moment when opportunity may present itself!