As my longtime readers know, I've aspired towards becoming a published novelist since I was young. I started trying to write my first novel when was nine, and I sent my first query letters when I was twelve. I had a goal to get traditionally published before middle school started... then before high school, then before college, then before my graduation from college. I was (and continue to be!) a huge supporter of teen writer initiatives. But none of these things turned out for me, and here I am, twenty-five years old, nineteen novels written, 117 query letters sent, and still unpublished.
My younger self would be horrified, and a small part of me is disappointed. However, there are reasons why I'm actually glad I haven't been published yet. It's not because I was too young--I stand by my support of teen authors, All authors have to start somewhere, and some are ready for publication sooner in their writing career (and in their lives) than others are. But I, as a writer and a person, was not ready for publication before. I don't know if I'm ready now, or when I will be, but there were at least three reasons why it wouldn't have worked in the past. I'm sharing them here to help other writers who might be facing the same issues and setbacks.
1) I wasn't ready to interact with other publishing professionals. When I was younger, I had this vision of literary agents and editors as being these great and powerful beings that I was appealing to for consideration. I saw them as being above me. And while it's true that these professionals have a lot of power, especially while we are querying them, the relationship authors have with their agents and editors should be one closer to equality. Agents and writers. especially are meant to have a balanced partnership
Authors have a lot of influence. We choose who to work with; we choose many of the edits that are done; we choose what contracts to enter in on and what stories to write. It's important to remember that. We need to seek out people we can truly work with on an equal basis. We need to be ready to fight for ourselves and our work--to say "no" to agents and editors, when it's in our best interests..
I don't know how much my young age had to do with my false understanding of these relationships, but it likely did have an effect. It's only since I started following agents and editors on Twitter, in 2014, that I've come to an understanding of how that relationship should truly be. I see the agents and editors as the human beings they are, in love with stories, ready to cooperate with the writers whose work they're passionate about. I have a better idea of how to find those I can work with best. That's an important part of the publication process! Without it, I don't think I could have succeeded as a published author.
2) My writing itself needed a great deal of improvement. As I discussed in this prior post, I've had many epiphanies throughout the years about how my writing was not yet good enough for publication. I've trunked the majority of my novels for a variety of reasons--lack of originality being a common one. For me, the learning process has been unfortunately slow. I think most writers learn how to make something publishable before their nineteenth novel! However, I'm grateful for all the work I've done that has led me to become better. I've learned how to respect the wills of my characters, how to include more pertinent details, how to avoid passive voice, how to world-build more realistically, how to write more diverse characters, how to find ideas with enough originality to capture readers' attention (at least, I hope so), and much more. I've learned how to write in the way that works best for me. I've also gotten a better grasp on formatting manuscripts for the industry and on writing query letters that will appeal to agents. I know a whole lot that will be helpful for publication. Without all that knowledge, I couldn't create a good, publishable manuscript. I just wasn't ready.
3) My chronic illness crisis, and the aftermath, would have been a career crisis, too. If you've been following this blog, you know that I had a chronic illness crisis at the end of college that left me pretty seriously disabled. I haven't written a new manuscript since, though I'm trying now. It's been an incredible struggle for me as an writer to be set back so far. But I'm lucky, because I'm not facing this crisis in the midst of an established author career. I don't have contracts or deadlines to worry about. I don't have an audience that might get bored and forget me. I can take this on as someone without all those expectations on my shoulders. I have time to get back on track. And my hope is that once I get through this first new novel, things will become more workable for a future writing career, though I don't know for sure. So while in a lot of ways it would have been easier to write and publish books prior to my disability, I'm glad I didn't. It's to my benefit that I have this freedom right now.
I don't know what the future will bring: when I will get published or what other reasons I may find for why I'm not ready to do so yet. But for now I'm grateful for all the time I've had to prepare. I know I'm far better suited today to be a part of the industry than I was before--and I likely will continue to become better suited as time passes. So if you, like me, are still awaiting traditional publication, know that it will come to you when the time is right. Give yourself time to prepare--and if you'd like, tell me your own reasons why you haven't yet become ready for it in the comments! I'll be back next week with an original comic about chronic pain.
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