I just finished writing my fourth novel, but you won’t find the first three at Barnes & Noble or even on the ninety-eighth page of an Amazon search. They gather dust on my hard drive.
Revisiting old projects can be cringe-worthy, but I’m a big fan of sharing and comparing failures, so these are the books that died on my hard drive. They taught me a lot. Maybe they’ll teach you something, too. At least, perhaps, they’ll make you feel less alone.
My first book, “Kalos,” hit the page as a YA fantasy with too many characters and not enough plot. It chewed up the conventions of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight, and spit them back out in a grayish mess. I loved it. And I queried it hard core. Countless emails earned me a single request for the first five pages (yep, five), and nothing more. The non-responses killed me. The form rejections killed me. But they also lit my fire. They urged me to learn anything and everything about the publishing industry, to meet other writers, and to improve my work.
My second book, “Stupid Good,” seemed so killer when I wrote the last word. After the catastrophe that was “Kalos,” I’d found my genre: contemporary YA. Rooted in the real world, I discovered my voice and wrote characters that felt luscious and alive. More confident than ever, I brought this book to the DFW Writers’ Workshop. There, I found my people. People who would compliment my work when it shined and rip it apart when it lacked luster.
A few agents read “Stupid Good,” but in the end, they all turned me down. They said things like “this story has nice elements, but...” and “there’s so much to admire, but...”
I had to keep climbing, and for the first time ever, I had a community to show me the footholds.
Isla from Everywhere
After a revise-and-resubmit, my third book, “Isla from Everywhere,” hooked an agent at the DFW Writers’ Conference. Joanna Mackenzie brought a brilliant new eye to the story and helped me refine it for two years. Together, we nearly snagged a publisher.
This. Book. Almost. Happened.
But... the editor asked for (you guessed it) a revise-and-resubmit, and in the end, declined.
I have to admit, shelving this book hurt. I’m not a crier, but I cried. In the car. In traffic. On the way home from my nine to five. But “Isla” taught me the most important lesson of all: time spent writing is never wasted. Even when it seems like you shot two-and-a-half years on a project that no reader will ever read, you didn’t. Every word, every page, every draft makes you a better writer.
I won’t tell you the title of book four, because – heaven help me – this one might work out. It started living in my head last June, and right now, it’s on submission.
This novel stands on the shoulders of the first three. I know my genre, I know my voice, I know how to plot a story from beginning to end. And, guess what? Some of the characters from “Stupid Good” came back to life. I gave them new names and new circumstances, but their personalities prevailed. All those hours spent on books that went nowhere stacked up to a book with a chance.
Last time I went on submission, I found the courage to email David Arnold, my all-time favorite author. He actually wrote back (cool dude, right?) and said, “Turn off your email notifications, and drink lots of wine/beer/whiskey, etc. ( <---- Official submission advice.)” Words to live by, for sure. And yeah, my cork collection will probably grow over the next few weeks as I wait for the final word, but this time around, I know something new: I will keep going. If my fourth book ends up on my hard drive, I’ll keep writing. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.