Kristen Britain (LJ, Facebook) is a New York Times bestseller. Her latest book Blackveil came out in February of this year. The series even has its own wiki, which is pretty darn nifty. Kristen is another DAW author, meaning I suspect it pained her to keep this post under 1000 words 🙂 (I sometimes think I’m the only DAW author who can write a book in under 100K words.) Kristen is also part-centaur, and lives in Maine, where I’m told they’re more tolerant about that sort of thing.
I’d like to start by thanking Jim for his informative-funny-passionate blog, which is on my daily reading list, and for inviting me to participate in First Book Friday! Here’s my story…
I was one of those people who had loved reading and writing from a young age and dreamed of being published. In high school I completed my first novel, which I still keep stashed away in a box. Even after college, the dream remained. I tried my hand at writing short stories because back then, the general (though not necessarily correct) wisdom was that if you wanted to sell a novel, you first had to sell short stories. I tried, but short stories were not really my thing, and traditional adventure fantasy did not seem to be most markets’ thing. I consider this period one of training in which I continued to develop my writing skills and learn about the business end of writing.
In the fall of 1992, after too many short story rejections, I decided I might as well put my energy into my true love, long fiction. At the time, I was a seasonal park ranger, moving from one park to another every three to eight months. By then, I’d grown weary of the moving, and even with prospects of a winter season in the sunny south, I decided to settle at Acadia National Park in Maine for the winter, working part time. If I weren’t a frugal person, I couldn’t have managed this. The extra free time was a perfect opportunity to delve into writing a novel.
And I did, exulting in the hours of uninterrupted time, composing on my 80/88 XT computer. By the end of the following summer, I had a beginning, middle, and end to a novel I called Green Rider [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I embarked on revisions and tried to learn more about publishing from books, magazines, and workshops. In one workshop, literary SF novelist Richard Grant was the first pro to point out that my novel held promise as a publishable entity.
Note that none of my research or feedback took place on the internet since there wasn’t much of an internet in the days of yore, and I certainly didn’t have access to it. My road to publication was the way of the ancients and much of my research took place mostly in libraries. As a shy and introverted person, attending conventions didn’t even seem possible for me, so I did my networking at workshops and … by chance.
After revisions, I sent out the manuscript, unrequested, to SF/F publishers, not an uncommon practice back then. I received a couple form rejections, but others were “nice,” and even encouraging. I even received a phone call and long letter from an editorial assistant at Warner Books (now Grand Central). What, I wondered, is one supposed to think?
Then one of those “by chance” moments happened. On a visit to my post office, the postmistress noted the ad on the back of my Locus Magazine for a fantasy novel by a new author who, she said, just happened to live almost down the road from me. I was second in line at his first local signing. I told him of my situation of “nice rejections.” What, I had asked him, might be his advice? “Get an agent,” he said. Then after a pause he added, “First you have to have a great story.” I told him I thought I did. “Get an agent,” he told me.
I queried agents, including this author’s, Russ Galen. To my astonishment, Russ asked to see the manuscript. I quickly received another nice rejection, this one full of helpful comments. I reread my manuscript and realized he was spot on. I embarked on a new series of revisions and when I became unsure and muddled, I asked the local author if he’d look over the manuscript and tell me if I was on the right track. I was thrilled when he agreed to do so.
My author friend would have made a great editor. Using his comments, I fixed the manuscript, and in 1996, he re-read it. When he finished, he invited me over to his house and when I arrived, he spread his arms wide for an embrace and said, “Congratulations! You’ve written a novel!” He provided an introductory letter which he faxed to Russ Galen, and the next day I received a message from Russ’ associate, Anna Ghosh, requesting the manuscript. She soon became my agent, and a month or two later we sold to DAW Books. Green Rider was first published in hardcover in November of 1998.
I believe that even without my author friend’s help, I would have found my way to publication—it just would have taken longer, and I would have had to learn much more on my own. But I was determined, and I never stopped writing. Each novel since has provided its own writing challenges forcing me to “up my game.” Meanwhile, the 21st century has presented challenges on the biz end. Much has changed since the 1990s: ebooks, self-publishing, hard economic times… It is difficult to keep up with and the learning curve is never-ending, but if there is one constant, it’s my writer friend’s advice: “First you’ve got to have a great story.” After all, even with all the changes and challenges, I am confident there will always be demand for great stories.