Welcome to First Book Friday!
Rachel Aaron‘s post makes an interesting point. A lot of authors, myself included, stress how important it is for beginning writers to finish what they start. Otherwise, you never learn how to actually finish a book. Rachel brings up the counterpoint — that sometimes you have to let one project go in order to get to the really good stuff.
Her first book came out on October 1 of this year. Book two came out at the start of this month, and number three will be out next week. Having begun her career with this schedule, we should all naturally assume that Rachel will be continuing to write and publish a book a month…
I didn’t get serious about writing until I graduated from college. I’d just landed my first job, a dead end phone jockey position with low expectations, lots of down time, and a computer, and I knew this was it. If I couldn’t write a book now, I never would. So I did, a 220,000 word fantasy epic, in fact. For those of you having trouble wrapping your brain around that, both Game of Thrones and Harry Potter 7 are around 180,000 words. I couldn’t even find a published novel that was 220k when I was trying to put this example together.
So book 1 flopped, never got past the query stage even after a major rewrite, but I’d shown myself I could write a book. So I started writing another fantasy epic. By this time I had a real job and couldn’t write at work, but I pressed ahead valiantly until, about midway through, I started losing steam. I tried to keep going, but a new idea had popped into my head, a wizard thief. I had no story for him, just a name (Eli), a voice, and the rough outline of a magical system, a world where everything had a spirit and an opinion, and a charming man could be a very powerful force.
Now, I’d sworn that I would not go starting new stories just because the old one was getting hard, because that’s the surest way to a computer full of half-finished books, but Eli simply would not leave me alone. Then one morning, facing down a new chapter in the epic that I’d been putting off writing for two days, I realized I wasn’t just losing steam. Epic #2 really was going nowhere. After a few moments of despair at my lost months, I said screw it, opened a new document, and let Eli go.
I got two thousand words that morning, most of which remains largely unchanged as the first chapter of The Spirit Thief [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], and I KNEW this was it. I wrote the entire book in less than 6 months and ended up with a 55,000 word mess, but it was the best mess I’d ever made. Several edits later I declared the novel done enough and started sending out queries, absolutely sure that I’d have a contract by the end of the month.[1. Jim’s note: I laughed at this … mostly because I’ve totally been there.]
It didn’t exactly work out that way, but there was a lot of interest, way more than for my first book. I still got tons of rejections, but several were personalized and some even had suggestions. And then I got a reply from Lindsay Ribar, assistant to to Matt Bialer of Stanford Greenberger, for a query I didn’t even remember sending. This began a harrowing 9 month odyssey of waiting, writing, and waiting some more. The partial became a full, which became an extensive rewrite (expertly guided by Lindsay, who really is amazing), and a resubmission of the full manuscript to Lindsay, and then to Matt, and then came The Call.
Everyone who’s ever tried to get an agent knows about The Call, the mythical phone call from New York that someone wants your book. I was at work when my cell rang, and I got to it on the last ring. I checked the missed call list, and my heart nearly stopped when I saw the 212 area code. I called back instantly and got an answering service. So I checked my messages and there was Matt, my now agent, saying Hey, I’d like to represent you, call me.
I think I actually had a heart attack at that point. My vision went dark, I had trouble breathing, but I managed to dial the number. Lindsay picked up and smugly asked how I was doing. I told her, “I think I just had a heart attack.” That was when Matt picked up and said “Don’t have a heart attack! We want you to write more books!”
The day I got The Call was the happiest day of my life, including the day I got married and the day my son was born. I signed with Matt at once, and he sold The Spirit Thief and two sequels to Orbit about 3 months later.
So that’s the story of how I went from slushpile to published author. Not the most glamorous ascent, but I wouldn’t trade the end result for anything.
You can read sample chapters, reviews, and my blog, such as it is, at http://www.rachelaaron.net