How I Got a Book Contract at 21

May 27, 2018

 

From Then to Den:

 

Since I started writing novels at 16 I always wondered how authors managed to get book contracts.

 

Their bios would run something like: "I wrote a lot of terrible books in high school, and the I wrote INSERT TITLE OF BESTSELLING BOOK and Harper Collins picked it up."

 

That's great. But how did you bridge that gap.

 

Having recently acquired a book contract with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas before I graduated college, I would love to lay out my writing journey from first draft to final contract. And trust me, I made a lot of mistakes on the way. 

In the Beginning

I did write a lot of bad books in high school. It all started with a conversation between my friend and I. I gawked at her as we carried our Biology books from our lockers to our next classes.

 

"I don't know how in the world you can sit and write 300 pages at one time," I had told her. "I could never."

 

So, the next week, I sat and began writing about 300 pages at one time. It was a horrible X-Men fan fiction at best. But it was a start. I liked it, so I wrote 5 more, 10 . . . 15. And then I sent it out blindly to agents and publishers whose names I'd read in a Publishers Marketplace. No wonder I kept getting rejections. 

Self-publishing Unmasked

So at eighteen. and after about the fiftieth rejection letter, I'd grown jaded with the publishing industry. What to do next? 

 

Self-publish a Nanowrimo I wrote. 

 

It bombed. The book got a couple hundred sales and some mediocre reviews on Goodreads.

 

This is where I learned a traditional publisher brought a lot to the table. As a fresh-out-of-high school student, I didn't know how to market, build platform, or frankly, how to write.

 

The Best Teacher (Experience)

So where did I go to learn all I'd missed? 

 

I took up a professional writing degree at Taylor University. There I met the famous (and sometimes infamous) Dr. Hensley (author of over 65 books) who is not like Mr. Rogers. He does not like who you are . . . or giving out 4.0 GPAs. He slashed our pieces of writing with red pen to the point where it would look like a battle scene.

 

But it helped. I know it's sit instead of sit down (redundancy) and to avoid split infinitives. And (gasp) how to pitch at Writer's Conferences. The professional writing program at Taylor has students go to at least one conference to have a one-on-one with editors and publishers and basically those big shots I couldn't get a hold of years before.

 

Platform, platform, platform

At the Write to Publish Conference, I met Cyle Young (a literary agent) and pitched him a book I'd written that year. He was probably not interested but was kind enough to let me send him three chapters and a proposal.

 

I did, and he set up a Skype call to ask the infamous question: What's your platform?

 

I didn't know what that meant. Turns out, you need one to survive in publishing. After hemming and hawing over words (including the sparse 20 bylines I'd had at that point) he politely declined taking me on a client. 

 

Write like You're Running out of Time

I entered my sophomore year of college disappointed but determined. I acquired 200 bylines, took up several editing positions and internships (five or six . . . some positions melted into one another) including . . . 

 

An internship at a literary agency . . . Cyle Young's Literary agency.

 

I didn't think he'd remembered me. He did. 

 

He suggested I send my materials to one of his associate agents. I did, gut wriggling inside of me in anticipation for what would probably be the 200th rejection letter I'd ever received.

 

It didn't come. Instead, the agent offered to represent me in August 2017.

 

Publishers are Feeling Lukewarm 

 

So we began pitching my book "Lukewarm" to the publishers. They about felt that warmly toward it . . . but it was OK! Because my parents began the painful process of a six-month separation and divorce from their 26-year-marriage.

 

In a hole of deeper depression that I'd ever experienced before, I did the only logical thing I could muster . . . I wrote a 90,000-word manuscript titled "Den."

 

It was rough. My severe depression and anxiety leaked in the pages of the first draft. But I sent it to my agent after a few round of edits and some requests from a conference I'd pitched it at.

 

One publisher took on the full, but some members of the pub board noticed some plot holes. So I patched those.

 

Then the voice needed work.  Danny's (the protagonist's) sarcastic wit had disappeared behind a bland character. So, I spent a few weeks on that.

 

Then, a month later, the editor said the story was lacking details . . . one of my weakest areas in writing. I'd read her email with tears sparkling in my eyes, depression surfacing again. There was no way this book would ever be done. Who was I to think I could tell it right? I knew nothing about novel writing and could count scores of authors who could write a way better story.

 

But I edited. Why? Because I decided I couldn't let the characters live with an untold story. Even if it never reached a reader's hand, it deserved an ending. 

 

So I edited and sent it. 

 

One month later, on a somber ride back to campus from Infinity Wars, I scrolled through my email and my heart pole vaulted into my throat as I read:

 

"Hi Hope,

 

I hope this email finds you well! I have reviewed your manuscript and believe DEN will be the perfect addition to . . ."

 

I was going to be published. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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