I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dreams Come True, Part Two

Last week I announced that I sold a story--a memorable event which occurred at a memorable place.  It was an all-around, Dreams Come True sort of day.

Since I'm always interested in how people get published, I thought I'd share my experience with you, because my dream took a long time to bear out. Sweat and tears, too (no blood, but it felt like it). One week before my agent's phone call, I seriously thought of quitting.

Here's what my journey looked like:

  • I've always written for fun and even as a young child, I dreamed of seeing my name on a book cover. In high school I wrote romances about my friends. The longest running was a Regency about my friend Laura. Around that time, I first articulated that I'd love to write romance and/or YA someday in the far off future while I stayed home with my kids.
  • It wasn't until I was pregnant with Kid #2 in 2001 that I started writing a Regency-set romance. I wrote during Kid #1's naptimes, little bits every day. Writing was my dream, and now that I had a bit of spare time, I wanted to give it a try.
  • I joined Romance Writers of America to gain information about the craft and the industry, but I soon found that writing and taking care of little ones was difficult. It works well for some people, but I grew frustrated. With prayer I decided to put my writing on hold for a while, until my babies were a bit older.
  • When my youngest started elementary school, I started another novel and, utterly clueless as to whether or not it was worth anything, I decided I should get feedback on it. I entered it into RWA's Faith, Hope &; Love Chapter's 2008 Touched by Love Contest. To my shock, the story finaled, and while I didn't win, that final gave me encouragement, hope, and validation. I decided to keep on writing and see what happened.
  • The next year, I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and entered a second novel into the Touched by Love contest. To my delight, it also finaled, and I made contacts, including the women of the Inkwell Inspirations blog. 
  • In 2009, I attended a small workshop run by an agent. Since I don't live near an ACFW or RWA chapter, this was my first time gathering with other fiction writers. After reading their stuff, I felt inferior and I knew I had a lot to learn. I gained experience pitching to an editor, however, and while she rejected the proposal, I learned about the industry and the craft of writing.
  • I entered other contests, but did not final. One judge gave me a score of 50/100. This was the first time I cried over my writing, but it wasn't the last.  I learned that writing requires vulnerability, a teachable spirit, and a determination to keep going. If I was going to be a writer, I had to keep writing and keep growing.
  • Through entering and finaling in another contest, I received an editor request for my first novel. Happy dance! I worked hard to present my best. Unfortunately, it was not selected, but the editor wrote me a super nice, thoughtful three-page rejection letter, encouraging me to keep going. I realized it was a good thing that book didn't get published, as it had some serious issues!
  • I submitted a devotional to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotionals for Mothers. It was accepted! I was paid for something I'd written--a first.
  • I entered a third novel the ACFW Genesis contest and was amazed when it finaled. I didn't win; I probably came in last place among the finalists. A final-round judge scored me with a 50/100 (that humiliating score again), which broke my heart. I wondered if I was fooling myself, thinking I could be an author.
  • I started two new projects. Friends signed contracts and I rejoiced with them, but I also realized I might not ever publish. I kept putting my writing into God's hands, snatching it back, and trying again to trust Him. I knew that if I wrote for Him, I should be content writing and never publishing. But because I'm broken, I fought against that. I still do.
  • I finaled/won the Gotcha! and Phoenix Rattler with my reworked Regency. I felt more confident, but again, when an editor requested the full and took it to committee, it was declined.
  • Again I felt as if I was at a crossroads. Should I keep going or just stop? I'd made no money, only spent it on contests. With a heaviness, I decided God hadn't told me to quit yet so I would keep writing.
  • In 2012 I was introduced to agent Tamela Hancock Murray and to my astonishment and delight, she liked the novel I sent to her! She offered me a contract. This was one of those things in life that I still can't get over. I'd long wanted her to represent me.
  • I attended a national RWA convention. I pitched to a few editors and learned a lot from the workshops. Not a lot of nibbles on the manuscript, though.
  • To get more feedback, I entered the Genesis again, this time in the new Novella category. I had been writing a novella for a collection with some of my Inkwell friends and wanted feedback. Unfortunately, the Novella category folded and my entry was placed into the Historical Romance category--typically one of the most-entered categories in the contest, which meant there would be lots of tough competition. I knew I had no chance.
  • The story, One Word From You, finaled in the Historical Romance category. Surely it wouldn't win, because, well, I reckoned it's a novella.
  • I attended ACFW 2013 in Indianapolis. I met friends. Learned from workshops. And to my utter astonishment, my novella won the Genesis. This was a highpoint of my life!
  • For the next several months, I submitted proposals. I wrote. I read books on writing and dialogue and plot. I received rejections. A bunch of them. Other Genesis winners sold. Other friends sold. I didn't. I spoke to my husband about me getting a job. (He said to keep writing.)
  • July 11, 2014, something cracked in me. I'd had moments of self-pity, doubt and grief over my writing before, but this was different. I sobbed at my computer. This isn't working. Maybe it's not meant to be. I want God's will and not my own, but oh how I want my will, too!
  • I got ready to go on vacation with my family. I admit I was thinking the break from writing would do me good. I planned to return home refreshed and ready to seek where the Lord would lead me.
  • July 18, 2014 I got a call from Tamela saying I'd sold a story, and you can read the rest of the story in the previous post.
Is the lesson to Not Give Up? That it's always darkest before the dawn? I'm not sure, but clearly, this has been a spiritual journey for me as well as a writing journey. I've staggered blindly in places, unsure whether I was serving God or myself. I've grown, however, as a writer and, hopefully, as a person.

But the journey isn't over. It's just that today, after a lifetime of writing for fun, thirteen years after briefly dipping my toes into the waters of writing toward publication, and six years seriously writing,
I sold a story.

I'm glad God kept the door open for me to keep writing. And I'm glad I didn't give up. We'll see what's in store for the future. Meanwhile, I've got more work--on my stories and on myself--to do.

5 comments:

Carrie Padgett said...

I enjoy stories of the journey to publication, too, Susie. Thanks for sharing yours and CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm thrilled for you!

Susanne Dietze said...

Thanks so much for the congrats, Carrie! I appreciate it! I'm glad you enjoyed the story, too. I think so much is made of "overnight successes" that we forget how hard and long this journey can be.

Jill Kemerer said...

Our stories are so similar, Susie! I took years off to raise our kids (it was hard to set writing aside, but I couldn't do it all!), and I started writing full time in 2007. Years of learning, contests, submissions followed. I'm SO glad your dreams came true this year!!

Susanne Dietze said...

You're so right, Jill: our stories have a lot in common! I am so happy for your contract. I can't wait to read the book! Congratulations!

J.Grace said...

Congratulations!

Thanks for sharing your story.