How to Get a Book Deal: One Debut Author’s Journey to Publication
2000–2009: Write a story about a kid farting. It amuses your 4th grade teacher. You like how your words made someone feel something. Continue writing. Write weird werewolf and Dragonball Z inspired stuff in middle school. In high school, enter your angsty teen poetry phase. Your creative writing teacher Freshman year calls your parents because she is “concerned” about the dark nature of your work. Junior year, you end up with a teacher who critiques your work for the first. Try being less abstract in your poetry. This is the first time someone has truly given you constructive criticism instead of praise. Her feedback makes you a better writer and teaches you the importance of revision. You begin to crave the challenge of improving your craft.
2009–2013: You leave Florida for Boston, a city where you know absolutely no one. You start a writing club in college with your BFF/roommate/new writing partner. Write a bad novel about a psychic teen named Cayce Edgar (lol). Take a fiction writing class and become the prof’s TA. Convince him to advise a fiction honors thesis, even though you aren’t a creative writing major. It almost doesn’t get approved, but eventually you make it work by tacking on a critical paper to the short story collection. Work harder on it than you ever worked on anything in your life. Know you would’ve likely quit writing if it weren’t for this professor’s encouragement.
2013–2014: Graduate college. Get married. Move to London. Move back to Florida. Become a middle school teacher. All the while, you keep writing. Pecking at the same stories you’ve worked on since college. You have two miscarriages and write a strange little story you can’t shake and that no literary journal seems to want.
2015: You’ve got a baby on the way! Study for and take the GRE while said baby is a newborn. Apply to one MFA program. Get waitlisted.
2016: Move to North Carolina. Decide to try to get into the MFA program at North Carolina State University. Work on your app stories every morning at 5am. You don’t hear anything for a long time, and assume you haven’t been accepted. Get your acceptance phone call on April 1st, while your plane is backing out of its gate. You Wonder if this is an April Fool’s Joke. (It’s not a joke. Also you’re pregnant and have a toddler. That’s the joke.)
2016–2018: Start your MFA program while you’re seven months pregnant. You know you were the last one admitted to your cohort, and everyone else is so talented. Let it drive you. Decide to write a novel for your thesis. Continue to write every morning at 5am. Be bummed your water doesn’t break in class. Keep writing even after the baby is here and you’re sleep deprived. Return to class a week after the baby is born — it’s only a few hours a day and the baby is happy at home with Dad and his grandparents. Know you can do anything, that motherhood doesn’t have to slow you down.
December 2018: Query your novel far too soon. Don’t tell your mentor at the MFA program, because you know she’ll suggest it’s too soon. You do it anyway, because you just have a gut feeling something good is about to happen. Miraculously, you spend less than a month in the query trenches. Revise with your awesome agent! Assume the submission process will also be easy. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)
March 2019: Go on submission. Receive a lot of rejections and one revise and resubmit. You revise your novel with an amazing editor, but her team isn’t on board. After six months and the same “meh” feedback, you and your agent agree to pull the book from submission.
August-November 2019: It’s okay. You’re fine! You were already working on the next thing. Send your agent the first eighty pages of a moody women’s fiction/crime book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Your agent gently/accurately tells you it’s…not great. You know she’s right. In fact, it is almost a relief. You didn’t realize how much you hated this book. You stuck with the idea because other people thought it sounded good. But your heart wasn’t in it. Freak out for two days. The feeling that you’ll never make it is overwhelming. You end up reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. An old idea pops into your head. You write the first draft in 70 days. You’re on fire, you’re in love. The entire time you’re drafting this book, you are thinking of that editor who offered you the revise and resubmit of your first book. You know she’ll love this one. It’s perfect for her.
February 2020: Send a horrible (really, really horrible) second draft to your agent. She sees potential, but gives you big picture feedback. (And I’m talking BIG). Gut your book: get rid of a major character, rewrite entire chapters, fall more in love. You revise for three and a half months, and by the end of it the book is unrecognizable, and so so much better. This book is YOU. It’s the book of your heart. You KNOW it is good.
May 2020: Your agent loves it! Both of you have the same idea: give your dream editor (the one who offered the R&R on your first book) an exclusive. This means she’ll be the only editor considering the manuscript for two weeks. If she wants to keep other editors from reading it, she’ll have to make an offer by June 15th. The editor remembers you, she’s thrilled to get an exclusive, and though you are nervous and stressed, you feel…hopeful. You love this book. You KNOW it’s good.
June 2020: Commence the longest two weeks of your life. Expect rejection every day, despite that hopeful feeling. Just before 5PM on the deadline, your phone rings with your special ringtone for your agent. The editor has made an offer! For a 2-book deal! Cry, roll on the floor, drink champagne. (Not simultaneously.)
December 2021: The month you’re now looking forward to. This is when your debut novel, LOVE, LISTS, AND FANCY SHIPS is to be published with Berkley Romance, and imprint of Penguin Random House.
The point? Getting published is hard. Everyone’s path is different. I had a LOT of failures along the way (and expect plenty more), but each was a step forward, not back. I am so thankful for these failures, because if all the other books hadn’t worked out, I wouldn’t have written the one that did.
And now? I’ll be back to those early morning writing sessions to work on book two.
Want to connect? Find me on Instagram as @sarahgrunderruiz