Eight years ago, I was participating in National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo for short. For those not familiar with it, it is a worldwide challenge where aspiring writers attempt to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. You can learn more about National Novel Writing Month at http://nanowrimo.org.
I had dabbled in creative writing as a teenager 25 years earlier, tapping out badly written rip-offs of classic stories on a manual Smith Corona typewriter. I even got a degree in journalism, taking a couple of creative writing classes in the process. Then lost interest in it for whatever reasons.
In 2007, I grew frustrated with the available novels featuring lesbian protagonists. I wanted stories where the plot wasn’t focused on the protagonist’s romantic interests and where her sexual orientation wasn’t the most interesting thing about her.
I had already read my share of coming-out stories, lesbian romance, lesbian erotica, and even lesbian murder mysteries, most of which featured a significant romantic subplot. But I wanted less romance in what I read. I couldn’t find any novels that fit my criteria, so I decided to write one.
Nanowrimo looked like a great opportunity to write the kind of story I wanted to read and to find support by participating in local write-ins. While reaching the daily word count goals was a maddening struggle, I hit the 50,000-word mark the day before Thanksgiving.
In December, I finished the novel at about 70,000 words, then spent the next few months editing it.
When I was finished, I hired a freelance editor to critique it. I learned my writing was good, but I knew very little about story structure. To deal with this, I read books like Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene. I recommend both.
Eventually, I scrapped that first manuscript and began planning for the next one.
When November came around, I wrote another 50,000-word novel for Nanowrimo. And you know what? While better than the first novel, it too was hopelessly flawed.
Over the next several years, I joined writer critique groups and attended local writer conferences. I read books on writing as well as novels in a wide range of genres. I listened to podcasts on writing, including Writing Excuses and The Dead Robot Society.
At the same time, I wrote short stories and started (and stopped) a number of novels. In short, I dedicated myself to honing my craft.
When some of my friends began publishing their work earlier this year, I realized it was time to buckle down and see a project through from planning to publication.
So began my journey on Iron Goddess. After I had gone through a round or two of edits, I submitted it, chapter by chapter, to my critique groups.
Then I went through another round of edits and submitted the entire manuscript to beta readers. After a final round of edits, it was ready for the next part of the process: finding an agent.
Writing the Query and Synopsis
I spent a month writing and polishing a query letter and a synopsis. If you’re looking to get an agent, start by going to http://queryshark.blogspot.com. Read the queries that have been submitted and the critiques. This is critical information.
Writing a query letter is infuriating and frustrating, often confusing. But it is also a critical part of finding an agent.
Once the query was done, I had to write a one-page synopsis of the story. This is equally maddening. Rounds and rounds of condensing, cutting, and polishing. Learning the proper format is key.
Finding an Agent and Publisher
After both the query letter and synopsis were done, I went on http://querytracker.net and began searching for and submitting to agents. In three months, I submitted to 90 agents. All but four either passed or didn’t respond. Of the ones that were interested, I chose the one I thought was the best fit, Sharon Pelletier of the fabulous Dystel & Goderich.
After another few rounds of edits with my agent, she began submitting it to the major publishers while I played the waiting game. Actually, that’s not true. I busied myself with writing the next book, The Athena Sisterhood.
Slowly, I got feedback from the growing list of publishers who passed. For the most part, they liked the story, the writing, the characters, but they weren’t sure the market was big enough for the numbers they needed. I suspect the fact that my protagonist was a lesbian and the rest of the cast was multicultural made editors skittish.
Finally, I got an email from my editor saying that Alibi, one of Random House’s digital-only imprints were interested in offering me a two-book deal. My reaction was mixed.
On the one hand, it was a Random House imprint and a two-book deal. And the royalty percentage was enticing.
On the other, they wanted to publish digitally only, despite insisting on acquiring print rights. And there would be no advance.
After discussions with my agent and other authors who have published with Alibi, I decided to accept the deal. So now I’m finishing up the rough draft of the second book and looking forward to another round of edits on the first book.
Nanowrimo is a great start to someone considering becoming a published author. But it’s only the start.
Writing is a craft. To master it (if that’s the right word), you need to read a lot, learn a lot, write a lot, and edit a lot. You have to develop a thick skin about getting feedback from fellow writers. Do this and you have a chance.