I’m writing a blog post that I never thought I’d write — although I suppose that’s not exactly fair to say, considering that I never thought I’d write about having representation from a literary agent. I’ve gotten used to saying “I have an agent” though, so it doesn’t feel like such an awe-inspiring thing anymore. (Even though I still pinch myself every day as a reminder of how lucky I am.) But now I need to get used to saying “I’m going to be published author.”
I MEAN, HOLY CRAP. I’M GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!
That blurb is my official Publishers Marketplace announcement telling the world that I have a contract, an agreement, and a deal to make my book a reality, thanks to my agent and publisher. It’s something that I have wanted to share with the world for months. So, in that vein, I’m going to take a moment to talk about my publishing journey. Not just because it’s a dream come true – obviously it is – but because everyone’s story is different, and I finally get to share mine. Also, this is something you really only get to talk about once. Sure, I’m set on publishing more books. But saying “this is how my second book got published!” doesn’t have the same “lifetime achievement” feeling that comes with getting a traditional publishing deal for your first ever book.
Everyone has a different story about breaking into publishing, but the gist of all those stories is this: publishing is rocky, volatile, and stressful. It’s also very, very lonely. You have your agent and you have a small handful of friends and/or a significant other who you can talk to. But even during your biggest moments, you’re alone. You can’t tell the world the moment you accept an offer from an agent. You can’t tell the world when your agent calls to say an offer’s been made. You can’t even tell anyone that your project is being looked at by [insert big name publisher that I would dream of working with here.] You can’t say anything until the paperwork is signed and trust me, that’s not a process that happens overnight. For some context, I officially accepted my book deal and offer around the end of March 2018 – that’s how long I have known about this. Even though contracts were being negotiated and I was actively working on my manuscript because I had an agreed-upon deadline to hit an already set publishing date, I STILL couldn’t tell the world until I squared everything away on both the publisher side and my agent’s side – 9 months later, in November. Granted, I realize that my contract negotiation process was a lot lengthier than usual, but like I said – everyone’s story is different.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. For all intents and purposes, my story starts here: a girl who vividly remembers her teacher running a program in 2nd grade where students would submit stories to be turned into “real” books, aka bound portfolios with shiny, sparkly covers. I remember being so excited to get those books and show my stories off.
I wrote a lot. I was always writing. I loved writing. I discovered fanfiction in high school (thanks, X-Files!) and once I started writing about Mulder and Scully, my world changed. A lot of people like to discredit fanfiction for ~reasons, but I credit it a lot. Because I wasn’t always writing – I couldn’t always find a creative idea to chase, and you can’t write what’s not there. But the television shows and movies and comics that I liked? Those already had characters and ideas. I knew them better than I realized. I could write about them because they already existed in a space that provided me with creativity. It’s thanks to fanfiction that I was able to keep writing when I might’ve otherwise stopped.
(It’s also thanks to fanfiction that I realized I could finish something manuscript-length worthy, which I had never been able to do with an original work before. My fanfic magnum opus was a 256k word story; that story fits into a series which is over 500k words in total and still ongoing. Basically, no one ever tell me I can’t write 20-30k words, because this monster exists and I am damn proud of it.)
I always thought I’d write something fiction, as that’s what I loved to write when I was younger. Those were my stories: dragons and gnomes and elves, tales that included the intricate world building of Lord of the Rings or Redwall. I certainly didn’t go around saying, “one day, I’m going to write a self-help book about female characters in pop culture!” That’s the funny thing about life, I guess. You find yourself on roads that lead to moments that become bigger moments, or you meet people who change your worldview. You evolve both as a person and as a creative and sometimes, those changes kick off ideas and connections…and things like a book.
I started working on Geek Girls Don’t Cry (originally titled I Am My Own Woman and OH BOY did we go through ten million title changes/brainstorms) back in the winter of 2016, during a point in which I was in a really, really bad place. My mental health was in a downward spiral that I couldn’t seem to control. I had been let go from my dream job earlier in the year and couldn’t seem to land anything permanent despite connections and networking. I was broke, as freelancing was only going so far. My personal life seemed to be stalling; I wasn’t engaged and I wasn’t getting ready to have kids and because I had just moved in with my boyfriend at the time, I couldn’t exactly pick up and move to another state or house for a fresh start. In the interest of trying to keep my mind away from unhealthy thoughts, I started to spend less time job searching and more time writing – and yes, this is where fanfic comes back in. Writing stories about fictional characters I loved, some of whom I’ve always seen myself reflected in thanks to their thoughts and decisions and lifestyles, distracted me from feeling useless and depressed.
The more I wrote, the more the idea for my book – a book about female characters and the real mental health issues they deal with and how we can relate to them and learn from them – started to form. One day, energized by a rare spark of motivation, I decided to just take the leap. I had been doing some research on traditional publishing, and I submitted a query letter along with a few sample chapters to a publisher who I knew produced content similar to what I was hoping to sell. Screw it, I thought as I sent the email. What do I have to lose? The worst that happens is that I get rejected or they ignore me. I expected to get no response but to my surprise, I got one a few days later – with a request for a proposal.
After freaking out about the fact that someone was seriously interested in this project, I realized I had a problem: I had no idea how to write a book proposal. There were a lot of google searches (thank heavens for the Internet and writers/authors who put blogs upon blogs of information out there), a few panicked emails/DMs to author friends who are much more seasoned than I am, and a lot of hours in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. Eventually, I put together what I hoped was a passable book proposal and sent it back, hoping for the best. Being honest with myself, I knew that at this point, I’d already gotten further than I ever thought I’d get in the process. So now, I felt like I really didn’t have anything to lose.
Then I started to think, well…if I’m doing all of this and hoping to get a book deal, I should probably try to get an agent. Easier said than done, considering I was doing this whole process backwards. I did, however, have an idea of who I wanted to work with thanks to knowing published writers in the pop culture sphere. I also realized I had the added bonus of being able to say that a legitimate publisher had already shown interest in my work. I researched P.S. Literary Agency and then sent a query email to Maria Vicente who would, after some back and forth conversations, a few more sample submissions, and a brief phone call, officially offer me representation.
As 2017 began, I accepted Maria’s offer. And then the real work started: revisions, an updated proposal that looked much more professional than what I had cobbled together on my own, and multiple conversations with the publisher who was initially interested but ultimately ended up passing. Around the beginning of spring, I began going out on submission for the first time. My life became an endless loop of checking my email every five seconds in addition to googling every version imaginable of “how long does it take to hear from publishers?” Sometime in August, I found out that all of the editors who were looking at my project had passed – and I won’t lie, I was more than a little disappointed. I knew that this was normal and that I wasn’t even at the point where I should feel beaten down considering I had JUST started submitting. I also knew this was only the tip of the iceberg – there were many more editors to try and many more revisions to make. Still, nothing stings like first professional rejections, amirite?
Maria and I went back to the drawing board and spent a few months re-working my proposal. In November, I went out on submission round #2, feeling stronger and more confident about this version of my book. December brought about some positive feedback from a bunch of new editors, but still no offers. At the beginning of 2018, I set out on submission round #3, hoping that maybe third time was the charm.
A few weeks into January, Maria sent me an email with a question from an editor at Sterling Books. A few weeks after that, I received a heads up that the same editor was taking my book to their acquisitions meeting (basically one of the last steps before a publisher decides whether or not they want to buy your project.) My anxiety and impatience returned in full force and I tried as hard as I could to put everything out of my mind, which is basically the equivalent of telling me “you’re going to definitely meet Robert Downey Jr. but we can’t promise when it will happen. Just know it has a really good chance of happening.” Weeks went by, and I tried not to obsess over how much time was passing. Was this good? Was this bad? Surely if it was good news I would’ve heard something. But if it was bad news, I would’ve heard something too, right?
On March 22nd, near the end of a long work day, Maria emailed me asking if I had time for a phone call. At this point, I knew what to expect if your agent called you. Still, I refused to let myself get excited. There was no reason this couldn’t be a random call updating me on where we were with submissions…or a call to tell me that the editors who were looking at my book had passed on it.
Turns out, the news was good: Sterling had made me an offer. In retrospect, I probably should have had a more emotional response to being told I was getting a book deal* but I was at work and in a bit of shock, so I just sat at a table and tried to process what this meant: that my dream was coming true. That someone besides me (and my agent, and my close friends, and my then-fiancé, and my family) believed in me and my vision and my writing. That I was going to publish something that would be read by people all over the world, maybe even by my mentors and heroes – the ones who had inspired this book in the first place.
Shortly after getting my offer, I had a super productive phone call with my potential editor. Within minutes of starting our conversation, I knew she was the right person to work with. She genuinely shared my passion and vision, and she understood how involved I wanted to be while I understood certain things I would have to consider in order for the book to (hopefully) be successful. She had even already started envisioning cover art and named one of my favorite creators as a hypothetical artist! If that’s not serendipitous, I don’t know what is.
Most of the time, I end up downplaying whatever success I have. Maybe it’s a self-esteem thing, maybe it’s an anxiety thing, maybe it’s a women thing…it’s probably a mix. Accepting my accomplishments and feeling like I deserve them is something I’m trying to be better at, because I know I’ve worked hard to get where I am professionally and personally. I know that I’m proud of myself, even if my brain tells me I don’t have a reason to be.
But…screw those thoughts, because I’m getting a freaking book published! GEEK GIRLS DON’T CRY: REAL LIFE LESSONS FROM FICTIONAL FEMALE CHARACTERS will be yours to hold and read on April 2, 2019. (And, hint hint, it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble!) Even though there were so many times I thought there was no way I’d be able to wait THAT much longer for something to happen, or keep THAT kind of secret, I did it. And the exhilaration and feeling of being able to announce this to the world was everything I’d ever dreamed of.
*I DID actually freak out/cry/drink all the wine when I got home from work that day – this selfie was taken on March 22, the day that I got the call about my offer. (I also posted a cryptic Instagram photo.) It’s not the best photo of me ever taken but it’s authentic, which is what matters. (And clearly, given the fact that my book is all about strong and awesome females in pop culture, I had to open my Galadriel Lord of the Rings wine for the occasion.)