One of our very own LROD mice, Kate Evans, has published her book For the May Queen and has an interesting victory story to tell:
When did you start writing the book? About 5 years ago.
How long did it take to finish the first draft? 3 months.
How many revisions did you write? Probably six or seven. One of the revisions was major; I added a whole new chapter. The others were like smoothing out the sheets while you make the bed.
Who read your drafts? I first began writing it in a writing group run by the poet Ellen Bass. I came with new chapters for several weeks and read them aloud to the group. Their laughter and comments spurred me on. When I had to leave the group, I read chapters aloud to my partner, Annie, as I wrote them. Three writer friends read the entire final draft, as did my sisters and my mom, who is also a writer.
Later I had an agent who read it. He's the one who wanted me to add another chapter. He said the book needed a denouement. After being exasperated for a day or two, I realized he was right. The addition made the book much better. And I had fun writing that chapter, which is the second-to-last chapter. It helped me learn new things about the main character and her fate.
Did you use an agent?/How long did it take to find a publisher? My agent took me on based on my collection of stories and a few chapters of the novel. No one showed interest in the stories, but two editors from major publishers loved the novel and wanted it. They were shot down, however, by their "groups," which are composed of other editors and PR people, apparently.
One of the PR people said he couldn't sell the book because it walked the line between an adult novel and a young adult novel. Right around that time, Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep hit the bestseller lists. Prep is a cross-over hit between, yes, adult and young adult. In fact, in bookstores and libraries, I've seen Prep shelved in both areas (same with Catcher in the Rye). My agent and I were frustrated. He worked hard on my behalf, and we got a lot of great feedback on my writing, but no one took the book.
The agent and I parted ways. His agency dissolved and he left Manhattan. He now is in the business of kitchenware retail.
I sent out the manuscript to a number of small presses on my own and received, I don't know, maybe ten rejections. However, one press took it, and I was thrilled. I worked with them for a few months and then, suddenly, they folded and returned the manuscript to me.
During this time, I wrote another novel and a memoir--and I started a third novel. For the May Queen was languishing on my hard drive, and I just figured that would be the case forever. I tried not to care, but it broke my heart because I loved the characters and knew that everyone who read it did too.
Then one day, I saw a book on Amazon published by Vanilla Heart. I'd never heard of them, so I looked them up and then sent them my manuscript. I didn't expect much. But in just a few weeks I heard back from them that they wanted to book. Honestly, I was skeptical. They were a new outfit, and after all I'd been through, I didn't expect much.
However, Vanilla Heart has been great. Kimberlee Williams, the owner, has kept me up to date on the process the whole way. She's been a perfectionist with the galleys and the overall look of the book. It's a gorgeous, quality product. And Vanilla Heart does all kinds of great things to promote and distribute their books.
After accepting For the May Queen, Kimberlee asked me if I had another manuscript. Because I'd never stopped writing, I had that second novel, Complementary Colors, to send her. I emailed it to her, then the next day she contacted me and said she'd been up all night reading it and loved it. She put a preview of the first five pages of Complementary Colors at the end of For the May Queen. That second novel will come out next year.
Who was the first person you told about the book deal? My partner, Annie. Second was my mom.
Has your philosophy on getting published changed? I know now that this is a supremely subjective business based on the luck of finding the right agent, editor or publisher who connects to your work.
What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication? Keep writing. Don't let the business aspect overwhelm your love for your art. Also, don't discount independent presses. I've probably gotten more attention from Vanilla Heart than I would have from most major publishers.