About a month ago, I received a call I felt like I’d been waiting for my whole life: a publisher was making an offer on my book. It was the middle of the day, and I was at work, so as soon as I got off the phone, I burst out of my office door and announced that Atria was buying my book. Cheers, hugs, and champagne followed (have I mentioned how awesome my co-workers are?). I called my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend. I cried tears of joy, relief, and sheer exhaustion. The moment itself was a lot like I’d dreamed it would be. And I’d had plenty of time to dream since, like so many of us, I’d wanted to be a writer most of my life.
But while the big moment was everything I’d hoped for, the path that got me to that moment was decidedly not. What follows is my step-by-step guide to publication, although I am not sure it is a guide anyone will want to follow. (Unless you really prefer twisting trails to straight roads.)
1. Declare yourself a writing major!
2. Get your heart broken and proceed to write entire first novel in a blaze of angsty glory.
3. Rewrite same novel again and again throughout college.
4. Start novel #2.
5. Graduate and move to New York City, ’natch.
6. Get a job in book publishing (as that’s what writers do, right?). Write novel #3.
7. Get agent! Get drunk with roommate in honor of impending literary fame.
8. Months go by. Crickets chirp. No takers on novel. Drink too much, gain ten pounds.
9. Apply for MFA programs.
10. Leave New York. After all, you’re on your way to an MFA dontchaknow? Perhaps brilliant academic career will proceed brilliant literary one.
11. Move in with parents while awaiting acceptance letters from aforementioned MFA programs.
12. Dig out novel #2. Rewrite.
13. Get rejected from every MFA program you applied to. Cry.
14: Get a really great job, decide to stay in hometown.
15. Finish rewrite of book #2.
16. Agent is no longer agenting, but you got this. And it’s gotta be easier the second time around, right?
17. Wrong. No agent wants it. Agent tells you it needs more vampires.
18. Take a break from novels and write a column for a women’s website. Publish novel #3 in serial form online. Nothing much happens with it.
19. Until, a minor celebrity with a reality television show emails you. She loves your column.
20. We should do a book together! She already has an agent.
21. Why not? Write novel #4
22. Co-author backs out on the day you’re supposed to send the book to publishers.
23. It’s okay though, agent wants the other book. Hurray!
24. Never mind, he doesn’t.
25. Write novel #5.
26. Amongst fears of becoming an old woman buried in unpublished manuscripts, devise new plan.
27. Go back to novel #2. Hire a really smart editor to help make it as good as it can possibly be.
28. Send it out to top-choice agent, only to receive a revise and resubmit. Revise and resubmit (hmm). Decide that is a very good sign.
29. And it is. Agent wants you!
30. Receive call from top-choice agent, a publisher wants you too.
“Wow, that was fast,” a friend said when I told her the big news. She wasn’t wrong, steps 28-30 happened in quick succession. It was the decade and change that came before it that felt like an interminable slog. But from where I sit now, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
When I look back at it all, I realize that if that long-awaited moment had come at any other point in my life, it might have been a disaster. It’s like thinking about one’s exes once you’ve found the love of your life. As much as you wanted things to work with each of them at the time, you can see in retrospect how wrong each one was in their own unique way. You can suddenly see how it just wasn’t the right fit, until you found the one and then it was. Like true love, a book only takes one right fit to happen. But it might be a longer wait than you anticipated.
I owe a lot to the various professors, friends, and family members who’ve leant their emotional support along the way. Trust me, there were more than a few teary phone calls over the years. And I’m certain there will be more because that’s life as a writer. Actually, that’s just life.
But the journey itself was vital. I remember when I was at one of my lowest points, after my first book was DOA. I was twenty-seven and miserable about a lot of aspects of my life. I wasn’t happy in my “dream job” in publishing anymore. I didn’t want to stay in New York, but was having trouble admitting that to myself. I was starting to suspect that I wanted a different life than the one I’d strived so hard to get, but this new life hadn’t taken shape yet. It had no clear form in my mind’s eye. I was counting on getting a book deal to save me, to give me some options, and some validation. Of course, hanging your hopes on that one thing—whether it’s a job, a person, or a book deal—is always a mistake. Nothing is a panacea. And in this case, not getting what I thought I needed drove that point home. The universe does not care what you think you deserve. But it was also at that moment, that I realized that despite my disappointment, there was no part of me that wanted to stop writing. And that was galvanizing.
I left New York to purportedly get my MFA because that was one of the few acceptable reasons to leave New York. And it seemed like as a good a plan as any, plenty of my peers were going to grad school. As luck would have it, none of the MFA programs I applied to wanted me. It seems serendipitous now, but at the time I was mortified. I really haven’t even told anyone about my MFA-reject status until now. I know plenty of writers experience tremendous growth in MFA programs, but everything I’ve heard from MFA grads since has convinced me that it wouldn’t have been the right fit for me.
Back in Seattle, I started working with books again, and I fell back in love with my job. I was re-energized by being on the West Coast. I joined an amazing company and made great friends and fell in love with a boy and remade my life. And all the while, I kept writing.
Now I’m on the actual road to getting published, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m going to be sharing the journey with you here on Book Country. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
About Andrea Dunlop
Andrea Dunlop is the Social Media and Marketing Director of Girl Friday Productions, a full service editorial firm headquartered in Seattle. Andrea is also the author of the novel THE SOJOURN, which is scheduled to be released by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, in fall 2015. Connect with Andrea on Twitter and Book Country. Read the press release about the acquisition of THE SOJOURN here: Press Release for THE SOJOURN by Andrea Dunlop.