My Journey to a Book Publication Deal

Authors’ journeys to publication have always fascinated me. And even though each author’s roadmap is unique, they all have one thing in common—they reach the same destination—a published novel.

If you are a querying author, I hope my journey will provide you some inspiration as you continue to chart your way toward your final destination—your publication deal!

WORTH IT’s Genesis

In 2007, my nineteen-year-old daughter was home from college and we butted heads over her curfew. She didn’t understand, since she was technically an adult, why she had to be home by midnight. I explained the curfew was for me because I couldn’t sleep until she was safely at home.

Back then, there was so much about me she didn’t know. Her grandmother kicked me out at seventeen and I landed in an abusive relationship with my daughter’s estranged father. Welfare checks and food stamp lines were our lifelines as I struggled through college as a single mother. And when I was her age, no one cared if I made it home safely.

I wrote her a two-page letter summarizing the ugly parts of my life she was now old enough to hear. I attached a cover note so she wouldn’t read it blind. The last of the cover read, “The rest of the story, I’m going to write; just as a story. I hope you read it. I hope you cry and smile. I hope it helps you fall in love with me as I fell in love with you the first moment I laid eyes on you.” Then I snuck it into her bag.

Two hours later my phone rang—it was her. She sobbed, apologized, and sobbed some more. We’ve been best friends ever since.

WORTH IT’s First Draft

Her intense emotion over my story stayed with me for years.

As a youth librarian, I’d witnessed that emotional response with teen readers over works of fiction. The dots connected and I began to write.

Rather than tell my story as a memoir, I chose to use it as inspiration in a fictional retelling. I had no idea about craft and I’d never taken a writing course. My first draft started with a lengthy prologue followed by large blocks of narration that split up unnatural dialogue.

Between check-outs, my student TAs helped me come up with ideas. A beginning, a middle, and an end of a clunky YA novella at 40K words emerged. Then in 2018, my world screeched to a halt.

WORTH IT Gets Shelved

Autism Spectrum Disorder. My youngest son’s diagnosis derailed our family. Work, writing. Everything stopped. I poured each waking moment of the next three years learning everything possible in how to help my son and un-chaos our family.

Writing crept its way back in. I started the Big Abilities blog to share our family’s autism journey. I wrote two books about autism: It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family and Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. I scored a traditional publishing deal through a publisher that only took ASD submissions. I also started freelance writing for parenting magazines, mostly about autism. But not always. Then in 2020 the world screehed to a halt again—this time for the entire planet.

WORTH IT Resurfaces

A global pandemic—as tough as those two years were, I think for many authors, including me, diving into a fictional world, helped us escape the real one. I pulled out my laptop and opened the draft I hadn’t seen in years. It was awful. I started listening to writing podcasts and reading about craft. Then I did something I’d never done. I took action.

Book Coach

In June of 2021, the DIY MFA podcast featured Jas Rawlinson, a book coach who specialized in trauma memoirs. And while WORTH IT isn’t memoir, it started that way. After a few sessions with Jas, plot holes were filled and ideas expanded.

Beta Readers

WORTH IT now cracked around 60K words and was ready for beta readers. I asked for volunteers from a mom FB group and formed a beta reading group of about ten. I dropped a chapter each week and everyone commented—what they loved, what confused them, what worked, what didn’t.

I always knew how WORTH IT would end. But when beta readers read the last chapter, they weren’t satisfied. They begged for an epilogue. I had ZERO idea what should be in it. But, when I told my husband, he instantly knew. I wrote it, dropped it in the group, and my beta readers had the closure they craved.

Professional Critiquer

Based on the feedback from my beta readers, I felt the story was solid, but I still knew the craft was off. I hired a professional critiquer and author, Katharine B. from Critique Match for about the first third of the book. She taught me a lot. And I was able to use what I learned from her throughout the rest of the manuscript. I was now at about 80K words.

Critique Partner

At this point, I’d joined every writing group I could find. In one, my current CP, Dana Hawkins, and I swapped opening pages and had a Zoom call to see if we were a good fit. We’d each found our person! For more than a year, we’ve chatted daily, combed through each other’s writing, and shared every resource possible. But as a result of our late-night messages and plethora of ideas and I’d ballooned my manuscript to 95K words.

Querying

I started small batch querying after the beta readers in February of 2021. With each rejection, I’d dig back into my manuscript and work to improve something—anything. One agent offered a revise and resubmit (R&R) with detailed suggestions on how to improve my manuscript and even a phone call to expand. I took his advice and trudged through another full revision. I think I was up to six or seven by this time. But now my word count hovered at a more acceptable 85K.

Studying Craft and Querying

Once I hit about ten agent rejections and lost three mentoring programs, I took a hard look at my manuscript. I studied what should (and should not) be in the opening pages. The podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing was my go-to resource for this. What elements does great writing have or not have? What is best practice for query-writing? Patrick Hopkins’ The Query Helpline was my go-to resource for all things query.

Then I dug back in again. Word by word, I’d query in batches of 2 or 3. I didn’t want to resubmit to the other agent until I had another agent reject or request because I didn’t know if I’d done the work. But someone else did!

WORTH IT Gets a Contract!

In a Twitter YA author group I’d joined, an author who I’d beta read her novel last year, S.E. Reed, got a publishing deal with Wild Ink Publishing. Her manuscript had similar elements to mine, and the owner of the publishing house, Abigail Wild, wrote books I could comp. I submitted, received a request for the full, and a few weeks later, an offer to publish my book! WORTH IT will come out in May 2024!

WORTH IT’s Message to You!

The inciting incident of my story happened in 2007 and the book debuts in 2024, Seventeen years—the same age both me and WORTH IT’s MC, Angela, were when we found out we’d be teen mom’s. While the irony is compelling—that’s too long. Your journey doesn’t have to take seventeen years. And my next percolating story won’t either. Do the research, take the feedback, and do the work. I promise you, it’ll be WORTH IT (wink, wink).

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.

Art Williams

Published by Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.

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