Guest Blog: Michelle Hodkin on her journey to publication
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I can’t believe I’m doing this. A year ago, I’d pretty much just realized that 60,000 of the 90,000 words of the very first draft of my very first novel ever were junk. And now here I am, guest blogging for Elizabeth Scott, as a fellow author.
How did it happen? I was not one of the myriad writers who has been writing books and poems and short stories since they were six years old (I envy those writers HARD). Instead, as a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a duck. As a teenager, I wanted to be an English professor. As a college student, I wanted to be a lawyer. That last one stuck, long enough for me to go to law school, pass the bar, and practice for a few years.
But then, on May 15, 2009, I was taken hostage by an idea. Now, I’ve had lots of those. Some ideas, like adopting my pit bull, were good. Other ideas, like eating unrefrigerated sushi that one time were really, really bad.
I didn’t know which category my idea on May 15, 2009 fit into. It was for a book. And I’d never even once contemplated writing a book before in my life. I didn’t know anything about writing them. But a very dear friend of mine was in the process of querying her novel, so when the idea kept me up at night, when I had to pour out thousands of very bad words in the span of three very long days just so I could get some peace, I begged her for help.
She told me to get it all out. And then pointed me to Janet Reid, Nathan Bransford, and Kristen Nelson.
So I did both. I wrote my heart out and started reading writing blogs every day. And my words on a page were actually related to the next words on the next page and the page after that, and after a few months, I had a rough draft.
And it was AWFUL. I had no outline and no clue what I was doing, so my story changed almost completely about 30,000 words into the book, and again 60,000 words into the book. And then I was faced the truth as spoken by the incomparable Sara Zarr: “Revision is where you earn your money - and if you haven't made any money yet, revision is where you pay your dues.”
So I started rewriting. But in the middle of that, I attended a writer’s conference, where I met agents and had the opportunity to have the beginning pages of my manuscript critiqued. And to my extreme and utter shock, a few agents I met requested it.
I was completely up front about the fact that it wasn’t finished, but they wanted me to send it when it was. So I kept rewriting, and did that pretty much every day until one fine day in late March, 2010, the day I got an email from Diana Fox. She was one of the judges in the Backspace Writers Contest I entered to win a scholarship to their May conference back in Februrary. She loved my query and two pages, and wanted my full.
So I freaked out. Was my manuscript really, REALLY done? Was it perfect? Because the agents say it has to be PERFECT. And I wasn’t sure. But like it or not, I had to send it—and not just to Diana, but to the other agents who had requested it in the fall. So I did. And I waited. And a couple of weeks later, Diana got back to me.
But not with an offer. She loved it, but there was something missing, and she wasn’t sure what it was. So after our amazing conversation (about my book, but also life, the universe, and everything), I took an unflinching look at my manuscript. And over the next few days, came up with some ideas.
I started rewriting (yes, again), but I got an email from Diana about four days after our phone call. She’d been thinking about my book “a lot,” and wanted to talk again. I thought maybe she had a revision idea for me. But she had something even better: an offer.
I was beyond. I let the other agents know and I ended up in that awesome, awful position of having to make a choice. It was one of the hardest choices I've ever had to make. And then I sent a very, very difficult email to a very, very awesome, intelligent, insightful person.
Then, eleven months from the day I started writing, I signed my contract with Diana.
But of course, there was more revising to be done. I ate, breathed, and slept revisions, and a few weeks after our contract was inked, we went out on submission. A week after that, I almost died, because a real live publisher offered to buy what was, to me, still just a Word Document. And then a week after that, I did die, because the offer turned into an auction. Right before I was flying to New York for BEA and that Backspace Conference—because I’d won the scholarship.
My flight was, coincidentally, on the last day of the auction, and I spent it with Agent/Angel/Godsend Diana. We got pedicures, but somehow, funny thing, we couldn’t relax. And then we ate lunch, and alternated between talking at 10,000 miles per minute and staring in complete silence at her phone.
And then what happened next topped it all: Simon & Schuster won, 375 days after I started writing my first book. I would never have forgotten that day, but the outcome was more than I ever could have dreamed of. Ever. And so here I am, in the midst of my editorial revisions (see a theme here?), hardly able to believe my life.
But if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.