Pssssst. I have a secret. Which seems an apt way to start off this blog, doesn't it? Right. So, here it is. Don't tell anybody, though, okay?
I, Stefanie Gaither, was not always going to be a writer.
|I know, right?|
In fact, I basically came into this career kicking and screaming. Of course, now the thought of doing anything else for a living makes me want to kick and scream even harder, but I'll get to that in a minute.
First, let's talk about that moment when you decide - really decide - that you're going to do something incredibly difficult. Impossible, almost. But more importantly, something worthwhile (if only because it makes you so very, very happy).That decision is not always easy. But you know how sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same?
Okay, flashback time. Picture me: young, adorable (of course) kid. Like most writers, I constantly had my face stuck in a book. And around age nine-ish, I got the crazy idea that, "Hey, this whole book business doesn't seem so hard!" (Ha. Ha. Ha). I added a notebook to the pile of books I always carried around with me.
Pen in hand, I was unstoppable. I filled my own books with gibberish and bad poetry, elaborate maps and magic systems and details on fictional races. On school writing assignments, I was that obnoxious kid who wrote three times the required word count on anything. Teachers started noticing the wildly creative (and let's be honest, the wildly weird) stuff I would write in my journals. They told my parents. They told the other teachers. It was the first time in my life that I remembered actually being good at something. Better than most people were at something (I'm allowed to brag about this because I failed really hard at math... like oh-my-god-does-she-really-have-a-functioning-IQ? hard).
So I had the support of my teachers, my family, and a fresh pen and a fresh pad of paper... and I lived happily ever after, writing best-sellers until the end of my days, right?
Please. That would make a terrible story.
Don't worry though - my story found its conflict, and thus became a lot more riveting (and by riveting, I of course mean painful, gut-wrenching, frustrating, etc, etc, etc... all the things good stories are, basically).
See, the older I got, the more people I met. The more books I read. The harder I looked at the publishing industry and the more I started to think to myself: "Hey, maybe this isn't as easy as it looked at first" and then "Hey, pretty much everyone chasing this publishing dream is their own special breed of crazy, and maybe I should just go to clown college or something" (although I'm sure clown college has its difficulties, too. Also, clowns are frickin' creepy).
Because for all their wonderful variations of crazy, I couldn't help but notice a few recurring experiences of every writer:
Failure. Rejection. Big-Ugly-Tear-Crying.
These things absolutely terrified me. Another secret of mine: I don't like to lose. I never have. I'm very competitive; I still race my husband to the car, and a part of me dies inside whenever I lose. Plus, I was comfortable with the way things were, still secure in the praise that all my grade school teachers had given my writing all my life... so why mess that up? Why pursue a career in writing when there was such a small chance of ever succeeding, and if even then, it would only mean that criticism was going to start flowing in along with that praise?
There are a million reasons why, as I eventually discovered, but at the time all I could think about was the possibility of failure. I was so afraid of failing at something I'd always felt like I was good at, that I just started avoiding putting my writing to the test anymore. I stopped working on stories, stopped reading books. I started hating words, as though it was all their fault. I changed my major in college six times, trying desperately to avoid the English/Creative Writing major.
And I was very, very depressed for what seemed like a long time.
Then I realized I was being very, very stupid.
I realized that if you're going to be successful, it starts with giving as much energy to your goals and dreams - however crazy impossible they are - as you do to your fears. And believe me, I was feeding my fears LOTS of energy. An embarrassing amount of energy. Sometimes I still do.
But at the end of my sophomore year of college, I switched to an English major and I haven't looked back since. That was the same year I decided I was going to write a book. From start to finish. I was going to write a book, and not care if it was awful or wonderful or "good, but not good enough" or if I failed and got rejected a million times by every agent under the sun. I would write because I loved writing, because of all the times words had pulled me out of the dark and made me feel something again. And as for the business part of things? As for making this a career? Well, I could learn to lose gracefully, if that's what being a writer meant (and a lot of times it does). I could learn to take criticism. I could learn to fail. And I could - and did - learn to keep going, in spite of it all.
|I FREAKING LOVE WRITING....AGAIN!|
And oh yes, I failed.
In the interest of transparency (one of our goals with this blog), how about some stats? I loved stats when I was querying, and I stalked the crap out of authors to get them. But I'm going to make it easy for you guys:
First Book: 90k YA Paranormal Romance (yes, there were werewolves)
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 8 months
Queries Sent: 35ish
Requests: A whopping three. (8.5% request rate)
Second Book: Another YA Paranormal Romance, with grim reapers this time
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 3 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: Five, plus three more from contests. Getting better, but still mostly form rejections in the end. (32% request rate)
Third Book: 95k YA Sci-Fi-that-I-think-might-have-unintentionally-been-part-fantasy
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 5 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: nine, and also a revise and resubmit (36% request rate)
I know a lot of people query way more people than I did before moving on, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are certainly more than 25-35ish awesome agents out there. I write fairly quickly though, and so by the time all the rejections rolled in from the first batches of a manuscript's queries, I generally had a newer, better project ready to go and so I just moved on.
And now, the stats I don't mind posting at all:
Fourth Book: 80k YA Sci-Fi with clones and murder mysteries and fun stuff like that
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 2 1/2 months
Queries sent: 20
Requests: 12 (60% request rate)
Offers of representation: 4
And I'm now represented by the very first agent who ever rejected me, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, who I adore. I feel like I should put an inspiring quote about persistence here, but all I've got is this gif:
|Just imagine "Eye of the Tiger" is playing in the background, alright?|
So there you have it - a little bit of my background, a few of my secrets given away. And just so you have the whole story, I'll post my query that "landed my agent" (I really hate that phrasing, by the way, because then it makes it sound like Sara's a fish, and I don't think she's very fishy at all; but I'm writing this at two a.m. and sentences are hard). Anyway, here you go:
Dear Ms. Megibow,
I’m currently seeking representation for my YA novel, FALLS THE SHADOW. Given your interest in science fiction, I thought it might be a good fit for your list. Here’s a quick look at the plot:When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protestors and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protestors, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.FALLS THE SHADOW is complete at 80,000 words, and is the first in a planned series. The manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration!
Ta-da! My full holy-crap-I-have-an-agent post is also right here on my website, if you'd like to read more. Thanks for reading, and for checking out our new blog! We'll be back on Wednesday with another Secret Lifer's story and giveaway, so be sure to come back and see us!Best,Stefanie Gaither
And now the fun part: IT'S GIVEAWAY TIME! Because free stuff is fun. Okay, so here's the deal, I'm really getting the warm-writerly-community fuzzies with the launch of the blog and all, so that's got me feeling generous. My giveaway is a package deal, and this is what it includes:
- A book and a cup of coffee on me-- which means a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card and a $5 Starbucks gift card heading your way.
- A line-by-line critique of your query
- A line-by-line critique of your manuscript's first ten pages.
The critiques DO NOT have to be for finished manuscripts. They DO NOT have to be claimed right away, either. They're also transferable, so if you've got a friend who might benefit more from them, but still want to the giveaway for the sake of getting the giftcards for yourself, then by all means go for it! There are multiple ways to enter, and you'll have until midnight, EST, tomorrow to enter. The winner will be announced on Wednesday's post, when ANOTHER secret lifer's giveaway will begin! Wheeeee!