Alright. I promised the inspirational road to publication story, and here it is.
I decided that I wanted to be a writer in 1994. (Fer real.) My big problem was that I didn't know what I wanted to write. I started out with poetry. (Fer real.) A few of my poems went out into the big wide world, like "Slumber Party with the Pope" and "Taming the Unicorn," if by "big wide world" you mean Toledo because those first publications were local press sorts of things. I fervently wished that I looked good in a beret, because that is what poets are supposed to wear. (Fer real, and don't you wish I'd stop saying that?)
Something about the shape of my head is not beret-compatible. It's not pretentious enough.
I didn't fit in with the poets. The rest of me wasn't pretentous-shaped either. So I moved on to plays. My play "Why Nubile Young Women Make Fabulous Kidnappers" was produced on a real honest-to-goodness stage. My favorite part was where they dumped all the snacks on the floor about two lines before they had to eat them.
Anyway, that was fun, but it didn't feel right either. I wrote a screenplay. I wrote role playing books on spec. I wrote a NaNo novel that started out as a fantasy satire and ended up as a political satire. I was just happy that I finished the darned thing. And then I wrote a book about a mother who performed an exorcism on her own son.
Yeah, can you say 'dark'?
None of these things fit me, and finally, idiot me sat back and asked myself what I like to read, and what I want to write rather than what I thought I should write if I wanted people to take me seriously. That's when I realized that I don't want people to take me seriously at all, because my favorite books are the ones that make me laugh. And damnit, I like YA, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
This was about a month after my twins were born, and I started my first YA manny then. It took about four months to write; I learned how to feed the girls with my feet so I could type too. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I joined a critique group that helped me maintain my sleep-deprived sanity. I wrote and obsessed and wrote some more. And when I finished it, it didn't suck. It made one of my critique partners snarf soda all over her keyboard. That compliment alone had me floating for days.
I started to query, and the manuscript requests started to pour in fast. I was convinced that I was hot bleep. And maybe I was, but even hot bleep needs to find the right home. I got a lot of "I love this, but I have too many superhero books," and the usual "I love this, but it's not right for me."
And then, my dream agent requested the manny. Kate represents Maureen Johnson, and I pretty much slept with Devilish underneath my pillow for a while. Devilish convinced me that there might be a market for my brand of supernaturally tinged silly. She requested the full. She offered representation. I cried when I got the email, because I am at heart a big overemotional wuss.
That, and I'd been working toward that call for 14 bleeping years.
When I signed with Kate, I was thrilled. We got a lot of great feedback on that first book and more close calls than I can count. But I had a lot to learn as a writer, and in the meantime I'd started a new manuscript about how a completely rational person could come to the conclusion that zombies exist. Poor Slayer got mercilessly pimped for information about theoretical zombie viruses. There was copious staggering around the Harris household while I tried to envision the fight scenes. I perfected the zombie moan.
No Pain went out on submission. I got an offer almost one year to the day from when I signed with Kate. I left a completely incomprehensible message on Slayer's phone and met him out on the front step. His first words? "I told you so."
But here's the point of this whole overlong saga: Don't give up. Because I'm looking back at those 15 long, neurosis-filled years, and I have to say that they were worth it. Just keep working at your craft. Those stories that you see about overnight offers are very much in the minority; people who work in publishing are so god-awful swamped from what I can see that I wonder that they are still sane. So even when you do get an agent, you may or may not be doing some major waiting. This is not because you suck, or because there is a secret agent and editor coalition in which they take clandestine bets on which author will crack under the pressure first. It's because they're short-staffed and swamped under a manuscript tsunami. If you are just starting out, please bear this in mind. Be kind to agents and editors. They are on your side. They do not work for the zombies.
And really, it's a matter of clarifying what you want. I am not an overnight sensation. But I am a professional writer. Zombie-obsessed. Prone to kookiness. But professional as all get out, and I'm darned proud of it.
Don't worry. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled nonsense tomorrow.