It was June 2016. I held the spiral-bound notebook between my hands, shaking with exhilaration. The penciled words stared up at me. Graceful. Rounded. Real.
It was done.
I went up the stairs, still shaking, laughing, almost crying. I couldn’t tell my sister fast enough. It meant so much; it meant two and a half years of struggle, of changes, of sometimes not knowing if I would ever finish; it meant those final blinding, unbelievable days of writing the climax with depth and brilliance I didn’t know I had; it meant everything wrapped up, resolved, knit together in a perfection I had only visioned till now.
My sister had been there every step of the way, listened to every word. It was her story as much as it was mine. She laughed at my giddiness, and I spun around and laughed at her laughter, and she asked, “Now what?”
“Now?” The practical answer presented itself. “Oh, I’ll have to revise it. You know how bad the first half is. I don’t suppose the last half will need as much work, but I’ve got to make them match.” After all, I’d started it in September 2013. Back when it was a satire set in a hyperbolic world populated by dynamite explosions, giants in evening suits, and sentient trains.
So I buckled down to revising. I thought it would take six months minimum. By mid-November, I was done. The Journey was unified, cohesive, and I had never seen any story so beautiful.
My sister said, “Now what?”
I didn’t know what.
All my sixteen-and-a-half years, (well, maybe not all of them, but most of them) I had wanted to be published. But I had no idea where to even begin. You had to get your book to a publisher… but how did you even find a publisher? What did the mystical world of rejections and acceptance I’d read about in Little Women look like in the 21st century?
So I took a deep breath, settled down at my rickety Windows 7 computer, and typed in how to publish a book.
After considerable harried searching, I narrowed it down to one very helpful website: agentquery.com. Only now do I know how outdated that site was — at least in Internet terms, where even 5 years behind puts you lightyears behind everyone else. But it gave me something concrete to work with. I knew what I needed.
I pushed to the back of my mind the questions of how I, a minor with small worldly experience, would handle an acceptance and a contract and all the rest of that insanity, and set to penning the most engaging, unique, brilliant query letter I could come up with.
Verity Buchanan, 2018, rereading old query letters: If I were an agent, I’d be falling asleep on my laptop right now.
I didn’t actually send any letters out till March. It took me longer than it sounds to start writing those query letters, and I had to find which agents looked good… and I’m something of a procrastinator, when it comes down to it. Plus, my cousin, also a writer, had introduced me to a website called Wattpad, where I was busy working on a side novelette and connecting with some of the best young writer friends I’ve ever known. But finally I pasted query, synopsis (the synopsis was worse than the query) and sample pages into the email and, after staring at the button for 20 minutes, I jerkily hit send. And it didn’t even send. I had to work my courage up all over again. How unfair can life get??
I sent out between 15-20 queries over the course of spring and summer. I refused to do mass querying; I had to find an agency and agent that was a good fit for me, that was interested in what I offered, and that meant a lot of search for not much yield. agentquery.com proved only moderately reliable, and I started to have a sneaking suspicion that they hadn’t updated their database recently. I kept revising my queries, personalizing them for almost every agent I tried. I got rejections. I didn’t care. That had been part of the bargain. I even got a few personalized rejection letters that included encouraging lines like “not a good fit at this time” “don’t take it personally” “hope you find someone able to take on your project”. They made me almost as happy as an acceptance letter themselves. They meant I was doing something right; I just had to find the right place.
Then, in mid-August, I started my senior year of high school. I was, to put it lightly, busy. I was also a little bit tired of the painful task of wrangling suitable agencies out of the depths of the Internet. I said, “How about picking this up over Christmas break?” and set agents and publishing aside.
But when Christmas break came, I was writing.
I’d written two novellas over the year since I’d completed The Journey, ignoring its half-written, half-planned sequels. The second book of the series was, in fact, being a pain. But then something clicked in November, and I was writing again, writing, and the second book was pulling together under my fingers just like the first had a year ago. I finished the second book, started the third. Christmas break was over, but school couldn’t stop me. I wrote between classes, between homework, stayed up till 11 p.m. (ah, I was an amateur back in those days…) to write. I finished the third and was well into the fourth before the school year ended. I graduated, turned eighteen, and life was wonderful, and I was writing.
I took down The Journey from Wattpad, telling my followers that I was going to submit it to agents again, but I didn’t care about publishing. I was writing, and a small band of loyal readers from Wattpad was following the stories of Legea and loving them (almost?) as much as I did. Publishing seemed far away, unimportant. I was already in the midst of everything I ever wanted. Not only that, my confidence that had been so high in March 2017 had sunk a little with my motivation. Agents were so picky. Was it worth it to slave my life over an unattainable dream? I talked to my Wattpad family about self-publishing. I already had the base. Maybe I could make it work.
Some of them told me to keep trying. Others agreed that maybe self-pub was the way to go. Either way, I knew I’d have their support.
But one of my friends wasn’t prepared to let me sit on the decision, which I was fully prepared to do for the next few months. She was boldness where I was timidity, proactive where I was hesitant and reluctant to change. “Have you ever considered smaller presses?” she demanded, and proceeded to bombard my Facebook messages with all manner of self-pub help and indie presses. I promised half-heartedly to look them over.
“Look them over. That’s all you ever say.”
I found one who looked actually official and whose submission process was nice and streamlined. What could it hurt? I thought. I stayed up into the night crafting my responses for the form, and actually enjoyed filling it out. I felt proud of the end result, so different from my query attempts of 18 months ago. Friendly, engaging, yet professional. I could see myself getting into this business again. I’d start checking for more agents and even these smaller presses soon, I thought as I got into bed. I even entertained ideas of getting an acceptance letter from Ambassador International. Could they say no to that paragon of a query?
My practical side reasserted itself over the next three days. Sure they could say no. They were a specifically Christian press, anyway. Probably didn’t take fantasy books. Besides, a small press felt anticlimactic after the drama and stress of agents. It slipped to the back of my mind. Monday morning, I had an email in my inbox from “Publisher”. It took me a minute to remember who it was from.
“Oh, a rejection,” I said to myself. “Dear Verity, Thank you for submitting…” la, la, la, fiddle-dee-dee, standard rejection response.
“… publishing interest.”
I literally couldn’t believe what I was reading. I thought I had been reading a rejection letter. I couldn’t move or speak. My heart performed unhealthy levels of acrobatics.
And then I went about as crazy as I had when I finished The Journey.
Then, of course, there was all the stressful, nitty-gritty stuff. Were they legit? I went to great lengths to ensure they were. Were they worthwhile? I pored over their covers and looked up their books’ reviews on Amazon. Did I want to commit to this? I exchanged a series of emails with the publisher thrashing out what was on me, what was on them, and had my dad read through the (very nice straightforward) contract. I solved the problem of an electronic signature, paid for an official photography session with a talented friend, and created an author Facebook and Instagram. The days seemed like a whirlwind and I was afraid I would lose myself. I didn’t want this publishing process to consume the small person that was me.
But things slowed down. I was still trying to handle so much, but I found there was time left in the world for laughing, for talking, and for writing. And I’ve found there still is. Even time for eating and sleeping (man, I wish I didn’t have to have these human dependencies once in a while). And for prayer, and spending an afternoon watching friends pour concrete, and taking a solo trip to Alabama to see a friend for the first time. I’ve even found that all the things do get easier to handle as you do them more. Maybe, one day, I’ll even like Instagram.
I don’t feel much older than I did a year ago. I find it strange, and a little incredible, that it was almost a year ago I got that acceptance letter. For all the things I’ve done, all the new experiences I’ve soldiered through, I feel like the same person — still a little giddy with excitement that it’s happening. That the world will get to see my words.
And I want to thank you for reading them now.