Jennifer's Road to Publication

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Publication is a goal I am still working towards, but I think the basic path is the same for everyone. One day you are inspired by an amazing idea that simply must be written down, but it takes significantly longer than you expect to actually write that first novel (if you even finish it at all). Butt in chair, guys, that's the only way to get it done. Then when you're done, you make everyone related to you read your baby and praise your wonderfulness.

But just around the corner is the harsh feedback that your first draft isn't so wonderful. How could it be when you have no idea what you're doing and you haven't practiced writing a novel before? The path divides here. Some authors will continue to work on that first manuscript until it shines and others will call it a good practice effort and move on to a new story idea. In my case I moved on to middle grade fiction, and later experimented with young adult fiction, picture books, graphic novels, and nonfiction.

In any case, you get better by reading writing craft books, reading tons of recently published books for the same audience, and writing every day. This step can take many years (for me it was about four years and three completed manuscripts). It's a good idea to also obtain critiques from people not related to you and begin to network with other writers. I belong to SCBWI and MWA. When you have a completed, polished manuscript, you can send query letters to agents and begin accumulating rejection letters. Every author has them, so don't get discouraged. I filled a shoebox. Eventually, if you keep at it, the stars will align and you will find the perfect agent for you.

But the work isn't over then. Your agent will have suggestions for revising your manuscript and will point out writing weaknesses you didn't know you had, so you can continue to polish that manuscript into a gem. Once the pitch is perfect, your agent will begin to submit to editors, and you'll realize that those rejection letters aren't quite behind you. There will be better feedback from this level of rejection, but still plenty of heartache. I like to think of this phase as the toughening of an author's skin.

Of course having an agent is no guarantee of publication. I had a wonderful relationship with my agent and still ended up parting ways with her after several years with no sales. Here the path again divides. Some writers pursue self-publication to get their story out into the world. I decided to deepen my study of writing craft at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There is no right or wrong path. Choose what works best for you.

If you keep your fingers and toes crossed, and of course continue to write and rewrite, eventually your publishing offer will come. When mine does, you'll be the first to know!