How I Got Published: A Guest Author Post By Mary Pearson
Let me back up about twenty years and give you some background. I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. Always. I went to college with the hopes of majoring in English and becoming a writer, but then my professors told me the only thing I would ever do with an English degree is be a teacher. Huh? That was the LAST thing my eighteen year-old self wanted to be. I just got out of high school—no way did I want to go back.
I came from practical stock. I knew I needed to earn a living when I got out of college and writing couldn’t offer a sure paycheck so I majored in art, got a BFA in illustration, and worked for a few years as a commercial artist and designer.
I loved art, and still do, but my deepest dream was still to become a writer. Someday, I told myself. Yeah, I was one of those. For me, being a writer was a dream that I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about, because really, doesn’t everyone want to be a writer? Well, the answer is no, I found out many years and careers later when I posed that question to my husband and he looked at me like I was crazy.
A writer was the last thing he wanted to be. A numbers guy. Go figure. And when it looked like budget cuts were going to eliminate my job as a teacher, he encouraged me to take a year off before finding another job and finally finish that manuscript I had been working on for ages. (God, I love that man.)
Then at the last moment, my job was saved and I was faced with a hard decision—quit or take that year off anyway and write! Gulp. Paycheck and nice benefits vs. DREAM.
What choice did I have? I did exactly what they tell you not to do. I quit my dayjob. Egad, the pressure was on now, and I didn’t waste a minute of that year. I finished that manuscript, did some research on editors and publishers that I was sure would gobble my masterpiece right up, and I began querying and submitting. Yes, the old-fashioned way. Snail mail. Yawn. Query. Wait. Submit. Wait. Wait. Wait.
I had already prepared myself for rejection. Remember, I said I was the practical sort. I said I wouldn’t cry until I got my twentieth rejection (But secretly, I knew THAT would never happen. Right? It was a sweeping historical. They would love it. How could they not? My family did.) And then the rejections started to come in. I didn’t make it to the twentieth—I cried on the fifth. And the twentieth. And thirtieth. Sheesh, that manuscript had to have had at least fifty rejections.
But—and this is a huge BUT—many were good rejections. No one but another writer understands how a rejection can be good, but these were personal rejections, with suggestions for improvement, praise for what the editor liked, and offers to revise and resubmit. I saw a pattern in the suggestions, and realized I needed to know a little bit more about the craft of writing, so I read every book on craft I could get my hands on, revised, and resubmitted. And this is key: While I waited for a response, I began another novel. Because writers write, they don’t just stalk the mailman.
Again, the rejections came in. Cue in vast oceans of sobbing and despair.
But there were a few rejection letters that said they would be happy to look at anything else I might have. I did have another manuscript! I did!
But this other manuscript was the complete opposite of a sweeping historical. It was a breezy humorous novel about a smart-mouthed kid who dies on the first page and challenges God to a debate to get his life back. Even the editor who said she would take a peek, admitted it didn’t sound like her kind of book. What chance did it have? (Picture snowball in hell?) Still, I killed another tree, printed it out, and sent if off.
And then, three months later, I didn’t get a letter, but a phone message. From an editor. A real live editor. She wanted me to call her back. I felt sick. I didn’t know for sure what she wanted and I was almost afraid to know. Deep breathing, deep breathing. And when I was sure I wouldn’t throw up while I was talking, I called her. Her first words after saying hello were, “I love your book. I want to publish it.”
I know I sounded like a ninny. Even though it was a moment I had dreamed of, I was dumbfounded. I think I said something like, “Okay” in a little squeaky voice. I really don’t remember. But I do remember exactly what I did when I hung up. I screamed. My daughters were there in the kitchen with me and the three of us danced around in circles, laughing and screaming and jumping up and down. That moment is forever etched in my memory. And hearing the editor say, I love your book.
And then I got busy on the next one.
Mary E. Pearson is the author of bestselling, award-winning novels for teens.The Miles Between was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox was listed as a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, an IRA Young Adult Choice, NYPL Stuff for the Teen Age, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. She is also the author of A Room on Lorelei Street, David v. God, and Scribbler of Dreams. Pearson studied art at Long Beach State University, and worked as an artist before earning her teaching credential at San Diego State University. She writes full-time from her home in Carlsbad, California, where she lives with her husband and two dogs. Her newest book is Kiss of Deception coming July 15.