The Road to Publication – A Guest Post By Author Laura Toffler-CorrieLaura Toffler-Corrie
Every month we feature a series of posts from a published YA author. These authors share their writing wisdom, their publishing knowledge, and their thoughts on the genre. Check back every Thursday for new posts—and be on the lookout for a chance to win a copy of the author’s book!
If writer’s stories are like war stories, then perhaps published authors are like decorated veterans, sitting in murky bars, recollecting tales of defeat, courage, endurance, heartbreak and hard won victory. And perhaps, aspiring writers are like battle weary soldiers, waiting to discover what’s over the next hill: triumph (a publishing contract) or slaughter (a pithy ‘pass’).
So for those of you in the trenches looking to gain some insight from a tactical journey to successful publication, here’s mine:
In about 2008, I started an MG book that was funny, weird and totally unmarketable. It was about a New York, Jewish girl whose best friend moves, leaving her to team up with a Hassidic boy, an elderly lady and the boy she crushes on to pursue a cool mystery that takes them around Manhattan, teaches them about themselves and friendship and ends up having something to do with Abraham Lincoln. The format was epistolary.
You might be thinking, why work on a quirky book like that? Believe me, it was a question I kept asking myself. But the story felt true to me and the characters were funny and this was the book I wanted to write. The question was, was it any good? I didn’t know.
I enrolled in a writing workshop, taught by the fabulous Pat Reilly Giff, but bristled at the idea of hearing my work read aloud. So I waited for a class when a speaker was scheduled to appear before handing anything in. Little did I know, the speaker was going to be late.
“While we’re waiting for Tony,” Pat said, “I’ll read pages from a new author.”
And like Harry Potter sweating fearfully under the sorting hat, begging not to be placed in Slytherian House, I chanted under my breath:
“Not me, not me, not me…”
Pat winked in my direction. She started to read. It was me.
But then something remarkable happened. People listened. They looked please. They laughed in the right places. The comments were good. Someone said it was like Woody Allen for kids.
“You must finish this book,” Pat said.
And so I did. Then it was time to find an agent.
I started by scouting the ‘Deals’ page on Publisher’s Marketplace, hoping that some agent would have the right sensibilities for my book. Before long, I found him. I queried, crossed my fingers and tried not to check my email five hundred times a day.
Miraculously, he responded, requesting the first few chapters. A few days later, he requested the whole manuscript. A few more days later, he wrote and said he loved the book and would get back to me after conferring with his colleagues. I was astonished, elated, thrilled! He had used the word ‘Love!’
Unfortunately, as in the immortal words of rocker, Pat Benatar: Love is a Battlefield. And, for some reason, this flirty correspondence went on for about six months without any real commitment. Disheartened, I played the field. I pitched. I queried others. But the chemistry just wasn’t there. Finally, this agent said he had good news. His plate was full, but an agent who had just joined the agency was aching for something quirky to love. About a week later, she called:
“I love your manuscript!” she gushed. “Except for one thing…it’s about 40,000 words too long. I have a lot of suggestions. Can you revise it?”
WHAT?! NO! HELP!
“Of course,” I chirped into the phone, stabbing a butter knife at my chest. “You betcha!”
“Good,” she said. “Because if you can, I want to make you an offer.”
Those were the words that I had been longing to hear. At that moment, I knew that even If I had to chop off my own head, I was going to revise that book until an offer was made. For real. Unconditionally. With bonafide contract.
I revised until my fingertips bled and my eyes crossed. The agent made an offer, and it was a great day! That night, my family and I dined on Chinese food and Devil Dogs (we don’t drink). They toasted me with Kool Aid and milk. We all did a little victory dance around the kitchen. The dogs barked and wagged their tails. And I was proud.
It was now time to rally forces, and the search for an editor began. Two submissions went out. Two nice no’s came back (at least with offers to re-submit). However, both editors wanted exactly different things: one said more plot, one said less plot. Perplexed but determined, I revised, trying to incorporate more with less at the same time. My agent re-submitted. Neither editor ever replied. Back to square one. Demoralized. Would my ‘career’ just be a series of basic training maneuvers? Could I ever really prevail?
I revised some more, found a new approach to the plot, and, once again, the manuscript went out. Finally, a real opportunity presented itself. Nan Mercado, a well respected editor at Roaring Brook Press, MacMillan, with a reputation for publishing smart, sometimes offbeat books, was excited.
She called me. We talked. We discussed what she liked, what needed work. Her vision. My vision. And finally, by the end of the call, she made an offer on the book that was to become, ‘The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz.’ All that work, time and perseverance had finally paid off.
What came next? Joy! Disbelief! A jubilant call to my agent! Calls to family and friends! More Devil Dogs! More Kool Aid! More barking, wagging and dancing! More Disbelief! More than one night spent staring at the ceiling giggling, grinning, too excited to sleep.
And now, my second book, ‘My Totally Awkward Supernatural Crush,’ is also out. It’s a victory for sure, but I know that I’ve just begun the long march to my next strategic advance.
Laura Toffler-Corrie is the author of THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ and MY TOTALLY AWKWARD SUPERNATURAL CRUSH. She holds an M.S. in school psychology, as well as an M.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York University. She and her family live in South Salem, New York. Visit her online at http://www.lauratofflercorrie.com/.