When we hear success stories, especially within the industry that we are journeying through, we want to learn everything possible from that person's experience. We hope that they share the good, the bad and the ugly. Tiffany Brownlee, author of Wrong in All The Right Ways - which debut's this July 17, does just that for us. (Link to her site below)
I asked her to share her story because publishing is an industry where rejection is far more common than success. Aspiring authors look to others who have broken through, for advice and truth. Tiffany was candid and yet oh-so adorable with the retelling of her path to publishing. Read on and I am sure that you will agree.
Navigating through the publishing world is like riding a brand-new beast of a roller coaster for the first time ever. There’s a never-ending list of unknowns surrounding the process, a bundle of nerves knotting and twisting in your stomach, and a lot (and I mean A LOT) of waiting around for things to happen. In addition to all of that craziness, there’s another monster that you have to worry about along the way: rejection. When I was going through the writing, querying, and submission process, I found that there was so much out there on writing, but not very much information about how to get from the “hey, I finished writing my first draft” stage to the “hey, I got a book deal” stage, which brings me to the reason for this post. Now, as a teacher, I’m all about passing down my knowledge, so I’m giving you the scoop about my journey to publication. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Spoiler Alert: Because my debut novel doesn’t come out until July this year, my story is still being written, but I’ll share as much as I can about my process.
It all started after I graduated college. I began working as a teacher’s assistant at a middle school, and at that point in my life, I was not thinking about writing a novel AT ALL. Writing was a passion of mine, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t actively working on anything that I thought would be my “big break” in the writing industry. Well, during Winter Break, I picked up Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for the second time and absolutely fell in love with it! I’d read it—and hated it—during high school, but I wanted to give it a second chance now that I was older and wasn’t being forced to read it (I hate being forced to read a book lol). Anyway, immediately after reading it, I went to work outlining and drafting what is now Wrong in All the Right Ways, my debut novel. I ended up writing my entire first draft in twenty days. I know, TWENTY DAYS! I was a busy little bee in the month of January 2015. But the writing was the easy part. Little did I know; the hard part was just beginning.
While I thought my novel was the greatest thing since Jolly Rancher jelly beans, I knew I couldn’t start querying for an agent without at least a few second opinions. So, I got a few of my students and siblings to pose as Beta Readers. My students ate my novel up; they absolutely loved it! However, my siblings and friends didn’t. So, I went into revision mode and readied my manuscript until I satisfied both myself and my Betas. I realized that my chances of getting published would increase if I acquired an agent, so I typed up the best query letter I could and began figuring out this querying thing. I purchased a Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and got to work. That book listed every possible agent who was taking submissions at that moment. Side note: This book is as good as gold! If you are looking for an agent, I DEFINITELY suggest getting the latest version of this book to help you in your search. You’ll thank me later!
I scoured that book, highlighting any agent that fit my needs, and once I did that I sent out my queries. Remember when I mentioned that little monster called rejection? Well, if this were a movie, this would be the part of the story where they’d put in a musical montage of me waiting around until finally some responses started rolling in. But the montage wouldn’t end there; it would keep going as I open dozens and dozens of rejection emails from agents. It absolutely sucked, but a few of them left me some advice in their rejection letter for how I could improve my novel to make it more marketable. So, I went back into revision mode for a month or two, and then I started querying again. After those revisions, I sent out more queries (and got more rejections), but one day…PING! An email—THE email—from my current agent, Jill, appeared in my inbox. One that would forever change my life.
Jill was beyond interested in my book and requested the entire 68,000-word manuscript. I sent it to her and waited. Remember when I mentioned the waiting game that goes on in the publishing industry? Well, this was only the beginning of the waiting that I would do. Anyway, she got back to me within a few days, and after several emails and phone conversations, I realized she was THE ONE, and I signed with her. She had a couple of changes that she wanted me to make to the manuscript before we went on submission, but it wasn’t too bad. Before I knew it, we sent off the manuscript to publishing houses, and we were officially on submission. Yay!
More waiting. More waiting. More waiting. Actually, I think several months flew by before….DING! I got a text from Jill in all caps: “CALL ME!” I was in the middle of a school assembly, and I had to sneak away to call her, and when Jill confirmed that we’d sold the manuscript to Christy Ottaviano Books, an imprint of Henry Holt/Macmillan, I happy-danced in the hallway like no one was watching, though our security guys were. Side note: There is actual footage of me dancing on the school cameras, and it’s embarrassing…I’ve seen it.
Oh, and let me clarify: Wrong in All the Right Ways had its fair share of rejection from publishing houses, but I requested that Jill not disclose how many no’s we got. I didn’t want that negative energy hanging over my head as we continued waiting for a yes. This was a personal preference, because I knew that rejection on a scale this large would not be good for my mental health. If I could recommend anything to future writers who are on submission, it’d be that notion. Seriously, just trust me.
I know from the outside looking in, it seems as if things were happening at lightning speed, but in reality, it wasn’t. EVERYTHING in the publishing industry moves at the speed of an ancient turtle…or an ancient snail…whichever one is slower. I didn’t really start working on my novel until five months after I’d signed my contract, but the second we did, it was non-stop work.
Before I knew it, I was thrown into a never-ending cycle of what I call “authorly tasks”: revisions (several rounds), copyedits (several rounds), setting up social media accounts, getting professional author photos, and so much more. And again, I know this sounds like it all happened instantaneously, but these tasks spanned across seven months.
When things began to settle down, I started getting worried because I still hadn’t heard anything about a publication date still. So, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I Googled myself. I could have just emailed my publisher, but I live for drawing out the drama (haha). The first Google entry brought me to the Macmillan website, and under my picture, I found my publication date along with a ISBN number. With that, I flew to my laptop to write an email to my editor. She replied almost instantaneously, confirming what I’d read on the Macmillan website, and then cleared me to spread the word on social media if I wanted. I’d been in the publication process for several months at that point, but none of it felt real until the moment I sent my news out into the Twitterverse. That was the first time that I felt like a real author, and I haven’t come down from that Cloud 9-high since that day.
Like I mentioned earlier, every author’s journey is different. They’re almost like fingerprints; unique to each individual writer. But I hope that in sharing my story with you, I’ve not only supplied with you with an inside look into the publication process, but I’ve also inspired you to never give up even in the face of rejection—Lord knows I’ve had my fair share of that! And my story isn’t finished—I have just over three months left until publication (Eeeek!) So, if you want to continue to follow along and see what more is in store for my debut novel, Wrong in All the Right Ways, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @astoldbytiffb or you can visit my website: tiffanybrownlee.com.
Tiffany's book is available for pre-order. (Click Here to go to her site)