Back in 2012, I was in the throes of job-searching and soul-searching. My husband and I had been married for nearly 3 years, and I was having a heck of a time finding a teaching job despite having graduated with my Master’s degree in 2009. Opportunities weren’t plentiful, especially for a female history teacher in sports-driven Alabama, and I spent more than one night crying in frustration and despair about my inability to find a place where I could contribute and find value as a person. I prayed – goodness, I prayed – for God to lead me in a direction where I could best glorify his name and where I would also find something fulfilling to me. I wanted to contribute, but I felt stuck.
In the midst of all of this, I had a dream – like, an actual dream one night in February – about a young man named August who was fighting for his freedom and was leaping over enormous obstacles to do it (quite literally). It was striking. As soon as I woke up, I wrote down every detail I could remember. But I didn’t stop there – I knew there was a story that I needed to tell, so I continued writing forwards and backwards for months and months. Then one day, that little dream had turned into a chapter in the middle of my first novel. Now, I had written poetry and short stories in high school, and I have devoured books my entire life and enjoy art in words, but this – this was something special. This was a BOOK!
Of course, beginning novelist that I was, I ran a couple of spell-checks, tweeked a thing here and there, and decided it was fit for publication, so I sent it out on submission to literary agents. It was ridiculous. I don’t remember getting a single request – only one form rejection after another, and it’s no wonder. My query letter was terrible, and my manuscript was rushed and just… not what it should have been. So naturally, feeling a bit dejected, I put it away for a little bit, fully aware that I had crashed and burned. I needed time to heal my wounded pride.
A year or so later, I got my novel back out and decided it needed some major work (of course). So I changed points of view and added in a few new elements. I rewrote the entire thing and even altered a few character names and descriptions. It took a couple of months, but eventually I finished, polished up a new query, and started to submit again. This time, I got a few requests, some of which were from my dream agents. But they either didn’t connect with the material or see a place in the market for my book since it had some dystopian elements, and by this time the market was filled. So again, I put it away.
In the fall of 2013, I became pregnant with our first (and only) child, which meant that my time was basically nonexistent. I had finally landed a full-time teaching job, and I didn’t have much energy left for day-to-day chores, much less writing into the night. Our son was born on April 14, 2014, and I was in love. For the first year of his life, I worked and was “mom,” and it was wonderful. But there was still a nagging in the back of my head and in my heart for my book. I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet. So in the summer of 2015, I found the time I needed and rewrote it again and changed the point of view and tense – again. I used some (a lot) of the feedback that I had received from agents and editors and contests that I had entered on Twitter and did the best I could to turn this into a great novel. It was already a great story, but I just needed to package it better, so I did.
Submission to agents this time around netted a few more requests but no offers. I had pretty much given up again until almost exactly 4 years after that initial start date of February 2012. I was sitting at my desk at work after a brutal day of teaching (wrangling) tenth graders and decided that I would check twitter for the first time in months. So, I did. It was then that I realized there was a twitter pitch party – #pit2pub – and I figured I might as well give it a shot. So, I came up with a few hooks for my book using 150 characters or less and released them into the Twitterverse.
And then I got a few favorites, which I was excited (and cautious) about. My heart had been set for the last 4 years on having an agent, so it made me nervous to submit to publishers without one. But I did it anyways with one agency in particular – Clean Reads, formerly Astraea Press. I checked out their website, the Absolute Write feed, their Amazon listings, and even researched some of their authors’ blogs. They seemed legit and wholesome and productive. So, feeling confident, I submitted. And then I waited.
3 weeks later, I got an email from Stephanie, the owner of Clean Reads, saying that she was about to start reading my manuscript and that she actually lived within 30 minutes of me. I was blown away. What are the chances? You can probably imagine that I did a lot of email-checking over the next 48 hours.
After only 2 days, she emailed me back, said she loved the book, and offered to publish it.
I cried. I jumped. I called my parents. I hugged and kissed my husband and son. It had finally happened, and it happened in God’s timing. I’m so honored that someone now believes in the story that I’ve loved for 4 years, and I cannot wait to introduce The Elect to the world.
So, moral of the story? Don’t give up. Believe in your work and find that deep-hidden ability to be patient and humble. Accept criticism when it’s well-intended, always look for ways to improve, and of course, check Twitter. 🙂