Can’t take “no” for an answer. Learning the definition of “faith” is ignoring the odds. Pushing the boulder up hill, every day. Trying scary new things. Writing because I must, not because I can.
These are the reasons why I have three traditionally published novels coming out between 2021 and 2023.
Getting even to this point: That’s the real story.
My first novel, “Tent City,” a dystopian story about desperate economic “refugees” who end up camping out in a family’s backyard, took me about six months to write (not counting a gap when I set it aside). Two friends read it, but not critically. No real beta readers. No outside editors. I went online looking for literary agents and came to rely on the industry’s cheat sheets for finding them, including the Manuscript Wish List and Publishers Marketplace (both free online). And the Manuscript Academy (also online) is one of many great sources for learning how to pitch agents.
As the rejections rolled in, I realized I had to keep writing before despair got the better of me. So I wrote a fantasy in four months, “Ell,” about an unconventional mermaid who is being hunted by evil cults. Again, no beta readers.
Rinse and repeat: I pitched to agents. They said no.
Between the two books I had hundreds of rejections. Had to find an open door some other way. Technology is a beast but it can also be your friend. I discovered #PitMad on Twitter—a one-day frenzy of pitching (held a few times a year) when authors woo agents and publishers with enticing summaries. (See pitchwars.org.) This Twitter pitch (including specific hashtags signalling book genre) got me a two-book deal with a publisher:
Ell Gossamer, the last of her kind: “When I tell you I am a mermaid, you’ll jump to many conclusions, all of them wrong.” Ell’s parents vanish, she’s pursued by fanatics, her heart breaks—then she meets destiny. #SFF #MR #LGBT #PitMad
“Ell” will be published in June 2021. I’m wading through the publisher’s edits now, and that is a whole world unto itself, which forces you as a writer to make the book better—and so you don’t sound stupid. (Following right behind is “Tent City,” part of the two-book deal.)
I kept writing through the rollercoaster. Novel #3 was meeting the same fate: agents not interested. So I submitted the manuscript to a contest. Anything to get noticed. Shocked when I was a 2020 finalist for the Petrichor Prize from Regal House Publishing. Which resulted in a contract to publish “The Potrero Complex” in 2022. If you go this route, be sure to check out the Poets & Writers annual list of contests (pw.org).
Lessons Learned the Hard Way
1. Don’t let the marketplace tell you who you are as a writer. You get to decide that.
2. Submit, submit, submit – everywhere, not just to agents. Scour the web for legitimate contests and publishers who accept manuscripts without an agent.
3. Make peace with technology. It is a powerful gateway to publishing.
4. Humble yourself and become a perpetual student—of query-letter writing, pitching, publishing options, self-advocating, etc. There are scores of free resources out there to learn from.
–All my social links in one place: https://linktr.ee/amylbernstein
–“Fran, The Second Time Around,” a YA novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55334865-fran-the-second-time-around
–Pre-order “Ell” on Kindle: https://amzn.to/37QeDyq