Path to Publication: Will Taylor
On March 30th, 2016, around nine in the morning on a normal day off, I stepped into the shower. It was a normal shower. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed, etc. Only as I reached out a hand to turn off the water I was suddenly smacked in the face by a feeling of complete and utter joy. No explanation, no reason, just the overwhelming impression that a bag of cement had lifted from my shoulders, my heart had grown a pair of shining pterodactyl wings and was heading for the top of the world, and someone somewhere was saying my name and smiling.
I toweled up and went to look around my apartment. Everything normal there, too. Bus line squealing outside the window, kids yelling in the daycare center playground, radio burbling away in the kitchen. Early spring sunlight slanting through the alley and pressing itself against the wall.
And a message from my agent on my phone.
The next few hours involved a lot of happy crying and celebratory Mexican food with my bestie while my pterodactyl heart did laps around the city screaming “Boooook deeeeal!” Much later that night I got to wondering exactly how long I’d been working and waiting for that day to arrive, and dug out my notes/old project archives.
The Figures (since this is always the fun part in a path to pub piece):
- Years from start of serious writing to book deal: 6.5
- Books written in that time: 6
- Total queries sent before getting an agent: 78
- Number of heavy, blank page rewrites before book sold: 4
- Pints of delicious and supportive ice cream: All of them
The Embarrassing Origins Story (because those are fun, too):
It was late 2009 when I decided I wanted to stop farting around and do this writing thing for real. I started with a couple months of prep centered around library books on how to get published — mostly in the Idiots and Dummies categories, and mostly printed before 2005 — and began my first “I Will Become a Published Author” project on January 1st, 2010. Six months later I was the proud author of a 23k-word collection of short stories called Ancient Gods of Wealth and Commerce. I began writing query letters immediately.
Because I knew I was ready. Because I’d worked so hard. Because this was the book the world had been waiting for. Because mini-collections of short stories had to be in high demand in the literary marketplace. Because I had an old high school friend’s wedding to go to in September and I wanted to have a book out by then to give as an “aren’t I cool” wedding present.
Because in 2010 I genuinely thought you could finish a manuscript in July and it would be in print by September.
Thank all that’s deliciously deep-fried and crunchy I never sent those letters. (I still have them locked away somewhere. Not sure why, they’re marrow-boilingly embarrassing.) It goes without saying that I was in for an avalanche of reality checks in the months and years that followed. But I got through my squirmingly uninformed period and kept at it.
And I guess there’s no real secret to the rest. I wrote four horrible books and one decent one, and I read more and more books each year until I had a sense of the market, and I went to literary events and made a few author friends, and I — NO WAIT, THERE TOTALLY WAS A SECRET. It was the day Alex Kahler sent me a link to this article by Delilah Dawson.
That was it! Right there. That no-nonsense breakdown of instructions and advice set me on my path. I read Janet Reid’s blog. I made a nest over in Query Tracker and settled in. I got me a Twitter and began following the industry. I joined SCBWI. I looked in the acknowledgements section of books and found out who was agenting and editing these people I loved. And I wrote and I queried, and I got rejected, and I tried again, and again, and again.
I’m still working my way through those 25 steps, but if there’s one thing I can say most enriched my path to pub, it was step ten: learning about the people who make up the industry. It makes sense; putting a book out takes a whole team of people, and learning about your potential teammates before you head out on the field is just downright practical. Not to mention courteous.
I heard an anecdote once that pre-fame Jimmy Fallon got a break in his career when he impressed a top comedy agent by knowing who she was by her name alone. He could even list her clients. That let her know he was someone already doing the work to understand the process, already studying the background action of the industry, rather than just a goofball looking for instant, easy fame. *Hard side-eyes my 2010 self…*
I had my own “meeting a pro” moment in 2015, just after I’d finished revisions for my agent and gone out on sub. A bookstore friend had managed to get me into the post-signing dinner for a big-name New York writer/editor, and suddenly oh my goodness, I was sitting next to this person being asked what I did. It was a polite question from someone experienced at talking to strangers, but I took that ball in my pterodactyl beak and ran with it, screeching about my book and my agent and my current works in progress.
I gushed about a few of the agents and editors I admired who’d turned me down, too, and suddenly the polite disinterest in big-name’s eyes evaporated, magically transforming into a smile. Turned out I’d named a few of his real-life besties, and he had stories of his own to tell. And just like that, we were friends.
Big-name didn’t buy my book, but talking shop with him did give me my first glimmer of confidence that the publishing industry was somewhere I — someone who only five years before thought a query letter should mostly consist of a list of celebrities I wanted free copies of my book sent to — could actually find a place.
The day I stepped out of a perfectly normal shower and learned I had a deal was the day my writing dreams came true, but it was the years spent getting to terms with the reality of the craft and labor of making books that paved the lonely, complicated, embarrassing, deeply fulfilling path along the way.
That and the ice cream.