Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Just back in the office from Budapest
In addition to being agents and an editorial assistant, several Books & Such staff are also published writers. Janet Kobobel Grant has co-written books on prayer and breast cancer, along with a number of Bible studies by herself. Wendy Lawton is well-known for her books, particularly the Daughters of Faith Series about young historic Christian women. Our agent emeritus, Etta Wilson, wrote a number of children’s books as well.
In September, we can add my name to the list when Barbour’s A Log Cabin Christmas Collection is released and my story, The Dogtrot Christmas, is published.
As we prepare for and then head to Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference this week, I’ll be writing about my personal journey to publication. Everyone has a different story, but I’m hoping my tale will provide some perspective and information for those who have never been through the process.
My story began early one afternoon last summer when I was on my annual hiatus from work–I usually take off several months in the summer to write for myself and to travel. Janet and Rachel at the office received an e-mail from Barbour Publishing House about an anthology they were planning for Christmas 2011–The Log Cabin Christmas. It occurred to Janet and Rachel that I should consider writing a novella proposal, knowing of my love of history and research. They included a list of what was required: log cabin, Christmas, romance, United States. What did I think?
This opportunity came my way for several reasons: I have a literary agent (Janet) who believed I could write well and knew I love history and enjoy doing research.
It was my chance, now, to prove if any of those things were true.
As a genealogist, I had a couple of family history stories from Texas that might do, and one even included a log cabin. I responded immediately to say I was on it, and I went right to work on an outline. By the end of the day, I had written a synopsis and two chapters. I sent them to Janet and went to make dinner.
She wrote back commending my story and writing but noted I had created a synopsis long enough and with enough breadth for a novel, and didn’t I remember a romance needed to be told in alternating points of view between male and female?
Oh, no! And I had a guest coming to dinner!
I told her I’d have a rewrite within twenty-four hours.
The next morning, I reconfigured the story, lopping off the first six months–including interesting and powerfully emotional scenes–and starting much further in than I had envisioned. My story was decimated! I sat at the keyboard rubbing my forehead and thinking, This is too hard. Maybe this project isn’t for me.
But no, I realized, this was my chance. I had to take it or forget about my publishing dream. I trained as a newspaper reporter; I knew how to write under deadline. So get to work!
By the end of the afternoon, I had revamped the synopsis and written two chapters. I sent them off. My agent congratulated me on a strong proposal. And then it disappeared into the hands of the publisher.
How do unagented writers find opportunities like this one? Where can they look?
Barbour posted what they were looking for on Rebecca Germany’s blog. Harlequin looks at unagented submissions–read the guidelines carefully. Attend writers’ conferences and meet with editors to discuss your projects; check out magazine web sites for writers’ submissions information; read Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide.
Michelle, I’m looking forward to reading the story of your path to publication as I prepare for the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference as well. It should be an encouraging conference send-off.
I’ve experienced both pitching ideas to magazine editors and having ones I’ve worked with regularly approach me with ideas, but I’ve often wondered if a similar situation happens with books. I know that the author-agent relationship tends to be interactive (passing new ideas by your agent in advance of writing), but how often does it go the other way, with an agent hearing of a publisher looking for something very specific and recommending that one of their authors run with the idea?
Melissa K Norris
I think when things feel too hard or doubt comes in, that’s when we need to dig deep and keep going. Those are the moments when true growth happens and we become better writers.
I have to be reminded of this from time to time, so thanks for sharing the struggle part. I look forward to reading your account and of course, your book when it comes out. I love how you tied in your family history. Makes me want to go back over my own lineage now.
Michelle, waiting is indeed sooo hard! I’ve often wondered about God’s timing, but I know that, too, He’s an on-time God, and His plan for us is so much better than what we could possibly come up with on our own! I am so thankful I’m learning so much along the way. I realize I wasn’t the writer 20 years ago that I am now.
Looking forward to hearing about YOUR journey!
Marcy, in answer to your question about how often does an agent bring a project from a publishing house to client, more often than you might think. Just last week an editor approached me with a very specific project in mind and asked if I had any clients who might be a good fit. Three came to mind, and I sent bios on each one. Behind the scenes, an agent can be at work for clients when the clients don’t know. (I tend not to tell my clients until it looks like we might have a deal. I don’t want to get hopes up only to have them dashed.)
Every opportunity no matter how seemingly small can lead to something better around the corner. Every rejection is not saying you can’t write, but your piece just isn’t right for what they had in mind. Persistence to the journey and endurance go hand in hand in having the dream of writing become a reality. :o) Thanks for the encouragement! I needed that this week! I’ve been writing forever and I celebrate each small success because it helps me continue.
Marcy and I write together all the time, so I appreciate your answer Janet. With magazine and newspaper articles, I always find it easier to be given the specific details required, interviews, even on a short deadline. But I would imagine being given so many specific details for fiction would be difficult to manage. I’m looking forward to hearing your story, Michelle.
Thanks for sharing.
Wow, Michelle! Congratulations!! Your book sounds wonderful. Historical romances make me swoon, and add Christmas to the mix? Yum!
There have been so many moments in the past years when I’ve struggled with doubts. It’s encouraging to hear your journey. Thanks for sharing it with us!
I’m eager to hear the rest of your story, Michelle. Already I love your story idea that blends two of my favorite things–history and Christmas. I don’t mind a bit of romance either. 🙂
We don’t always know what God is calling us to do. Sometimes it even seems contrary to where we want to go. Even from this first post, I can see His work on your behalf. I can’t wait to read more.
Successful writer’s stories always encourage me. Thank you for sharing your unique perspective on the journey. Your beginning opportunity with this project might look quite different from beginnings for others of us, but already I’m learning even more about perseverence and agent-publisher-author communication from you. I’m looking forward to the rest of these posts!
Thanks for the answer Janet 🙂 You’ve given me an additional reason for wanting to work with an agent rather than managing my career entirely on my own.
Congrats on your book! What an exciting time for you! 🙂 Can’t wait to read it!
I love the log cabin idea, Michelle. They’re both romantic and challenging at the same time. I can’t wait to hear more.
Lindsay A. Franklin
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Michelle! I had a “this is too hard, I want to work on a different project” moment in plotting my new WIP last night. It only lasted a moment and I was back on board with some encouragement from my husband, but it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in those moments. Your perseverance is inspiring. 🙂 Can’t wait to read the anthology later this year.
Thank you for all your kind comments and good wishes. I hope you all get a chance to read and love The Dogtrot Christmas as much as my family and editor do! 🙂
I agree, the Lord opens the doors and when you read my Wednesday post, you’ll see how amazingly He orchestrated the timing of the contract.
But that’s all ahead of us.
I wanted you to see that sometimes we can get discouraged and that might keep us from taking advantage of our opportunities. The writing life has plenty of ups and downs, we just need to keep pressing forward, one foot in front of the other.
I’m a great fan of God’s timing–even when it isn’t mine. But it’s always good to hear an inspiring story of success. Gives me something to dream about.
Julie Surface Johnson
Congratulations, Michelle. I’m sure it will be a great story and I can’t wait to read it. BTW, I just read your blog post about your time in Budapest. I hope someday you’ll write stories based on the Holocaust there.
pat jeanne davis
Thank you for your inspiring story, Michelle. Congratulations on your novella.
I love hearing about the genesis of the beautiful story I had the privilege to work on… 🙂