Today’s Path to Publication story comes fellow Astraea Press author, Elizabeth Belyeu.
Without further ado, here’s Elizabeth…
I write at work, at my desk, on my bed, at the kitchen table – in my head before I go to sleep, on scraps of paper in my pocket, in emails sent to myself. Writing, the masochistic pursuit; how sad the cries of the writer trying to outline! How savage the tearing of hair when characters refuse to cooperate! And yet I would never want to stop. Something inside me would have to die before I could even consider stopping.
I published my first book in kindergarten, and by “published” I mean “stapled pages together and colored on them.” My first novel came at age 9, when I bought a blank journal with two cats on the cover and wrote their adventures on the inside. (Pitter and Patter, my first real characters. Ahhh, good times.) In grade school there was a collaboration with my best friend about two girls who find their way to a fantasy world; in junior high came the series (scribbled in notebooks during gym class) about the group of teens with psychic powers; through most of high school I labored over a novel that I never could figure out how to end. By then I definitely knew I wanted to Be A Writer.
I did my research. I learned about agents and editors, royalties and cover art and slush piles, and I’m glad I did. I’m glad that, by the time publication became any sort of option for me, I had no rose-colored glasses about how it works.
I read book after book after book on How To Write. I took a correspondence course in high school; in college, I took Creative Writing classes, even when I no longer got credit for them. Later I joined a local critique group. All of those things were helpful, and I recommend them. But I think now that the two most valuable things for building my writing skills were first, writing – writing all the time, figuring it out as I went – and second, reading. I read just as ceaselessly as I wrote, absorbing stories and storytelling, learning the tricks of the trade on a bone-deep subconscious level. I was the kid that mispronounced words because I’d read them a hundred times before I heard them spoken, and I think there’s no better way to master language than to let it just saturate your brain like that.
In 2008 I started a new story because I was bored and alone at my sister’s house. I took the first chapter to my Creative Writing class and learned it was crap. Writers have to be thick-skinned; you have to understand that a criticism of the work is not a criticism of the writer. The work can be fixed, and that fixing process is what makes you a better writer, however much it stings. That crappy chapter was nothing worse than a false start. I did it again, and did it better. I kept writing. The crappy chapter became Secondhand Shadow.
My older sister, Misty, has long been my First Reader, the one whose feedback leads to the second version that others see. Tired of investing herself in things I didn’t finish, she demanded a new chapter of Secondhand Shadow every week. That was exactly the nudge I needed, and inside of a year I had a finished novel manuscript for the first time since junior high.
Several rounds of revision later, I started searching for an agent. There are a lot of websites out there that can advise you on that subject; one I particularly recommend, even if some of its advice might be a touch dated now, is Miss Snark (http://misssnark.blogspot.com), an anonymous literary agent who blogged for several years about the querying and agenting process. I read her entire archive, and came out the other side able to piece together a decent query letter. I queried about 40 agents before my letter caught the eye of Lindsay Ribar at Greenburger Associates, and she requested some pretty intense revisions before she would take me on – but in the end I had a stronger book, and a real live agent!
Then came the awful part – waiting for the book to sell. I told Lindsay not to tell me about rejections, I didn’t see any reason to put myself through that. But as time ticks away, you know your agent is out there working and that means you’re getting rejected. It took two solid years for Lindsay to find a publisher for Secondhand Shadow, but the moment she told me about Astraea Press I knew it was going to be a good fit. They offered me a contract just a couple days before my 29th birthday, which was perfect timing – I’d been feeling very down about turning 29 (29! The last frontier of early adulthood! How is this possible!) still unpublished. Lindsay and Astraea gave me the best birthday present ever!
The work didn’t stop there; more revisions followed, mostly to make my book conform to Astraea’s exacting standards, and to fix some structural difficulties. I spent 12 solid hours at my desk, getting it done before the deadline. And after that came galley corrections. At this point I’m actually unsettled by the idea that I can’t change the book anymore. It’s out there. It’s published. It is set in stone, for good or ill.
It’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship: the Shadow serves and protects the human Lumi, the Lumi feeds and cares for the Shadow. But when Damon’s Lumi died young and severed the bond between them, he declined to go with her like a good little Shadow. Yes, it hurts. Yes, he’s cold and hungry all the time. And yes, his own people call him an abomination. But for the first time, Damon’s life is his own, and he’s never going back.
Or so he thinks, until he meets Naomi, a pregnant college student… and bonds to her as his new Lumi. Which has never happened to a Shadow before.
Naomi has enough problems on her plate, juggling college and a crappy survival job, preparing for a baby, and getting over her cheating ex-husband. The last thing she needs is a dark, brooding fellow like Damon depending on her physically and emotionally, and hating her for it. But a vigilante among Damon’s people has his sights set on Naomi – and they both know Damon is her only chance for survival.
Elizabeth Belyeuis 29 years old and lives in Alabama, where she supports herself, her cat, and her steadily growing TBR pile as a library assistant. She graduated from Troy University in 2008 with a bachelorʹs in English (Creative Writing minor). This is her first novel, but she has been writing since she could hold a pencil, and plans to continue until she is too senile to type.
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