My Not-So-Overnight Success

Image courtesy of Pixabay & anaterate

When many people first hear about a book, they often think the writing and publication happened overnight--an overnight success. I started writing The Watchers of Moniah several years ago, but, with all three books of the trilogy coming out in a three month period, it might appear that it truly did happen in very little time.

It did not.

I got the idea for the story in the 1990s. It's cliché, but the idea came from a dream. I didn't start writing the story until several years later. In 2007, I joined a local writing group. I'd written 50k words at that point. The typical novel runs 70-80k, but in the fantasy genre books often run 90-100k words. Thanks to the motivation of meeting with other writers, I completed the book in 2008. It was a whopping 103k words.

I went through several edits and got feedback from beta readers, my writing group, and agents and editors at conferences. Beta readers and my fellow writers loved it. Agents told me it was one of the most well-written manuscripts they'd seen in some time. But nobody offered to represent or publish the book.

In 2013, an agent expressed interest in possibly signing me. After receiving the full manuscript, she suggested that I had two books, not one. There was a time period jump in the story, and she wanted to know what happened during those years.

Many writers will tell you not to change your work for an agent who hasn't signed you. Although this is valid advice, this particular agent hit on something I'd worried about: Did I need to write about those in-between years?

I decided to do it, figuring if nothing else, I could use the new material as short stories or a novella to share with fans when the book did get published. I found a good place to split the story, and wrote an extra 80k words. All in three short months. Excited, I sent the first book to her, but she passed on it because of the multiple points of view (POV).

Later, I learned that very few agents wanted to tackle an epic fantasy book because of the multiple POVs and the huge scope of the work. It takes complex attention to detail to ensure an epic series completes all of the story lines.

Meanwhile, I wasn't getting anywhere trying to query agents or publishers. Either they said I needed a deeper POV, or the POV was too deep. Many agents expressed concern over the giraffes. Several told me it would never work or sell if I kept the giraffes. Most of them told me the story wasn't for them, but someone else might embrace it.

The next year, I met a freelance developmental editor and asked her to edit the books. She loved the stories and suggested I write more for the second book. Also, she gave me the best compliment ever: She couldn't put the books down, they engaged her so well. I needed to hear that.

I continued to query agents and publishers. Quite a few requested to see the manuscript. None of them  signed me. By now, my rejections surpassed fifty. I began to work on some of the other stories I'd been developing. I couldn't bring myself to work on book 3 when the first two weren't going anywhere.

In 2015, my grandchildren came to live with me, and my efforts to query agents ground to a halt. I had time to write, but it takes a great deal of time to research agents. I believed the new book I was writing might be the one to break down the barriers.

Sometimes, for reasons we don't understand, we must wait. Then, from the most unexpected direction, everything changes. Last year, in 2020, the year of horrible events worldwide, I finally got my publishing deal. Halleleujah! Believe it or not, it happened at a conference where I didn't even intend to pitch my work. I overheard another writer saying she'd pitched one of the publishers who attended as a vendor, and they requested to see her manuscript. What?

I dusted off my elevator pitch and put it to good use. Three publishers at that conference asked to see my manuscript.  Chris Kennedy Publishing came back a few months later with a publishing offer. All I had to do was write book 3, which I did in a little over three months.

So behind the scenes, a lot of time went by. Am I typical? Probably. We don't tend to hear the stories of the people who labor away at writing for years before publication. A misfortune, I think. Many writers give up after 2-3 years of rejections, disheartened by the response. I didn't, and I succeeded in the end.

It only took twelve years to get my overnight success.


Phil Arnold said…
Barbara: I've known and respected you for all of those twelve years, but I never knew many of the things you revealed in this post. You deserve your successes. You've certainly earned them.

Phil Arnold
Thanks Phil, both for being part of this journey and for the accolades.
Anonymous said…
Your journey is a tale of faith and hope. Thank you so much for sharing these details. I am just beginning the agent search for my first novel...more than 2 years in the making. I’m too old to wait so long, haha! Congratulations! You are long overdue for this recognition. You deserve this!

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