Today, I am a published author. Which is pretty cool. I even did that whole thing where I went to Barnes & Noble to see my book on the shelf, then sat in the aisle and cried like a baby while I stared at it. (Actually, I did much worse, because while that was happening, a teen boy wandered down the aisle in which I was sobbing and picked up my book, and I promptly introduced myself and thanked him profusely for even looking at it, and then promised I was only being weird because it was my first book, but I would be waaaay more normal with my next one, I swear. He was very kind about it. But I digress.)
When I was eight, and writing weird books about beautiful triplets because for some reason I desperately wished I was one, I’m not sure this is a day I actually pictured. I was too busy picturing myself in the sequined minidresses I dressed every character in, because I guess 1992 me thought that was the height of fashion.
I also refused to let anyone read anything I wrote at that age. In fact, I refused to let anyone read anything I wrote for a really, really long time. (Unless it was for school and I had to. I was a rule-follower. I still am. Mostly.) I hadn’t planned to try publishing professionally, because as much as I loved writing, I couldn’t stand the thought of letting anyone else into my weird head, into my weird vicarious lives, into my fantasy worlds that always looked a lot like Southern California because I was addicted to Sweet Valley High. In truth, I didn’t start trying to until my husband attended law school and I realized Oh my God we are so broke I should probably try to do something about that.
I didn’t sell a book during those three years, though. I queried one set in college, back when that was a nonstarter. (Obviously, the market’s warmed up to those a little more now. See: New Adult.) Then I wrote another one, and got a little closer. And then I wrote what would be my pitch letter for Behind the Scenes.
After my husband graduated, we moved back to New York City, and, armed with that letter and an 11-page, single-spaced synopsis, I participated in my very first National Novel Writing Month. It…was awesome. I’m not a particularly fast writer, and I had a full-time job, but something about the encouragement and accountability that comes with an established “Write a lot and do it fast!” event made it work. In less than two months, I had a new book, and a really good feeling. I got readers, I made revisions, and a few months later I participated in a pitch contest online and promptly signed with an agent. A bunch of months after that (let’s not talk about how many; there’s a reason perseverance is a major necessity of the industry), I sold a book.
And that book comes out today.
Since my debut is all about the things that happen “behind the scenes,” here are a few things I learned along the way on my path to publication:
- No matter how widely you read in your genre (something I always, always advocate), you will stumble upon a billion books you didn’t know existed that will make you panic your book has no place in the world because other people have already written it. (And you will assure yourself theirs are better, too.) (Or maybe that’s just me.) (But I don’t think it’s just me.) Don’t do that. Figure out why your book is different. Figure out how it earns its place. Don’t let fear or insecurity tell you it doesn’t. Sometimes, you can even learn from them. (Major hat tip to Jen Calonita’s “Secrets of my Hollywood Life” series.)
- Querying agents is only the first in many daunting steps. Even after you sell, there is more work—scary work—to be done than you can ever imagine. Have great people on your side who know what they’re doing. Bonus points if they’re really talented author friends who will hold your hand through anything. And being lucky enough to get blurbs from authors I think pretty much walk on water was the best vote of confidence I didn’t even know I needed.
- Sharing experiences with other debuts was pretty lifesaving. There’s so much terminology to learn, so many aspects to wonder if you’re doing “right,” and so many things you want to cry or rant or squeal about, and being part of a “debut class” that allowed for all of that was fantastic. Doesn’t hurt that it’s led me to read some pretty amazing books I might otherwise not have!
- Don’t give up. Giving up is the worst. Like, it is literally pointless because it makes it impossible to achieve your dream at all. There’s a reason people always say “Write another book.” Because each new book is a new shot at success. And succeeding is pretty cool.
Except for maybe that whole “crying in public” thing.
Dahlia Adler’s Behind the Scenes is out today!