I’m not one of those writers with a lifelong dream of penning a novel. I didn’t even start writing until I was 46 years old. I’m a designer by trade—architecture & interiors, both commercial and residential—and have worked in the industry for over 35 years. I opened my own design studio in 1997 and never looked back…until 2007, when the construction industry, what I call the canary in the coal mine, began to feel the first ripples of what was to become The Great Recession. A large majority of my clients—builders, architects, interior designers—went belly up, and I found myself with a great deal of time on my hands. First, I watched a lot cooking and baking shows and commenced doing just that, baking and cooking, which my family loved, but my body didn’t. That lasted two years.
Then one warm, sunny spring day in March of 2010, I went for a drive in what I call my happy place, my sweet little ride, top down and tunes blaring. I’d downloaded a new song by Thirty Seconds to Mars, and after I heard it, a story popped into my head, which I was inspired to write down. I spent four weeks scribbling in a small, spiral-bound notepad, developing the story and characters, sans setting and dialog. Afterwards, I had to “get it on paper” so to speak. So I jumped on my computer and fleshed it all out, adding dialog and setting.
When I was done, I read it over, and I thought I might actually have something, but I had no idea how to proceed, until I jumped on the internet and started researching the publishing industry. I discovered I’d made every rookie writing mistake imaginable, but also that I really did have a story worth pursuing, so I spent a solid year editing, revising, and polishing it with help from my new blogging buddies and literary agents who posted a plethora of writing and industry advice.
Next up, find an agent of my own, which meant writing a query letter with my 350-page manuscript boiled down into 300 words. Not an easy task, but, with assistance from my blogging friends, I managed to compose one that garnered several requests for partials and fulls, none of which panned out…except one I’d sent to a small publisher who didn’t require an agent. Upon their request, I sent my full manuscript, full of hope and excitement. But while I initially received a rejection, they said they’d reconsider if I revised one particular scene, which might not seem like much, but it was THE pivotal scene in the story, and part of the reason I wrote it in the first place, to exercise some demons that’d been plaguing me for years.
I understood their concerns and rewrote the scene, bringing the main character all the way to that crucial situation, but pulling back before the point of no return. I resubmitted, and, amazingly enough, I received an offer, a publishing contract. Many revisions later, that manuscript, The Mistaken, was published in both trade paperback and ebook.
It did relatively well after a somewhat rocky start, then went on to do even better, all things considered. Alas, after only three years, my publisher experienced an existential threat from within, and, after some time, they closed first to submissions—a devastating blow since they’d commissioned book two in the series—then closing altogether when their chief financing dried up, which meant no more marketing. I eventually got the rights back to The Mistaken. But since it had already been published, I couldn’t shop it around. Nor could I shop book two, Leverage, a continuation of The Mistaken. So I self-published both then wrote another stand-alone book, Stirred, and self-published that, all of which is no easy—or inexpensive—task. And I found I didn’t really like being an indie author. I hated and felt incompetent at all things marketing.
All that sort of robbed the publishing spirit out of me. But not the writing spirit. I kept writing, albeit very slowly since I was terribly distracted by all the political strife in the US, but I eventually finished five years later. So, with the help of someone I once called my writing soul-mate—who, by the way, became an industry rock star—I returned to querying a very small handful of publishers and agents. I was shocked to receive offers from both, but that stupid writer part of me that wanted validation steered me in what I came to realize was the wrong direction.
I should have taken the publishing offer, but instead, I let an agent talk me into signing with him and his large, well-respected agency. It went okay at first. He shopped my fourth manuscript, AGAINST ORDERS, a geopolitical thriller, around for a couple months, receiving rejections from several Big 5 publishers and imprints. I requested he send it to the publisher who’d been interested prior to signing with him, but he refused since they didn’t offer an advance.
Then COVID hit, and the whole world seemed to shut down. I didn’t hear from my agent, at all. After many attempts to find out what was going on in New York City and the publishing world and receiving no response, I reluctantly decided to part ways with my agent after my one-year contract was up. During that time, I wrote a fifth novel, PROXIMITY TO POWER, another political thriller. I submitted it and AGAINST ORDERS to that interested publisher, but, although they loved it, they believed they didn’t have the audience to market political thrillers. I tried one other, and they said the same.
Discouraging, yes, but while I’ve taken time off from querying during the last year, I’m back at it, however slow. Unfortunately, my bad experiences snuffed the air from my sails and, while I have a lot of great story ideas, I haven’t started writing again, at least not yet. But I will. Even if I never get another offer, writing has become part of my identity, and I need to do it. Fingers crossed it’ll lead me somewhere special that makes all I’ve been through worthwhile.