© 2020 Regan McDonell

Spoiler: It's Hard.

December 8, 2019

So, this video gets a 100% "Yup, thumbs up, accurate" rating from me. While the details of Lindsay Ellis's publishing journey are very different from my own, all the broad strokes of rejection, revision, self-doubt, and the many, many things that are out of the author's control, are pretty much exactly the same. 

 

People often ask me how long it took to write Black Chuck, and are surprised to learn it only took eight months to get the bones of the story down — but that's just the bones, and it's not a totally honest answer.

 

In reality, Black Chuck took ten years to go from first line to actual, printed-on-paper, real live book.

 

In those ten years, I wrote three other novels that were rejected by probably hundreds of agents, with varying degrees of "not for me" and "couldn't connect", or just no response at all. I entered pitch contests, where I faced even more impersonal rejection. I paid for (expensive and largely useless) "how to pitch your novel to publishers" seminars where my book got laughed at by powerful editors (to my face).

 

And yes, all that rejection was demoralizing, and impersonal, and painful, and made me feel like I should just stop trying, but I kept going because, well, I just really, really, really loved writing. 

 

Plus, the whole time I was getting rejected, I was learning to be a better writer. I read debut novels obsessively, to pull apart what worked about them. I read every "query that got me my agent" story on Publisher's Weekly. I pushed myself to let go of artifice and embarrassment, to find my voice and embrace my true writing style.

 

During that time, I was also building a network of fellow writers, beta readers, critique partners, allies, and friends within the industry, all of whom helped me get better at my craft — because if you want to be a published writer, you have to share your work, so get used to people reading and critiquing (and sometimes hating) your work! 

 

Every single moment of those ten years soaked into my brain, and built my passage to finally getting published.

 

And then Black Chuck started murmuring from the darkness. I was in the midst of writing this big, epic, gothic monster story that I had pitched and queried and pitched and queried hundreds of times over many years, when Réal started talking to me, and a critique partner (hi, Alaa!) convinced me to listen to him.

 

So, I went back to these three chapters I'd written in 2008, and wrote the bones of Black Chuck in about eight months. Then I revised it a hundred times. And in 2015, I submitted it to and was rejected by about 30 agents (only one asked for the full manuscript). So, I revised again. And then I paid someone to tell me what was wrong with it. And then I revised again. And then I spent six months agonizing over a query letter (again paying someone to tell me what was wrong with it).

 

And then at about the same moment, I read a blog by Maggie Steifvater where she talked about starting out at a small publisher, and I was also seated at a wedding next to a published writer who suggested I skip the agent altogether. I submitted Black Chuck directly to a handful of independent Canadian publishers, and within three weeks, I got two offers!

 

Yup, Black Chuck was submitted via Orca's website submission page, and got pulled out of the slush pile by my amazing editor, Sarah Harvey. 

 

And THEN I got an agent (wooo!), who left the industry four months later (fark!).

 

But that's ok, because I have Amy now :) Big WOO!

 

So, yes, Black Chuck took eight months — and ten years, and three other novels, and hundreds of rejections, and a bunch of money, and tears and luck & good timing, and sooo much trying & failing & getting back up and trying again — to write. Not to mention my having a whole 'nother full time career in a totally different, but equally exhausting & demoralizing medium, the entire time!

 

In other words, getting published is HARD.

 

So, if your dream is to be a published writer, remember this: the ONE thing you need to do most relentlessly, and without ever getting tired and giving up, is utterly & absolutely love writing. Because all of the rest of getting there is kind of a nightmare that's largely out of your control.

 

Love the journey, it's all there is.

 

In closing, I give you this accurate depiction of what the roller coaster of becoming a published author feels like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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