Friday, May 2, 2014

Is it possible to get your first novel published?

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t homeschooling her small kids and writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.

 ~*~

When I was 12, I decided I was going to write a book. Not like all those other times I wanted to write a book and abandoned it after a few pages or chapters. I was going to finish it. I would write a chapter a day, and I'd be done in, like, a month. Tops.

Excellent plan. Except...um...no. ;-) The chapter a day thing soon fell by the wayside. But I was still determined to finish it, however long it might take me. This was (a) the day before laptops and (b) when I was in middle school, so I handwrote it. Carried it around in a binder and wrote in class whenever I'd finished my work. When I needed a name, I'd just turn to the person next to me and say, "Hey, I need a boy name." Perfect. All my best friends got to be characters. Melissa and Brittney and Lisa and Jennifer...yep.

The book was set in 1850-something England, and it was called Golden Sunset, Silver Tear. Heroine was Brook Moon, raised as a princess in a small European kingdom I called Brattenburg. Hero was Justin Wildon, a future English duke, and Brook's best friend. When she discovers she's really the daughter of an English baron, she has to make her way back to England with Justin's help...and discover the secrets that killed her parents. It was a pretty blatant rip-off of Lori Wick's The Hawk and the Jewel, LOL, but I did my best to make it unique. I mean, I did have diamonds hidden in her bead necklace, after all. That was pretty original.

A year later, I penciled my last lines onto the page. My first completed novel, at age 13. One of my friends (Melissa, who was Brook's cousin in the story, LOL) was at my house when I finished. We celebrated with ice cream. She made me a card and brought it to school on Monday. It was pretty darn awesome.

I needed to type it up, but I didn't really have time during the school year, so over the summer I put myself on a schedule. I typed up two chapters a day, rewriting as I went. I added a lot during that first revision.

Then came that scary time we all know so well. Submitting it.

When I looked at the books I loved that were Christian Historical Romance, like Golden was, I found they were from two main publishers. Harvest House and Bethany House. And given that Harvest published Lori Wick, whom I had just ripped off (ahem), that narrowed it right down. I would query Bethany House.

I did. And soon had my first form rejection letter in hand, with a literal checklist of reasons why it might have been rejected, and that vague "not a good fit for us at this time" box ticked off.

A milestone, that. ;-) I kept submitting. I kept writing. Middle school was soon high school, and I discovered that Monaco was a perfect setting for my story--Brattenburg went bye-bye, and I felt pretty cool for instead making Brook an adopted Grimaldi. I also decided the hidden diamonds should be red, the rarest color. I made the changes and sent it out again. In that day before handy dandy online communities or writers groups, I was relying on my Market Guide and how much postage I could afford (because no one accepted email queries yet). My parents were fabulously supportive, but it soon became clear that I would not be published at 15 like I thought. Or 16. Or 17. But that was okay. I just kept writing, and finished another novel, very different from the first.

Then college rolled around, and I decided to break Golden back out and see how bad it was, LOL. Insert the next giant rewrite. But I just sat on it. At that point, I had so many other ideas, and more finished manuscripts. My attention turned elsewhere. I graduated college, my husband and I started a family.

Then I heard that Love Inspired was starting a historical line, and I thought, "Hey, why not dust off Golden?" So I got it out. I reread it. And I realized that, um, no. I couldn't just "dust it off." It required a total and complete overhaul.

Of all the times I'd reread and tweaked and edited, this was the most monumental of my revisions. This was the point where I came to a big epiphany--my words, my ideas, were not sacred. I was not bound by them. I could change anything I wanted to change. I could not only correct, I could create. I could ditch scenes. I could insert scenes. More, I could alter the whole course of the book. This story wasn't master of me, I was master of it (mostly...). Before whenever I'd work on it, I'd work within the scenes I'd first imagined. This time, I pretty much started from scratch. I kept the premise and the main characters' names and changed most everything else. Melissa was still a cousin. Otherwise, all other secondary names changed. ;-)

It ended up too long for LIH, but I took it with my to my first conference, the 2007 ACFW conference. It had already been eleven years since I finished the first draft, but I loved the new version. I'd retitled it Fire Eyes, and I felt like it could actually sell now. So I met with an agent--Janet Benrey. And I met with an editor--Karen Schurrer of Bethany House (which I got a total kick out of, given that they were the first ones to reject the original MS).

I ended up signing with Janet, and Karen took the book to committee. It was shot down, but she sent me a very lengthy email explaining how rare it was for her to ever take a conference-requested manuscript to committee so quickly, and that though it needed some work, she thought I had real talent.

Years went by. Again. While Janet submitted Fire Eyes to every publisher under the sun, I kept writing. Giving her new books to submit. Trying other things. I landed a deal with Summerside Press/Guidepost. Then a three-book deal with Harvest House.

When my Summerside book released, it got a lovely review from Romantic Times--and Karen S. emailed a congrats. When my second Harvest House book got a fabulous review from Publishers Weekly, she's actually the one who let me know--and scanned the article and sent it to me. I'd submitted a few other things to her over the years, but they just never worked for Bethany. She said at one point, "I feel like if we could just find the project that would click, you'd be one of our authors!"

Fast forward another little while. My first agent had retired, and I had signed with Karen Ball, who is legendary in CBA circles as an editor and had recently moved to agenting. The Downton Abbey craze had just taken hold, and she had editors looking for Edwardians. "Do you have anything set in the early 1900s?" she asked me. "Or anything you could revise?"

Revise? Hmm. Mention of revisions bring only one book to mind...and you know, Brook and Justin's story could totally work as an Edwardian! I could picture her stealing a car instead of a horse. Her attitude fit the changing times. Justin's piratical friend could be a race car driver instead of a sailor. Yes, yes it could work! So I started a rewrite and retitled it The Stolen Baroness.
Photo of Burton Agnes Hall by Richard Needham

And again, I hit that point where I had to toss much of my original to the wind. I decided to introduce new characters and get rid of some that had been with me since the first version. Some of the premises changed. But I liked it. I really liked it. And Karen B. (agent) loved it--and Karen has good taste. ;-) So when it came time to pitch again, she wanted to pitch this one.

Just before Christmas of 2013, she let me know that an editor at Bethany House was interested. It wasn't Karen S., it was one of her coworkers, a lovely lady named Charlene. But when Charlene let us know it was going to committee, I got a fun message from Karen S. on Facebook. To the effect of, "Hey, I recognize that! Love what you've done with it! Wouldn't it be a blast if, seven years later, we came full circle on this?"

And we did--in February I got the amazing new that Bethany House bought the series. Though the name got changed again before it went to committee, LOL. It's now The Lost Heiress.
Burton Agnes Hall photo by Richard Needham

Nineteen years after I first decided, "Hey, I'm going to write a novel." It's gone through 4 titles. Countless revisions. It has switched years, lost characters, gained characters. My heroine is now Brook Eden, and the father that started out dead in the original is now alive and witty. Her adoptive mom went from a princess to an opera singer. From a fictional kingdom to Monaco.

But Brook still has blond hair, green eyes, and a bad temper. Justin's name miraculously hasn't changed (though his title name has), he's still a future duke, and his home is still Ralin Castle. There are still diamonds hidden in her necklace...though the the beads turned into pearls.

And now here I am, with my first-ever book in the hands of the first publisher I submitted it to...for the third time. A 19-year journey of rewrites and submissions and rejections and more rewrites. Nine other published books and 27 other manuscripts in the meantime. But it's finally happened. Her day has finally come.

I get excited about all my books, but this one...this one is something special. This is my FIRST NOVEL. And I wanted to share the story with you guys so that I could share a couple things that got me to this point. First, always move on to the next project until you find the one that works. But second, never give up totally on those early ones if you still love them. With work, they can live again.

86 comments:

  1. Wow! What a story! I'm glad you finally have it pubished. I hope my novel's journey won't be quite so long, but we'll see. :)

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    1. LOL. I never dreamed it would be so long...but then, I gave up on it for a long time. So glad I came back to it though!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, Ms. White! It's really inspiring. :)

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    1. I've been saving up the full story for Go Teen Writers. ;-) *My* teen novel. Happy sigh.

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  3. This is awesome, Roseanna! Some things just take time. = )

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  4. I've heard so often that your first book cannot be published/ will never be good enough to be published. I think it might be hard for your first book to be the first one you publish, but it's nice to hear that there is hope for our favorite first drafts. (I also started my first real novel when I was 12.)
    Thanks for this post, Mrs. White! I loved it.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. Exactly. It might not be your first novel published, and probably not in its original form--but that doesn't mean the idea that first gripped you can't be rewritten to find a place in the market!!

      Here's to 12-year-old novel writers. =D

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  5. This story is so wonderful and encouraging! Thanks for sharing it! And thank you for the tips, I've been thinking about this a lot lately!

    arendedewit.blogspot.com

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    1. The first thing I did (after calling my hubby and mom and emailing Stephanie with many exclamation points) after getting the news about the contract was to write up this post. I knew it was a story that had to be shared with you guys!

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  6. I'll probably never publish a full-length novel (I can never get my plots to move past 20 pages), but I really wantto someday publish a collection of my shorts and poetry on CreateSpace. It was really interesting to read about your novel's journey.

    Ajax

    arkansaschestertonian.blogspot.com

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    1. And I have a horrible time writing anything short. =) Being able to do that is a real skill! I've actually met a short story writer who finished a novel by treating each chapter like it's own short story. Each had an arc, a hook, they just all linked together. It would never have occurred to me to think of it that way, but it's how he got over his "I can't write long stuff" thought! Though there's nothing wrong with focusing on short, independent pieces either. =)

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    2. I have the same exact problem! But recently, I have broken 20,000 words (my record) on a story that I'm working on! Right now its about 45 pages. I have tried and tried to write a full length novel, but it just doesn't happen. I think I need to work on pacing my writing...

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    3. Ajax and Alea, for the first few years I wrote, my stories were always "too short." I guess I just had trouble coming up with a complex enough plot. But I've found that each time I write a new story, it's longer than the first. So I'd say it probably just takes time. It's hard work developing a story complex enough to be a novel, and it takes practice like anything else. Keep at it :)

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  7. This is amazing. I'm so happy for you! So crazy that you're at the same publishing house that rejected you. Thanks for sharing your story with us today. And I like the thought of, this story doesn't control me; I control the story. I've had to add in a lot of plot twists lately because my story just hasn't been getting off the ground. Experimenting with setting has really helped, as has POV experimentation, and non-linear story telling. This is really inspiring--thanks!

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    1. It's kind of amazing how long it took me to realize I could do that--break free of my original plot and change whatever I needed to to make it work. So freeing once I got over the thought that I was betraying my story, LOL.

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  8. Brilliant post, Roseanna. Every writer should read it, not only teens. And this line, "This story wasn't master of me, I was master of it," is the best line ever. That realization is a very important part of the journey from amateur to professional.

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    1. Thanks, Dina. =) And it's pretty telling at what point I realized that--it was when I was really ready to do whatever work I had to do to be published. Up until then, I wrote constantly, but mostly just for me.

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  9. This is so insipiring, Rosanna!!!! =) Thank you so much for sharing!!!! Gosh, now I wonder if Painted Skies will end up like that.... I hope she'll at least stick with her title! ;)

    And BTW, once it's out, plus I have my mom's permission, I will definitely buy The Lost Heiress =)

    TW Wright
    Ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, TW! It'll be out next summer (of 2015). I'm sure I'll beg Stephanie into some kind of post around its release. ;-)

      Painted Skies is a really cool title! And you just never know. When you love something enough, and are willing to work on it enough, there's no reason to say it WON'T someday sell! (We just never know when that day will be.)

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  10. This is great, Roseanna! I thought that first novels didn't usually get published. This post is so encouraging!

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    1. It certainly didn't in its original form, LOL. Or its second...or third...or... ;-) But Brook and Justin never let go of me, and they were worth the investment of all those rewrites!

      Speaking of which, I currently have her locked in a room, panicking when she hears a gunshot. I should probably go help her out. By which I mean, have the bad guy attack her. ;-)

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    2. Sounds like you are writing something very exciting LOL! Good luck with your attack scene!

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    3. Ooh! Exciting moment! I am not very good at writing climaxes. They are always too short. All of my stories are too short to be a novel.

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    4. I'm rather notorious with my hubby and critique partners for rushing through my climaxes. I've done better the last few times, LOL, but I usually get so excited at the thought of being finished that I completely rush them. That's what revisions are for, LOL.

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    5. I tend to rush my entire novel...making it not a novel. I am working on it though...

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  11. Wow Roseanna, wow! This has been such an inspiring story to read; Amazing. I have actually just finished my very first rewrite of a novel (not exactly 13 years old, but 21 but you know still celebrated with ice cream). Right now I know I can still learn so much writing skills and the story will probably evolve a couple of times still, but I am secretly wishing this will be my "The Lost Heiress" eventually :)

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    1. That definitely deserves ice cream!

      We all evolve as writers as we learn. And there's definite merit to moving on to other projects to use those new skills--most of us would burn out on trying to rework the same one over and over, without going to anything else. But I so loved coming back to this one each time I did. Like coming home. =) If you love yours that much, you just never know where it might lead you!

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  12. Oh my goodness. I LOVE "The Hawk and the Jewel." Of all the books to rip-off when you're twelve, you picked a good one. Lol.

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    1. It was my favorite book for YEARS, Ashley!!! I was a total Lori Wick fangirl. Hers were some of the first not-aimed-at-kids books I read, and I think I own all of them...might be missing one of her last ones, maybe. But yes. It was promptly after reading The Hawk and the Jewel that I had this brilliant idea for Brook and Justin, LOL. Happy to say it no longer bears the slightest resemblance...but it sure did at first! Enough that my mom read mine and said, "Um, sweetie, you really can't have her spying on the ball from the cloakroom just like Lori Wick did." ;-)

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  13. Wow, this is so cool! I do have a question, though. Does a novel HAVE to go through nineteen years of rewrites, reworks, revisions, and rethinks before it's good enough to publish/self publish?

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    1. Does a FIRST novel have to go through*

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    2. Absolutely not, Connie. =) Especially if you've already learned a lot about craft and the industry before you write. I wrote this well before online communities or forums or loops, and most of edits were before I even knew what POV was. But then I gave up on it for a long while and focused on other projects with a better chance of selling at that point in time (and which did). In publishing, there's no such thing as one way things work. Each journey is unique!

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    3. Thanks! Your article was really helpful. You made me realize some things I need to look more closely at in my story before I move forward with the revision process. :)

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  14. What an awesome story! To quote a movie, "Never give up, never surrender."

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  15. This is great! :) I recently started thinking about rewriting some of my earlier stories (some of which, I finished at 13 too) but I haven't yet. I kind of a plot to add. XD I really liked the part about not having to work in the confines of the scene...which this is a really good time for that because i am about to start my editing/rewriting... :/ Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story!!

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    1. That was such an epiphany for me. =) Good luck on your rewriting!!

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  16. That's awesome! Maybe one day I'll get enough nerve to rewrite my first book. :D

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    1. If you want it, go for it!! We only learn by doing. =)

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  17. That's so exciting! I cannot wait to read it! It has a long and unique history. Thanks for sharing your story.

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    1. My pleasure, Kate. =) Thanks for all your support!

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  18. Congratulations on getting published, and thank you for sharing the cool and inspiring story of how your novel got to that point. The Lost Heiress sounds like a great book, and I look forward to reading it!

    ~ Kayla

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    1. Thanks, Kayla! It's certainly been a journey.

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  19. I had the same realization recently about being the master of my own works. I would often write and then feel like I'd hit a dead end with no way out. I started writing at age eleven and it wasn't until seventeen that I started to realize I could delete, add, and totally overhaul anything I wrote.

    Thanks for sharing the history, it's interesting and encouraging. I was hoping to be a published teen writer too, but the days are ticking down to my twentieth birthday and I don't think it's going to happen. You were pretty brave at thirteen to submit your book.

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    1. Confidence was never a problem for me, LOL. Reality insists upon checking it though. ;-) And while being published as a teen must be awesome, it's pretty awesome whenever it happens.

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  20. that is SO COOL! thanks so much for sharing, Roseanna! that gives me so much hope...I haven't written a novel in a few years, but I'm always thinking about it. waiting for the poetry cravings to wane a bit, haha. this was just so encouraging to read, it makes publishing seem so much more attainable. crazy hard, yes, but doable! :)

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    1. It's exactly that--crazy hard, but doable! Well put, LOL.

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  21. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it. That was pretty brave of you! I'm 13 now, and couldn't imagine having the guts to submit a manuscript. That took a lot of perseverance!

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    1. I think I considered it more exciting than intimidating...though probably only because I had no CLUE how hard it really was, LOL.

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  22. That was SO COOL! And Fire Eyes sounds mighty familiar from a certain Stephanie Morrill book...hmmm? ;)

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    1. LOL! Yep, she totally stole that from me, which totally made me laugh...especially since I'd retitled it by then. ;-) I'd forgotten about that!

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    2. Fire Eyes was actually the first thing Stephanie critiqued for me, FYI. =) And since I chose the name for Bronte (who was originally supposed to be the fictional version of me before she turned all NOT me, LOL), it was only fitting that she use the title...

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    3. That's so funny ;) Yeah, let's not leave you as Bronte...hehe ;) A lot of people and situations really flipped around there in Ellie book two :)

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  23. I don't know if I'll ever get to a point where I can publish something, but if I do, I'd like to try to get current (and first that I plan to finish) WIP published. I've learned quite quickly that you're in control of the story due to a friend that is constantly changing her plot. And I've already (only within the fist ten chapters) changed my while plot about twenty times.

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  24. YAY FOR THIS POST!! My baby...er, book (lol) went through countless overhauls and rewrites and COMPLETE book surgeries, until it was so different from where it started...but it was still the book I loved most of all and had written first. And now I've signed with an agent and it's getting subbed. This post is so true and awesomely encouraging!

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    1. That's awesome, Cait! Congrats on the agent, and best of luck with the submitting!!

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    2. Congrats on signing with an agent!!!!!!!

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  25. I have actually never had a problem with changing stuff in my WIP. I guess it has partly to do with how horrible the beginning was though.....lol. I think I will try to get my other project published first, because it is really different from any idea I've ever heard of, and my original draft doesn't make me cringe inside.

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    1. Not-cringing is a definite good thing. ;-) There are certainly authors out there whose first sale is their first book, but I think for a lot of us, our first sale is another. We learn so much as we work!

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  26. Patience BledsoeMay 3, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Oh, this is such an inspiring, encouraging story, Mrs. White! Thank you so much for sharing it! I'm very excited and happy for you. :) And I must admit I smiled over the changes that took place in your novel, and the things that remained the same. :)

    I found this all very encouraging for me as a writer. I'm not published, but I'm hoping and praying, and after I finish with my edits, will begin queries. It's not my first novel, but while the others hold special places in my heart and writing journey, let's just say I've learned a lot since then. :)

    Your story encouraged me to keep pressing on! The writer's path holds roses as well as thorns, doesn't it? :) And I'm hoping my series has a little place out there in the publishing world. :)

    Thank you, Mrs. White! Many blessings for you and your writing!!

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    1. So glad it could encourage you! And oh yes, we do learn a lot in later novels, don't we?? Here's wishing you the best with your series--and lots of sweetness along the path. =)

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    2. Patience BledsoeMay 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

      We sure do. :) Oh, thank you so much! That means a lot to me. :)

      Thanks again!

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    3. Patience BledsoeMay 3, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      And Congratulations on The Lost Heiress! :D

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  27. Hi.
    Is it actually possible to be published at 15? If you have an idea that has never been thought of before? I'm writing a book right now and I'm very cautious about it. I was wondering if you work and work and work and edit like heck with every spare second that you have, that it might be possible to be published in your teens? I'm sorry, I know that this is something that you get asked alot, but I really am determined. Sorry :(

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    1. You don't need to apologize! This is a great question--and while I obviously can't say that any particular person WILL be, I will definitely say that it's possible, absolutely. You have an advantage today, being able to tap into online communities and learn so much, so early. When I was a teen, none of this existed, and I really had no way to learn all the rules of the craft. But I fully believe that age doesn't determine our ability. I've critiqued for a 14-yr-old who was leagues above some 50-year-olds' work I've read. Work hard, chase your dreams, and you just never know what might happen for you!

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    2. THANK YOU SO MUCH
      This means a lot to me. Thank you!

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  28. This. This sounds too familiar. Great that you shared with us and it gives me courage. After seventeen years, I'm still working on my upper middle grade, and I'm finally thinking this is a book worthy story. And yes, it's changed titles six times and only parts of it are the same from the beginning. God bless and thank you!

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    1. I had a feeling I wasn't the only one with a story like that. =) Best of luck with yours!

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  29. This is so inspiring Roseanna! Thank you so much! I'm working on revising my first full length novel right now. Thank you so much!

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    1. Exciting days, Bethany! Have fun with it. =)

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    1. Thanks, Keturah! I just can't quite get over the fact that it's Bethany House, who I submitted each of the major versions to, LOL.

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  31. This is an AMAZING post! Thank you for sharing! I've been working on my first one for three years, and I'm about to go back and gut it...... I have writing friends who read it, and other friends who just like to read who read it. My latest WIP is going well, and they say they haven't seen anything too similar so I have high hopes it will be the first thing I publish!

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    1. Thanks, Kari! I have one I'm ready to gut here in a week or so too...I'm half excited and half terrified of the amount of work it might take, LOL. Best of luck with yours!!

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  32. This was such a wonderful post!!!!! This is definitely something that I struggle with. I want to write a full 50k novel, but I just lose my enthusiasm and I move onto something else. I know that if I work with it while I'm not enthused then it will be a flop. And I'm not going to totally give up on them, either, it just needs to be set back for a while. Thank you!

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    1. There's definitely something to be said for taking a break from something when we burn out on it. Oftentimes, though, when I go back and reread after taking that break, my enthusiasm returns.

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  33. What a great story! Congratulations on being published so many times, and the rest of your amazing journey!

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    1. Thanks, Zara! (And I love your name!)

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  34. I love this post! So encouraging, especially since I'm trying to get my first real novel published.


    Alexa Skrywer
    alexaskrywer.blogspot.com

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    1. Glad it could encourage you--and best of luck with YOUR first novel!!

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