Friday, April 14, 2017

Shannon's Journey to Publication

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

It's been eye-opening for me to read Jill's and Steph's journeys to publication. Whenever I hear someone's story, I'm floored by all the different roads we took to end up on the same shelves.


Growing up, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to be an astronaut. I don't know that I ever said, "I want to be a writer" but I do know that I've always been a storyteller.

I won writing awards as a kid, but I was very social and writing is such a solitary endeavor. Throughout much of my high school career, I didn't do much more than journal. I wrote things here and there, but aside from a few poems, I didn't pursue publication.

College was much the same. I stayed busy, moved around, did some theatre. It wasn't until I was married and my priorities had shifted that I considered writing as a career.

Telling Stories at Home


My journey to publication began on a dark and stormy night (well, maybe). It was November of 2008, and my baby girl was just shy of three months old. She was a beautiful little thing, but she wasn’t nearly as good a sleeper as her big brother. I had stumbled into a work-from-home job that was a fantastic stroke of luck, but it was all numbers and accounting and though it helped pay the bills, it was not doing a thing for that creative heart inside my chest.

I really wanted to go back to theatre, but I was apprehensive about the time commitment--away from my husband, away from my kids. We were leading the youth group at our church and the thought of missing out on all of that was enough to make me sob. Remember, I'd just had a kid. I was a ball of goo.

So, as I wandered the house with my tiny insomniac, singing and rocking, I actually said the words, "God, why can't I tell stories from home?"

And then I realized: I can tell stories from home.

I’d started writing a few novels over the years--they're unfinished and around here somewhere, I'm sure--but there was something different about this moment. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up an immeasurably valuable nugget: I was learning to be patient with myself.

Maybe it was the gauntlet of parenting, or the sheer lack of sleep, but whatever it was, I knew I had the ability to be patient through the brainstorming process.

That night, I walked and I walked, and I sang a bit, but mostly I thought and thought and thought. Before the night was over, I had a handful of characters and a fairly good idea of just what I wanted to say and where I wanted my characters to go. I had a mental outline and that was enough.

So, I sat down to write–and yes, that’s how I do it. I’m not a big plotter and sometimes that works against me, but I’m learning. Still, by February of 2009, I had a first draft. It was awful, of course, but I was proud of it.

That Time Twitter Really Was The Answer


2009 was full of parenting and editing whenever I could. I enlisted the services of an editor--not to edit, but to read and give me his honest opinion on what he read. He was fabulous and encouraged me on my road to publication.

I found a group of writerly souls to bond with, Inspire Christian Writers, and I committed to attending Mt. Hermon Writers Conference the following year. I even queried a few agents. I got a big round of chirping crickets though, and decided to hold off until after Mt. Hermon.

I continued editing, continued reading about the craft, keeping the conference ahead of me like a crunchy carrot. The time rolled around, and I was devastated when I had to pull out. My gorgeous cherub still wasn’t sleeping and things had actually gotten worse. Leaving her just wasn’t realistic.

So, now it’s spring, 2010. I’m several drafts into my novel and no real goal in sight, except landing an agent. But, the idea of sending out query letters and getting only silence in return was gut-wrenching.

And then Twitter! Yup, I said it. Twitter happened to me.

Agents were tweeting. Oh, yes they were. They were tweeting their likes and dislikes, their rants and raves. They were giving the world–and more specifically, writers–an idea of what they were looking for.

I started to pay attention and I got more specific about who I queried. And, I branched out a bit. I started looking for agencies that didn’t specialize in Christian Fiction. The reason for this is simple: the agents I was attracted to most on Twitter weren’t with Christian agencies. Maybe those guys weren't tweeting? I don’t know, but after just two mainstream queries, I got a bite.

Agents and Submission and My Dream Publisher


In August of 2010, Jason Pinter of The Waxman Agency in NYC (gasp!) requested my full manuscript. Of course, we had just moved and our internet wasn’t even fully operational, and I really wanted to rewrite my Afterword, but it didn’t matter. I had gotten a request! So, I scrambled and got it to him the next day. The day after that, he offered representation.

Voila! I had an agent.

We made a few tweaks to my manuscript, re-titled it, and started the submission process that fall. We queried a handful of mainstream houses and one Christian house. We had some great feedback, and some interest, but it wasn’t until we submitted to Thomas Nelson that we had a hit.

I had always been partial to Nelson. One of my heroes, Ted Dekker, was on their roster, and they had a reputation for knowing how to do Christian Fiction that was outside the box. And my book definitely felt different than most of the books on the Christian fiction shelves.

And then, THEN!

I heart you Jason Pinter, but then, my agent left The Waxman Agency. So, here I am, on submission with my dream publisher and I’m left in a lurch. My agency was great and kept me on, but I was in limbo as to which agent I’d be assigned and whether or not they’d even like my manuscript. It was an agonizing few weeks but the speed bump led to one of the most important professional introductions I'd ever have.

I was paired with super-agent Holly Root, and in the spring of 2011, Thomas Nelson made an offer. FOR THREE BOOKS! That’s right. My night wandering the house, babe in arms, was the start of my dream publisher acquiring a YA trilogy from ME. A mom. A wife. A youth pastor. A really bad bookkeeper and an actor without an audience.

Angel Eyes hit shelves in May of 2012. Three and a half years after a dark and stormy November night when I decided to write a book.

Learning To Be An Author


One of the things you'll notice about my journey, is that the first book I'd ever completed was the one that got me on the shelf. It's an exciting thing, you guys--I won't lie. But I want you to know that because of that, I did a lot of my learning AFTER I was officially a published author.

See, I had very little experience with the book community. Outside of my local writers group, I hadn't attended a conference or entered many contests. I was new to the whole criticism and review side of the industry and I had zero friends who wrote YA. Not one.

And while certain things came very naturally to me--I'm a rock star at edits--I struggled with the emotional ups and downs of an industry constantly in flux and a Christian market that had no idea how to handle young adult fiction. Even now, five years after my first book hit the shelf, Christian bookstores aren't sure what to do with it. And while my experience with Thomas Nelson was fantastic, they were going through a massive acquisition process that I understood little about but has entirely changed the landscape of Christian fiction.

It was a lot for a new author to process, especially one who'd just agreed to release a book every six months. Something I survived, something that forced me to grow, but something I absolutely won't do again.


If you take away anything from my story, I hope it's this: Deciding to write a book was the easy part. Learning the craft was and continues to be a process--some of which comes naturally to me and is a task I enjoy immensely. The career side of the whole thing takes a different skill set, and when you get impatient and you get frustrated and you think you'll never see your books on the shelf, remember that timing is everything. While you wait, do what you can to prepare.

If I could go back and do it over again, I'd hit more conferences. I'd make more writing friends. I'd practice taking feedback. For reals, there's nothing like learning as you go. It was a hard way to do it, but it certainly accelerated the process and I have very few regrets. I'll learn from my mistakes and I'll grow. I hope you'll do the same.

It will be different for you than it was for me and for Jill and for Steph. We all have different journeys and I hope our stories have encouraged you and have given you a glimpse into a vitally important and constantly shifting career that is both rewarding and challenging.

Keep writing, friends.

Your stories matter. 

39 comments:

  1. I hung on every word! Here's my problem: I get stuck in the process of my WIP. I know why I'm stuck. I didn't make an outline *gasp*. I just...wrote. It's so hard for me to actually sit down and come up with an actual outline. I just want to write. I don't want to take the time to figure out where my story is actually going to go, and what I'm trying to say. I know I should, but it's agonizing to write the outline when I could be spending that time writing the actual thing.
    When I start to write the outline, an idea of a scene to write pops into my head. I go on rabbit trails and start to write when I haven't even finished the outline yet. Then, I completely ditch it (it meaning the outline). Then weeks later, I scold myself and go back and try to make the outline. I get stuck, frustrated, and just quit writing the outline that is vital to my actual piece. Have any suggestions? :\

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    1. LHE, I don't write outlines at all, except for when specific ideas for major scenes come into my head. This has the odd side effect of me either changing enormous things in the midst of writing the draft or filing lots of things to change after I'm done. I'd say just quit the outline entirely and see how it goes. If it just slows down your actual writing process, just ditch it. The only answer to getting stuck is to just WRITE. :)

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    2. I agree with the other commenter. If outlines just make you stop writing, then chunk that outline and do what you love!

      If you're not an outliner, the first draft *is* your outline. It's where you discover your characters and what you want to write about. I'd suggest you don't worry so much about structure at first, until you get a feel for your story. The more you write, the clearer the direction of your story will become. Then after you've written and explored every facet of your story, go back and shape the structure in your 2nd, 3rd, etc. drafts. That's what I ended up doing for my first 2 stories, because any form of outline just aggravated me. The main thing is not to suck out your passion for the story, or you won't ever want to go back. Hope that helps.

      -Ann

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    3. Unknown: Yes, I think you're right. Usually if I really plan a scene to write, and I put lots of effort into that one scene, I end up ditching it. Yes, I end up ditching it. All that effort is crushed, but I guess that's something you have to grasp as a writer. I guess I should just experiment. I find myself writing notes on a scrap piece of paper and then using it later. Thanks for your help! :D
      Ann: Yes, I guess I kind of dread messing up my story in the first draft. I find myself treating it like it's the end product that needs to be perfect. I guess, for me, an outline is something that will later get ditched. Shaping the structure later is a good idea. The pros of doing what you suggested is being able to just let your ideas loose, and then tame them later on. Thank you for your advice! :)

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    4. P.s. Oh, Mrs. Dittemore, your books look SO interesting! Especially Dark Halo. I really hope my library has your books. :)

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    5. Thank you, LHE! If they don't, you can always request them. The library system here has a form you can fill out on their website and they've approved every request I've ever made.

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    6. And on the subject of your outline: it's a growing process. I don't outline traditionally, but I do work out an early synopsis and try to write to that. When I veer away, I stop and up date my synopsis. Sometimes I don't. If I have enough steam, I just keep writing. Eventually you learn what works for you and what hurts your writing. Keep trying different things.

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    7. Wow, really? Then I'll definitely ask them if they have the forms.
      That's the thing. I can't figure out a summary. I don't have a clue on where my WIP is gonna go. It's driving me nuts. It's like, there are some days when I can just write for hours, and then there are other days when I feel like I'm stuck in the mud. I will try diff. things. Thank you!!!

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    8. Something that helps me figure out where my WIP is going despite not having an outline is deciding what sort of story I'm telling. If it's a plot-driven story, then it'll go one way (not over-focused on characters, complicated plot though the goal is clear, likely having a huge climax); if it's a character-driven story, it'll go another (lots of focus on the characters, fairly simple plot and goal, likely plenty of twists but not an enormous climax). Or it could be a character growth-driven story (focus on characters but also on the things that affect them, a mildly complicated plot). I don't know if that helps, but whenever I have a new story idea, I tend to figure out what sort of story it is first before fleshing it out because that way I know the general make-up of the entire book and the ideas that make up its foundation.

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    9. Oh, that is really helpful. Mine's probably a character growth-driven story. Yes, this will help. It's mainly based on the character's feelings about a certain situation and how he'll deal with them. Thank you so much! I will definitely use this! :D

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    10. I'm so glad you're all helping one another! Makes my heart happy.

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    11. I'm glad ya'll are helping me too. Sheesh, you all are very helpful. I don't know where my my writing would be without these posts or your all's helpful comments. :)
      I'm so glad Angela Ruth Strong recommended GTW to me. :D

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    12. Hey LHE,
      I would highly recommend the book Story Trumps Structure, by Stephen James. If you have to buy it, do--it's totally worth it. I'm just like you--I hate outlining, and besides, I never get any great stories that way. I like to surprise myself, to follow my characters where they want to go. But then my first book turned out to be a bunch or 'normal' happenings in my character's lives that had no connection to each other. After reading (and re-reading) Story Trumps Structure and applying the ideas to my writing, I all the sudden had plot without even trying! (And NO outlining!) Sure, it took me 3 drafts till I was happy with the plot, but it really transformed the way I write.
      Here's 'organic' writing in a nutshell. As you write (and if you get stuck), ask these questions:
      1-What would my characters naturally do in this situation? 2-How can I make things worse? 3-How can I end in a way that's both surprising and inevitable?
      Hope this helps! Get the book! I think it would help you a lot!!

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    13. I find that also giving the characters a little twist can really add to the story. For example: giving a character ADD, or dyslexia, etc.
      Seriously?! I NEED that book. Gracious me. Hannah K, thank you tremendously!
      Ok, if you don't mind, I'm gonna copy and paste your questions to my notes. Those are really going to help me. You are such a blessing. I'm gonna look for it now....

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    14. No problem, I hope you can get the book!
      The other thing I forgot to mention that he talks a lot about is desire. Those questions will only work if your hero has a driving, unmet desire he/she is trying to fulfill. You throw obstacles in the way of that desire, sharpen it, escalate the struggles, listen to your characters, and write from a reader's perspective (what do readers want, how can I meet or exceed their expectations?). All easier said than done, right? But it helps to have someone who understands the way we like to write and help us do it better. ;) I hope you can get the book and find it useful!

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    15. Yes, I hope I can too! Yes, I've just thought of my character's desire. I hope this isn't bothering you, but as a reader, what do you expect? You personally. It's so hard to meet the kind of writing everybody wants. Everyone has a different want when it comes to books. If you like fantasy, and then someone puts a realistic fiction book in front of you, then you'll already start to dislike it before you even give it a chance. There has to be something that catches a readers attention. Something that'll spark curiosity and cause a want for more. I need to work on that. :)
      Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and helpful advice. I really, really, appreciate it. :D

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    16. No, it's not bothering me. :)
      Me personally, I'm not into fantasy, sci-fi, or anything weird. Anything that feels like the only reason I'd read the story is because of some new weird or wacky idea. I want to be drawn to a story by the characters, the creative writing, the interesting plot idea at the very least. What catches my attention is usually the characters, though. If the back says it's about a girl who's cousin has a mother who disappeared without a trace (Belle Prater's Boy), I'm immediately thinking, what would that be like for her? For him? How is this character going to respond to that? That would be hard, how are they going to find out what really happened?
      So I'm already wondering what kind of intrigue the author has woven into these people. If I start reading the book, and the characters aren't as mysterious and 3-D as I hoped, I'll probably put it down, or at least kind of zone-out. Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad, is in my opinion hard to follow, poorly paced, and does way too much 'showing' rather than 'telling'. But the hero is a startling, mysterious, 3-D character, and that guy held me all the way through the book.
      Of course, that's just me. Some people (especially boys, I'm guessing), are more drawn by plot--danger, adventure, fighting. Still, the most roaring action-adventure book would be no good without good characters. Read the original Peter Pan. Besides hilarious dialogue and incredible writing, the author weaves an exciting story with characters you'll never forget. Character and plot go hand in hand. But Peter Pan is who people remember. He's cocky, he's cute, but he has a mystery about him too. (I would say don't try to find out everything about your characters. Everyone has a mysterious side, and if you discover and surprise yourself as you write, your readers will too.) Back to the original question, though--look how much I like Peter Pan. And that's about the very definition of fantasy! But I don't care because the character caught my attention, and the story held up to my expectations. So I guess for me, I'd have to say an intriguing hero is what makes me pick up a book.
      Feel free to ask any more questions (if I didn't put you to sleep with my terribly long answer!) Btw, I am not a professional--just figuring these things out myself and enjoy sharing what I'm learning. ;)

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    17. I agree with you. For me, realistic fiction is what draws me in. I like to know stories that could very much be real. If the character is boring or the plot is just too confusing then I'll probably put the book down. I really need to work on my characters.
      I LOVE your long answers. They're really insightful and excite me every time I see them in the comments.
      Here's another question : What do you expect from a character? What will make you drawn to the book because of them? :)
      Peter Pan is a very well, laid out character. You will definitely remember him. Though, the plot kind of bored me (that's just me).

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    18. Ahh, the science of creating amazing characters... :) There are probably a billion books that will tell you a billion different things. For me, it's actually one of those things that seems to come naturally (I guess, cause people are always saying they love my characters). I don't know what I 'expect', per se. It's kind of like with real people, we're just going to like some more than others. But think about people you like--what makes you like them. Maybe they're smart, kind, and unselfish. Maybe they smile no matter how hard their day was. That's the kind of thing that always draws me--how they respond to difficulties. I knew a guy who was half-grinning while he told me how he lost his job. His overseer was jealous of his standing in the company and had basically slandered him until he was fired. But he kept a positive attitude, he wasn't going to let this or anything else stop him from enjoying his life. So the hero of any book is going to face a lot of problems. If their response to these trials surprises me, makes me admire them, makes me want to cheer for them, maybe even encourages me in my faith... That's a huge thing going for that character right there. But also they need to be human--I'm sure you know that. If they're too perfect we won't empathize with them. If they have a big 'wound' (some kind of past trauma, disability, etc.), we want to see past that. Sure, about anybody is going to feel bad for an abused kid. But we also want to get to like this kid, just for who they are, and not just be feeling sorry for them the whole book. I think pity can really be a tool you can use, but you have to use it sparingly.
      So as far as creating believable characters, although I really don't know how I do it myself, I would say first observe real people. Watch them. Listen. Imagine what kind of person they are--at home, in church, on the playground at school. Everybody is unique, even the most boring people, and when you start seeing 'characters' in real people, it will help your characters come alive.
      I hope that answer your questions! Some questions of my own... What draws YOU to a character? What are your strengths when it comes to writing them? And what do you think is the biggest thing about your characters now that needs improvement?
      I'd be interested in chatting some more with you and maybe sharing some work in progress. :) Feel free to contact me with the e-mail at my site, parisoflondon.com.

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    19. Hey! I couldn't help notice that ya'll were talking about characters, so I wanted to say something. Characters are my absolute FAVORITE parts of books, so I have been trying my best to make the characters in my books live up to my very high expectations. I had been struggling with making my main character, Hunter, believable because he is like one of those stereotypical guys with bad parents that become hard-hearted. And that's all. So I have been coming up with (and copying other) interviews and using them with my characters. They answer for themselves (like a real interview - lol), and it really helps. The questions range from easy ones, like What's your favorite color?, to deeper ones, like Who is the most important role model in your life? or What is the thing you most regret in life?
      I find that these are really fun to do and are also VERY helpful. I get to know my characters, and their personalities really become more one-of-a-kind... :D
      I hope my ramblings helped with either of your writings. lol xD

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    20. I sent you an email. :)
      Thanks for answering my many questions!

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    21. And if you don't know how to answer the questions, that means that there probably needs to be more brainstorming. The results of my first few tries were very disappointing (most questions were not answered), but after a while, I started thinking about the questions as I wrote. And it helped A LOT! xD
      Here is a list of some interviews:

      http://www.furtherupfurtherin.net/p/beautiful-people-archive.html

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    22. Great idea, GJE. Thanks!
      I wish you luck.

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    23. You're very welcome, LHE! xD
      THANK YOU!!! Hunter is doing very nicely.

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    24. @GJE, I tried interviews too, they can be helpful! I think I go a little further though, because like you I LOVE characters. And I LOVE my characters. I spend so much time with them (in my head), it seems I get to know them inside and out (at least my hero). Maybe this is because I have trouble sleeping and will spend hours at night putting my characters in different situations and seeing how they respond. (Actually I pretty much write my stories in the middle of the night, and write them down the next day.) This is really fun, like interviews, only more real if you can imagine it like a movie. Close your eyes, walk up to your character, and say, "Hey." See how they respond. Pretend you see them in the hall at school. Pretend they're meeting for counseling with your pastor. What do they say? What are their facial expressions like? What are they feeling inside?
      Is this totally weird, or have any of you tried these kind of interviews?

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    25. @Hannah K, I've definitely tried these. I make up scenarios and place my characters in them all the time. They don't always work out, but I get a feel for how my characters would react to certain things... :D
      This is really strange, but I once wrote like... five pages in my head (word for word) while I was lying in bed. lol! xD
      If someone (my sister or someone else on GoTeenWriters) talks about their characters, I am immediately drawn to the book! :D There's something about characters that never fail to catch my attention... :D

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    26. That's so cool you do that too! Well, I'll make sure to let you know about my book when/if it comes out. :D And I'd love to hear what happens to Hunter someday too!

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    27. I know! xD Ooh! Thanx! What's it called?
      I have about 20 WIP's (no joke), so.... I have no idea which one I'll finish first.
      Hunter's character is doing GREAT! I love my baby. <3 xD

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  2. Wow, that sounds like a whirlwind of new experiences! Makes me kind of glad I have this time to acclimate myself a bit more to the mechanics and business side of writing.

    I love how realization struck you that you could write and then it was full steam ahead. My dream of being a writer was similar. Just out of the blue I asked, "Why can't I write the stories I want to read?" Maybe I could...

    Thanks for sharing your story! It's so neat to find out a little more about y'all. :)

    -Ann

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    1. You are so very welcome, Ann! And yes, it was a whirlwind. That's a perfect way to describe it.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this! Always always good to hear from published authors -- I was so close to an agent (full manuscript request then a pass) once and am trying to not let that hold me back from querying others. Glad you're on the shelves and encouraging others!

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    1. Keep writing, Robin! I just came across a Twitter thread on Rae Carson's page that's worth checking out. The gist is that her and a bunch of authors (like 12 or something) met a while back, encouraged, critiqued each other, kept pushing forward, and now, all but 2 of them are published and those 2 threw in the towel a long time ago. The whole not giving up thing is important. Find Rae on Twitter and read it from her. It's a good, encouraging story. I wish you so much luck and peace as you journey.

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  4. Loved reading about your journey! :)

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  5. Thanks for sharing! Dare I hope my first book will be published too? :-)
    It was great to hear your story!

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  6. Oh man. Thanks for sharing this, Shannon. It encouraged me a lot.
    I'm in the middle of writing a YA Christian Dystopian trilogy (well, it's written. 2/3 of the books are just in their first drafts. XD) and it was great to hear how things went with agents and houses and queries and such. I'll (hopefully) be in that boat soon. :)
    jeniquablog.wordpress.com

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    1. Congrats on the progress you've made! And yes! Maybe it'll be your turn soon. I hope good things for you, friend! KEEP WRITING!

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