Tuesday, January 12, 2010
One Novelist's Success Story
I'm very glad to have C.J. Darlington guest post today on Forensics and Faith. C.J. has been a member of this community for a long time--a very active member, as you'll soon see. Take it away, C.J.
As some of you may know, last year at the Christian Writers Guild Writing for the Soul Conference I found out my first novel, Thicker than Blood, won the CWG Operation First Novel contest. The prize included publication with Tyndale House, and as you read this post my “little novel that could” is just hitting shelves across the country.
What you might not know is that back in 2005 Brandilyn edited an early version of a pivotal scene in Thicker than Blood on this very blog (see the Action Scene edit posts). [Brandilyn's note: This public edit, which C.J. volunteered for, lasted over two weeks. She was very brave!] Several of Brandilyn's suggestions wound up in the published version, so it was apropos that I met her in person for the first time at that same Writing for the Soul Conference. In fact, she was one of the first to break my good news on Twitter and Facebook. Before I share my story, let me say thank you, Brandilyn, for your keen insights!
I had almost given up on Thicker than Blood. I started writing the story when I was fifteen, and over the years as I learned more about writing I applied it to my manuscript. By the time I was twenty-four I’d finally finished it (I thought!). I entered an early draft in the CWG’s very first Operation First Novel in 2004. It placed as one of 20 semi-finalists but didn’t make it into the top 10. So I started submitting the book directly to editors. At that time it was only a 67,000 word manuscript---a lot shorter than the market standard of 75-100K. Time went on, and I amassed nothing but rejections. Eventually I added another 10K and tightened up some scenes. Still no bites. A few editors offered me feedback on why they were rejecting the book, but mostly it was Form Rejection City.
The years passed. A few times I got close to a contract. One publishing house held onto the book for over a year before they took the manuscript to Editorial Committee, only to send me a kind rejection. Another editor read the full manuscript and liked the rare books aspect of the story, but felt the characters weren’t distinct.
Luckily I wasn’t just sitting around at this point. I did start and finish a sequel to Thicker than Blood during this time. But discouragement was always hiding in the corner, waiting to jump out at me with each rejection. I’d read the writing how-to books. I knew being rejected was par for the course, but it still wasn’t easy. I kept reminding myself (read: my mom kept reminding me!) God had just the right publisher for me.
I began to doubt the merit of my first novel. I knew of many, many successful authors whose first books were never published. Maybe Thicker than Blood would be like that for me. I was a week or two away from putting it in a drawer for good and starting the submission process for my second novel. I even had an editor picked out and the cover letter drafted and waiting.
Something stopped me. I was lying in bed one night about to drift off to sleep when a thought came. I believe now it was the Lord prompting me, but at the time it just came as a thought. “What if I re-entered the new and improved Thicker than Blood in this year’s Operation First Novel contest?” I checked my calendar. I had about two weeks before it would’ve been too late to become a member of the Christian Writers Guild. Almost fifteen years after I first put pen to paper writing Thicker than Blood, I found out it was an Operation First Novel finalist, and then in February I waited with bated breath as Jerry B. Jenkins announced Thicker than Blood as that year’s winning book. I’m still totally amazed.
I’ve learned, and am still learning, several things from my writing journey:
Never give up. If God doesn’t release you, keep submitting and honing your work. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right editor or agent to believe in your book. Almost all of the major Christian publishers rejected Thicker than Blood. One publisher said my main character was too edgy for them. Later Tyndale told me they appreciated that my characters were imperfect.
Don’t always trust yourself to be the best judge of your work. As the rejections came, so did the doubts. If I would’ve listened to myself, I would never have been published. Is there a trusted writer or family member in your life to whom you could show your work? Everyone always says never show your work to your mother, but my mom is my first and best editor!
You don’t have to do everything by the book. I had never been to a writers' conference, did not have an agent, and had never belonged to a critique group when Thicker than Blood was accepted. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do or have these things, but don’t be discouraged if money’s tight and some of these options aren’t available to you. You can still succeed.
Start writing your next book. It will be so much easier when you do get a contract if you have another book ready. This is one reason I’m so thankful I did not get published until now. Which just goes to show that the Lord’s ways are much, much higher than ours. If it would’ve happened the way I wanted, things would’ve been a lot harder. Hmm… it’s almost as if God knew what He was doing.
I hope my writing journey encourages you in some small way. Thanks for having me here, Brandilyn!
C.J., thanks. I hope you all will leave your congratulations for her here--then check out her book through the links below.
Buy Thicker Than Blood from Amazon ($9.35)
Kindle edition ($8.79)
Buy from Christianbook.com ($10.99)