I’ve been writing since elementary school. Most of my early scribblings were fantasy. (I have a manuscript from 1992 with a talking owl named Orly, so I guess I’m a psychic.)
Writing was always part of my life. I read books a lot as a kid. All the time. In the bath tub, in the pool, at the dinner table, in the car despite it getting headaches from it. In high school, I took a fiction workshop. In college, I took poetry workshops every semester and didn’t spend as much time writing fiction. It wasn’t until I stumbled into anime fandoms in 2002 or so that I got back to writing. (And boy, was it crap.) A full decade later of playing in that sandbox later, I began working on GATHOS, a YA novel that began as fantasy and evolved into light sci-fi during major revisions.
The (Big) Hiccup
I went through a traumatic divorce in 2012, just after I finished the first draft of GATHOS. My life went into a tailspin as I hustled to transition from freelancing to full time work and grappled with a major emotional meltdown — and my anxiety disorder amping up to about eleven million.
I truly did not think that I would have the time or energy to write again. Book twitter became an unhappy place for me for a while as I navigated guilt and regret and jealousy and my manuscript collected dust. I struggled watching others move forward with querying manuscripts.
For two years, I wrote nothing. And then, without fanfare, I eased back in. I tested my words, pushing through flutters of I forgot how and I can’t do this anymore. I wrote a romance novel. I rewrote and revised GATHOS several times, including during Pitch Wars ’15 under the mentorship of YA author Linsey Miller. (Her debut MASK OF SHADOWS will be out next summer and you’re going to love it.)
I connected with writers and readers and established good drafting and revision habits. I found my (relative) confidence again. At the end of Pitch Wars, I was finally able to begin querying. Once I sent my book out into the world, I wrote another book to cope with waiting and trying to explain to non-writer-people why I was losing my mind.
(Many writers advised this strategy, and I wholly recommend it.)
(But also cupcakes.)
The Success Story
When you’re querying, you often hear “it only takes one.” It’s true.
A few months after Pitch Wars, Erica Bauman of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth favorited my pitch during Dan Kobolt’s #SFFPit twitter pitch contest. Here was my twitter pitch:
— Maria Mora (@MariaMelee) December 10, 2015
I sent her my manuscript, and in mid-March, she asked for THE CALL.
I was a total wreck, but managed to play it semi-cool on the phone. We spent about an hour and a half talking about GATHOS and my next book, BRYNN’S TIDE. She had a lot of editorial suggestions for GATHOS so I wasn’t surprised when she offered me the opportunity to revise and resubmit.
I can’t say that I wasn’t initially freaked out despite knowing what an incredibly positive step that was. I had a good cry, basked in the encouragement of my writer pals and my mentor, and that very night I began revising my outline. I sent Erica BRYNN’S TIDE as I got to work. Her suggestions were incredibly motivating. I believed she was the right person to champion GATHOS and my career, and that fueled me every day. (Along with a sticky note on my monitor that said simply: stunning. My favorite word from our call.)
I worked nonstop on GATHOS. I cut over 30k words out of the book. I called and texted with friends. I had dreams about it. My desk was covered in notebooks and sticky notes. I didn’t clean my house or do laundry. I ordered a lot of pizza. I listened to Hamilton in the car to get fired up.
When I was done, GATHOS was about 15k longer than it had been before and had a completely new ending, a new character, and significant changes throughout. I was fortunate to have amazing CPs hold my hand through that process. I’d never spent such an intense, concentrated amount of time writing or revising.
I resubmitted to Erica on my son’s tenth birthday and settled in for the wait. Then Erica emailed me about six weeks later to schedule a call. THE CALL #2!
I was incredibly anxious for the call and nearly collapsed with relief when she quickly opened with an offer of representation. After that we had a lovely, long call. Between the call and my decision deadline, I had a lot of thinking and considering and fretting and celebrating to do and got very little writing done. On my decision day, I called Erica and accepted her offer. I’m pretty sure I was floating at that point. I’m thrilled to have a game plan and an incredible advocate and partner in Erica and Zachary Shuster Harmsworth.
If you’re reading this from the query trenches or even before that, I have a few tips for you:
- Surround yourself with smart, supportive people. You can’t do this alone. Tell them how much you appreciate them, too.
- Keep going. Even when you’re despairing. Do anything you can to stay motivated and accountable when it comes to your writing goals.
- Practice self care. Perseverance doesn’t have to wear you down. Identify what keeps physically and emotionally healthy. Commit to doing those things in addition to all the writing/revising/editing/CPing/reading work you have on your plate.
- Put yourself out there. Make friends. Network. Enter contests. The publishing community is so supportive. Get out there and play.
- Trust the process. Publishing takes patience and stubbornness and trust in yourself and others. Listen. Work. Wait. Trust. And when you’re falling apart, go back to #1. Your people will get you through this.