Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Writing Life: Chutes and Ladders

I've been thinking lately how much the whole 'publishing thing' is like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

I mean,
maybe all of life is like a game of Chutes & Ladders and that's why it has
remained such a classic
(or maybe it's just that it's so dang fun to slide the little colorful pegs up and down the curly slides), but, certainly, my publishing journey has felt a lot like playing this game.

Here, I'll show you what I mean.

Imagine my first attempt at writing a manuscript in 1998 as the Start Space, and the completion of the first rough draft of THE JETTY (4+ years) as Space #4.

Up, I go to Space #14 where there's a yummy cake waiting for me. Yay, cake! You know how I love a good cake.

Perhaps at space #15, I submit to my first round of agents, which all come back rejections. Space #16, down I go! But at Space #9, I get a bite, my first agent request for a look at a partial or full.

Woohoo, I'm off and running on Space #31!

At Space #36, THE JETTY makes it to the Semi-finals of the first-ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, but at Space #47, I'm eliminated (luckily, I land in water).  

Space #28 is totally elusive for most of us -- there's a forcefield around it or something -- but it's back to Space #36 again, where I get my first real NYC literary agent who loves THE JETTY and my writing and is convinced we will get a six-figure deal.

Up to Space #44. Look how tall I feel now!

At Space #51, I finish the revisions she's asked for and we begin to send the manuscript out to publishers. At Spaces #53 - 63, the, "we love this, but. . ." rejections from said publishers start to roll in.

At Space #64, while at work on a new middle grade manuscript, I fall and break my arm.

No, really. I fell and broke my arm. Totally lost all mojo on that manuscript. It still sits half-finished somewhere.

Instead, on Spaces #61 - 79, I begin work on my second to-be-completed women's fiction manuscript, SWIM BACK TO ME and, at Space #80, it's ready to be submitted.

I land on Space #87. What more can I say?

For a while, I see stars (no, really, I'm telling you, I'm pretty sure I saw stars), but by Space #31 I'm off and running again. This time, it's a young adult manuscript, THE PULL OF GRAVITY.

At Space #36, I get an amazing editor at fsg interested, and at Space #51 she loves it!
Look at me just sweeping up over there.

But at Space #56, another in-house editor says, "Not so much," and sends me sneezing back to Space #53.

I engage in rewrites, my agent newly-confident in the manuscript and on space #71, the editor calls us back to say she misses the manuscript and, voila! I have a book deal.

It's a book deal, peeps. I eat an entire ice cream sundae!!! (Though I am careful to put my bib on.)

After 18 months of Space #91 glee and nerves and joy and revisions and line edits, the book comes out to very good reviews.

Woo hoo!

Good reviews!!!

*looks for ladder space*

Er. Um.


What? You say there there are no ladders here? Only more potential chutes? Ah, my TPoG cover hasn't made the Macmillan catalogue (most bookstores buy at least partially based on cover appeal), and, as a non-lead title, I receive only mininum marketing support from my publisher.

At Space #93, I scribble profanities all over the walls of facebook and start to slide down.
Days and nights turn into endless self-marketing ventures instead of writing ones, trying to get word of my title out there. I also work on what I think will be my "option" book -- an upper YA called JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, which I finish in rough draft and my new agent loves.

Oops, might have left out some chutes and ladders, didn't I? As a result of a layoff at an inopportune time, I split with my first agent and am quickly taken on by a new one who is ready to pitch SWIM again after deep revisions. She also loves JACK KEROUAC, but I've started a second "option" effort, called FRANKIE SKY, which she loves too, and we agree to submit that for my option.

At Space #93 (what is it with that space, I ask you?) my editor rejects FRANKIE SKY as too commercial, but loves a new manuscript I've also started called IN SIGHT OF STARS. At Space 94 she's taking it up to the exec board, but unforseen objects sometimes have a trajectory of their own, and, at Space #95 she rejects it. At the same time, new shiny agent #2 -- not so new or shiny anymore -- loses steam with everything, becomes unresponsive to anything to do with my career, and we part ways somewhat less than amicably.

What day is it?

What year is it?


At Space #80 -- aw, come on, you didn't really think I would land on Space #80...

At Space #79, I get a shiny, new agent -- one who comes highly recommended by a writer-friend, and in whom I have lots of faith. He takes me on for FRANKIE SKY but asks for revisions which are (gratefully) made. At Space #96 I kick ass (avoiding that damned broken window) and my revisions get approved.

There are just three spaces left that stand between me and a second book deal.





one chute. 

*stares at dice in hand, and tries not to pull any cat tails.*

 - gae


  1. Love this post so much. It's so true, isn't it, the ups and downs. You're on your way up still, I know this. All three of those novels you've written since TPoG, I can't wait to read.

  2. Wow, great post! I've been up and down so much agent, and so, so close with one novel for 100 in Amazon with one book and no agent interest...another agent, and so, so close with a YA novel...and still not all the way to a book deal. Still writing and still climbing. Wish it was more fun to slide down the ladders like it is in real life :)

  3. Wonderful post, Gae! I'm certain there are many more ladders in your future. No joke, when we were kids my sister and I used to make Chutes and Ladders more interesting by gambling piggy bank money on it.

  4. Games might not win Newbery awards, but I bet it'd be a best seller and it would be a great excuse to visit SCBWI meetings all over the country - love it! Other perils could include
    editor who asks for rewrites on spec and sits on it for a year
    editor who loves it but gets fired
    publisher acquires another house and all goes into limbo for a year while editors are let go and shifted and the new decision-makers decide which projects live and which die.
    editor whose husband gets a job elsewhere mid-project and replacement is a long time coming.

  5. Alissa, pennies/pride, same diff ;)

    Carole, great additions. Apparently, we're gonna need more curly slides! :)

  6. Great analogy Gae and so funny! (in a painful sort of way.) From the outside looking it, it would appear all writers who have a published book have it made. Sadly, we all know different. Here's to a ladder to the stars in your near future! (and there must be a ladder somewhere for perseverance!)

  7. Perfect post! Straight to 100 you go! I know, I know, nuthin is that easy. Still waffling down at the bottom of the game as to what to do with my revised ms. Next reader will seal the deal. I am crossing all digits for you that those last three spaces are easy-peasy for you!!
    xo B

  8. Wonderful and true and painful and funny...and perfect!

  9. Great post. I think I've hit a lot of those spots as well.


  10. thanks for all the understanding, my fellow writers. We should make a giant board and move ourselves around as pieces. :)