By Stacy Allen
This week heralds the launch of my debut novel, Expedition Indigo. Those in the stands cheering me see my public persona: the happy, gregarious and friendly author who wants nothing more than to love everyone and everything. The reality is that anyone who has traveled the road to publishing understands how long, curvy, bumpy and dangerous it is. If you want to be a published novelist, put on your seatbelt and settle in for a very long journey. It has taken me over ten years to get this book published. Ten years.
Once we get to this published stage, it is generally frowned upon to speak of the negative aspects of authorship. We writers all laugh and joke about it, but in the dark recesses of bars and pubs, soothed by liquid courage, we commiserate with one another about the murky underbelly of publishing. We share our personal journeys with our writing brothers and sisters because we all speak the same language. And our personal journeys are not all that dissimilar.
Writers constantly hear “Write something you know. Write something that’s different. Write something that hasn’t been done.”
And so I did. I wrote an adventure novel about a female archaeology professor, and someone who is given a mission to go beyond the life she knows into a life she wants. Riley is absolutely confident when she is wearing the hat of a professor or an archaeologist. She wants more, she craves more. She is just afraid of more. She is afraid of failure. She is afraid of change. But she is courageous. Despite her fear, she forges ahead and hopes for the best.
Perfect, right? This hadn’t been done before, right? A thriller about SCUBA diving and treasure hunting? With a woman as the protagonist? I thought it was a sure fit and the publishing world would be scrambling to snatch up my series and pay me a zillion dollars at the same time.
Here’s what happened. They didn’t like Riley. They loved the story. They loved the action. They didn’t like Riley. They thought my dialogue crisp and realistic. They didn’t like Riley. They loved the international setting. They didn’t like Riley. They wanted more Abruzzi brothers and less Riley. Why? Because they didn’t like Riley!
Wow. When editors, agents, and even some early readers don’t like your main character, you’re dead in the water. Feedback came in. I made changes. I made tweaks. But I really wanted Riley to be female. And I wanted her to be vulnerable, but I didn’t want to her to be so vulnerable that she was the one that had to be rescued in the end. I wanted a heroine that could defy the odds. I changed Riley, over time, to someone less rigid and more likeable.
And still they didn’t get her. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just change the plot and make her a man. Because, then, you see, the book would be an overnight bestseller. Just change Riley to a man and the Golden Gates of Superstardom would open.
I pitched to editors and agents. Yes, it sounds fascinating. Yes, it sounds intriguing. Yes, please send me a chapter. On second thought, send me three. Maybe you could send the entire thing?
And still I believed in Riley. I believe that women can be vulnerable and at the same time be courageous in the face of danger. I made big changes to the manuscript, slashed chapters, changed scenes, added and deleted, loved all the feedback, really appreciated the critiques I was getting along the way, but still insisted that Riley was a woman and would stay that way.
And then, at a conference I had begun attending annually, Killer Nashville, something magical happened. I met an agent who loved my premise. An agent who listened to me describe my first book in the series, and my character. This agent was interested. She wanted to see the entire manuscript.
So I sent it. I sent it and wished and hoped and dreamed that this agent would give me a chance. I knew the manuscript would need work, would need changing, and I was completely open to that. When I pitched Expedition Indigo to Jill Marr at Killer Nashville, one of the most important points I wanted to get across to her was “I want to write books that people want to read. I am willing to listen to feedback. I am willing to edit.”
Her feedback was awesome. The magic words I received from her were “You have a good book, but we can make it a great book.”
I did a double-take. A good book? And even possibly a great book?
I was stunned. Someone believed in my story, in my character. A powerhouse agent, working at one of the most reputable, star-studded literary agencies, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, loved my concept, my character, my story and my writing!
That was, I am not joking, four years ago. It took edits, and more edits. Jill is a brilliant agent, and when we thought it was ready, she sent it out. And it came back. And we went through it again. And we sent it out. And it came back. And every time it came back, I worked at sharpening the story. Fixing logic errors. Changing things, deleting things. And I kept changing Riley’s personality, subtle changes here and there, making her nicer, less hard around the edges. I listened to my agent, and I trusted her.
So here I am, a published novelist, with a Romantic Suspense series. I have five more books planned. The second in the series is completely story-boarded and about 1/3 finished. I learned so much with this first book, that the second is going to be, from a procedural standpoint, considerably easier to write than the first.
I am grateful I stuck it out. I am grateful I happened to catch the attention and support of an amazing literary agent. I am happy we found a Publisher who loved my story, my series concept, and my female protagonist.
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