Notes on publishing your first novel, from someone who just did it
As far back as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Well, maybe not that early. But once I discovered that you could make stories up and create characters, I decided this was what I wanted to do. How awesome is it that you can take thoughts from your head, make them real on paper, and then share these thoughts with the world? As I grew older, I realized that it takes much more work to get those thoughts and stories “out there.” A. Lot. Of. Work. Which is why, when I saw that a good friend, Latifah Salom, had recently published her very first novel, The Cake House with an actual real publishing house, Vintage Books, I was ecstatic. She had done it! She had done what many of us dream about and talk about and hope for. So we met for breakfast to catch up and she gave me some wisdom on how to be a big-time published writer.
You have to put yourself out there
Latifah wrote The Cake House as a student in a Master’s program at USC. Upon finishing the novel, she reached out to a friend who she knew had recently branched out on her own as a literature agent. Her friend loved the book and agreed to represent her. It seems that with each road to publishing, there’s a little bit of luck and there’s a whole lot of hustling. Reach out to contacts, anyone who may be associated to publishing. You never know who they know.
The future will hold rewriting—lots of rewriting
Latifah spent much of her time rewriting, revising and editing. “I had to lose some characters in the story and get rid of some of my favorite sentences, which were these beautiful lines that I was really happy with!” An editor had also told her to completely change the beginning of the story and start from a scene that she originally had in the middle of the novel.
Don’t give up if it takes more than one try
Latifah wrote her novel in 2008, signed with an agent in 2009 and then found a publishing house about a year later. It’s now 2015, which means it actually took about seven years! Sometimes the process may go quicker; each project can be a little different, but it can be a long one in which you have to keep motivated. “I had to keep myself motivated,” she told me. “I would focus on my writing and then when I wasn’t writing I stayed focused on other things like horseback riding. It’s important to have balance otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy!”
You have to like writing just for the sake of it
It’s definitely something you must love to do regardless of getting published. “Your manuscript may get picked up and you go through all the rewrites and then nothing happens with it,” she said. “But I was OK with that and I just kept persisting.”
As a novelist who’s struggling herself, I found such inspiration in seeing Latifah succeed in pursuing her dream. We both recounted sitting in our writing program being told that many of us would need to keep our “day jobs” and that being a writer is something that doesn’t happen for everyone. But with some persistence and hard work, it can be done. It can be done! So get back to your desktop, laptop, or, er, notebook? and get to writing!
You should totally read The Cake House. It’s a story about a girl living in a creepy house in the Los Angeles hills with her new stepfather while being haunted by her father’s ghost. Parlez-vous beach read?