I started a pencil collection, determined that I would write my very first published novel with these special pencils. For years, I added to my collection, staring lovingly at these pencils that would someday make me rich and famous – as soon as I was good enough to write books for real.
But when I graduated from college, and “someday” loomed, I worried that I wasn’t good enough.
My 6-month-old son provided the perfect excuse to put my story pencils away for a bit longer. As a busy mom, I reasoned, I simply didn’t have time to write seriously yet. I’d chase my publishing dreams later, when my son was older. But then my daughter was born. And then 2 more daughters. And I kept “someday” tucked away for a future moment, where it was much less frightening.
And then, in 2008, I went to a Time Out for Women symposium, where the keynote speaker was NYT Bestselling author, Jason F. Wright. As I listened to him speak, and then chatted with him briefly, I realized that this highly-successful author was just a regular person. Like me. “If he can write bestsellers, then I could do it too,” I thought. So I came home and sharpened my very first story pencil.
Three weeks later, I had a completed first draft of my very first “real” manuscript. It was a mess, but I had written something. And I knew I could make it beautiful.
Many revisions later, I sent out my first batch of ten queries. And I quickly received nine form rejections. But the tenth rejection included a bit of encouragement that gave me the push I needed to keep going.
Once I was sure my novel was perfect, I entered it into a contest that promised feedback for all entries from one of the judges (an anonymous panel of published authors, agents and editors). And I didn’t win. In fact, my critique from the anonymous judge told me that he/she didn’t believe that my main character would have friends because “no one in his right mind would ever care about a character like that.”
I put my manuscript away and decided I wasn’t cut out to be a writer after all.
But that collection of story pencils called to me. Maybe my first novel wasn’t right, but perhaps the next one would be better. So I sharpened a new pencil and wrote LETTERS FROM HEAVEN: a middle grade novel about twelve-year-old Missy Tuttle, whose mother dies from a brain tumor. Dad starts dating too soon, her best friends have gone AWOL, and Missy has no one to turn to. But then, a letter arrives, signed Love, Mom. When the letters keep coming, referencing events Mom couldn't possibly have predicted, Missy realizes she's receiving actual letters from heaven.
As I was dealing with the effects of my own brain tumor, this story hit incredibly close-to-home for me, and even though I felt like I needed to write it, I didn’t want to. I kept putting the story away, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I knew the story wanted to be told.
Initial feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but I couldn’t shake the fear. What if no one could ever care about this character either? So I finished the first draft and then tucked this manuscript away as well.
Fast forward to August 2011. I discovered an amazing online writer’s conference called WriteOnCon, where I devoured tips and hints from a long list of authors, agents and editors. And I participated in a live Q&A session with literary agent, Jessica Sinsheimer, who was so easy to talk to that I started following her on Twitter, and I even chatted with her from time to time about recipes and other non-writing-related (“safe”) topics.
I rewrote my first manuscript, keeping the main characters and a really good line or two. And eventually, I was getting more encouraging rejections than form letters. But with every rejection, no matter how much praise it contained for my writing, my voice, my characters, I heard a little voice whispering “no one in his right mind would ever care about a character like that.” So I decided to put the story away.
But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the characters yet, so I spent NaNoWriMo writing a novel “just for me.” One that I could be as silly with as I wanted, because I wasn’t trying to impress anybody.
I sat down with Andi, the little sister of my main character from that first manuscript and wrote TWELVE STEPS. The story about how she creates her own twelve-step program to steal the spotlight from her perfect sister and get the guy.
By the time November ended, I loved these characters more than ever. And so I revised, and edited and polished and revised some more, until the manuscript sparkled. I entered a few online pitch contests and got several requests from top-notch, “rockstar” agents.
While I waited to hear from these requesting agents, I pulled out LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, the middle grade manuscript I’d been working on off-and-on for three years. As difficult as it was for me to write, I finally realized that I had to finish it, for me. Because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. So I set a goal to get the manuscript query-ready before I heard back from the agents who were considering TWELVE STEPS. And as I pushed myself through the difficult scenes, I fell in love with LETTERS FROM HEAVEN for the first time.
Then, I received 2 requests for TWELVE STEPS from publishers who had seen my pitch in a contest, and both requests quickly turned into offers of publication. I sent emails to all of the agents with my partial or full manuscript, to let them know that I had an offer.
I didn’t end up signing with an agent for TWELVE STEPS (I didn’t know at the time that, when participating in pitch contests, it’s best to choose one path – editor or agent – to focus on, although I soon discovered that it can potentially put both agents and editors in an awkward situation when the offers come rolling in), but one of the awesome agents I talked to helped me understand the differences between the offers on the table, and on her advice, I accepted the one from Swoon Romance.
Meanwhile, I kept working on LETTERS FROM HEAVEN.
I still wasn’t sure if I had the courage send it out into the world, but I loved it more and more with each revision. And so I made a deal with myself: I decided to enter LETTERS FROM HEAVEN into Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness contest. If it was meant to be, I reasoned, I’d make it in.
But Jessica Sinsheimer sent me a message on Twitter to say that she really enjoyed my blog post about how a manuscript that didn’t make it into the final round of an online pitch contest might have been really close to getting that “yes.” We started talking from time to time on Twitter, and the more we talked, the more I felt like she might be interested in a manuscript like LETTERS FROM HEAVEN. But I was afraid that our easy conversations might get awkward if I queried and she rejected. So as I was building my query list, I almost decided not to send a query to Jessica.
Luckily, Brenda smacked me upside the head and told me I was crazy. I sent the query, and almost immediately, Jessica requested the full manuscript. And about two hours after I sent the full, she let me know that she’d already started reading. And it made her cry on the subway.
Less than 24 hours later, she asked if we could set up a phone call.
And we totally clicked.
But I had other agents with my work. And I'd queried each of them for very strong, specific reasons. I couldn't just write them off. So I emailed the other agents to let them know I had an offer.
I always thought it would be awesome to be that writer with dozens of offers at once, but I quickly realized that the reality didn't fit the fantasy. How could I possibly turn down any of these rock star agents?
When a few agents told me, "This manuscript is wonderful, with a lot to love, but it's not right for me," or otherwise passed, the rejection didn't sting.
Deep in my heart, I knew I'd already made my choice. Jessica totally “got” my manuscript, and I was over-the-moon excited with her plans for it. So in the end, I accepted her offer, and I couldn’t be happier!
As the second of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. (She was sandwiched between the gorgeous-and-insanely-popular older sister and the too-adorable-for-words younger sister.) She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy. When she isn’t writing or getting lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, Veronica enjoys knitting fabulous bags and jewelry out of recycled plastic bags and old VHS tapes, sky diving (though she hasn’t actually tried that yet), and inventing the world’s most delectable cookie recipes.
Veronica’s first novel, TWELVE STEPS, will be published by Swoon Romance 25 March 2014.