Saturday, January 14, 2017

I Didn't Get the Call ... and I Feel Better Than Fine!

I'm glad to have Leslie Miller here to share that sometimes a success story leads to a branch in your path because there are many types of success.

Some of you might remember The Ivory Needle as the Query Kombat YA winner from 2015. The idea for the book came from an article I stumbled across online, which explained that before the use of metal, sewing needles were made of bone or ivory. It went on to say that a 30,000-year-old ivory needle had been found in an archaeological dig somewhere in Russia.

The Ivory Needle—what a great name for a novel, I thought. What could it be about? Immediately, I had my answer. What if a teen finds a 30,000-year-old ivory needle, and is somehow connected to the spirit of the elephant who was murdered for its tusks? What could that elephant spirit possibly want after all those millennia?

I broke out in goosebumps and knew this idea was something I had to pursue.

Within moments, ideas started gushing in. At one point, I had the eerie feeling that different parts of the story were adrift in the ethers all around me, just out of my reach, waiting for me to pull them into reality and set them down on the page.

I’ve never had an experience quite like that one before or since.

Having only written one previous novel, this new story seemed almost too large for me to tackle. I was terrified I could never do it justice or execute it the way I imagined it. Plus which, as the story developed, I realized it had to be set in Africa. But how could I possibly write a story about a place I hadn’t been? (Actually, I did spend two weeks in Zimbabwe many years ago, but that was hardly enough to give me a foundation for writing about Africa.)

Library books and DVDs about Africa cluttered my coffee table. Endless YouTube videos and documentaries about elephants and the problem of poaching took over my evenings. A year of constant research and writing later, the book was finished. I found a volunteer in the local Kenyan community who agreed to beta-read it and make sure I hadn’t written anything embarrassingly inaccurate, culturally insensitive, or completely offensive. Getting the green light, I started on a search for an agent.

After months of searching, endless query revisions, and even paying two query experts for their help, I entered Query Kombat and finally landed a highly enthusiastic agent.

(I want to thank Michelle once again for all her support and the unending hard work she and the other hosts put in with these incredible competitions!)

I settled in to make the insightful revisions my agent suggested. I wound up writing a new beginning, a new ending, and adding 12,000 words to the book. Confident the story was even better than before, I watched and waited with great excitement as it went out on submission. I was delighted with the list of publishers my agent submitted it to, and spent way too many hours imagining it would be immediately snatched up by Scholastic—leaving me in the rarefied company of J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. Hmm, seeing that we had the same publisher, maybe one of them might even write me an endorsement!

Meanwhile, back at the computer, I wrote my next novel, The Nectar, while the rejections slowly trickled in. This might sound ridiculous or na├»ve or maybe even arrogant *shudders*, but I couldn’t understand why Big 5 editors weren’t jumping at the chance to pick up the book. After all, my beta readers LOVED it. My agent and her intern LOVED it. Why didn’t editors see the same things that we did? Didn’t they realize that regular readers would also LOVE it?

Sometimes months went by and we heard from no one. It was all so slooooooowwwwww. I joked that I’d be dead before I ever saw the novel in print. But the worst part was that little by little, rejection by rejection, I lost all faith in the book.

What a horrid, awful feeling.

I really started chomping at the bit by the time my new novel was finished. I’d started its sequel and was even making notes for another idea I was jazzed about. Even if The Ivory Needle got picked up, how many years would it be before my other novels got published?

I began to wonder if traditional publishing and I might not be a good fit after all.

A year after sending the book out on sub—and many disheartening rejections later—my agent and I took stock of the situation. She suggested changes to the story that I just didn’t want to make, after thinking long and hard about them. We agreed to end our partnership.

I spent a few minutes bemoaning two lost years, then leapt into action. By the end of that same day, I’d decided on a date for The Ivory Needle’s publication. I went through the book one last time, putting back my original beginning, tweaking and tightening, enjoying it all over again, and restoring my confidence that the story was as magical and engaging as I’d hoped.

What a great feeling to be proud of your work, whether traditional publishers “get it” or not!

I hired a proofreader and chatted with a marketing consultant. At one point, my publishing to-do list was daunting, but with each item ticked off, I got more and more excited. I loved researching and implementing the book launch plan, designing the cover (oh yes I did), doing the ebook formatting.

Who knew?

I feel completely energized to be able to publish on my schedule, doing things the way I feel is right for me. I plan to launch three novels in 2017. I don’t know what will happen with any of them, but I’m truly enjoying the whole creative/entrepreneurial process, the feeling of forward motion, and yes, the control you have as an indie author.

The Ivory Needle is a contemporary YA adventure with a hefty dose of magic, laughs, and tears. It hit Amazon on New Year’s Day. If you’d like, you can pick up a copy for free from now until January 17th.


  1. Yikes! Such a long day at work that I forgot what day it was. Thanks, Michelle, for posting this article for me.

  2. This is actually really inspiring. I wish you all the best, Leslie, and look forward to reading your book! Congratulations and best wishes on your upcoming novels too!

    1. Thanks so much, Shari! I do feel inspired and am glad it came through in the article.

  3. Leslie,

    Thanks so much for sharing your account of how you broke away from the traditional publishing path. It's encouraging that we have choices and to hear from those who commit to their choices with clarity about what they really want. I'm cheering for you.