Author Web site: www.ElizabethJoyArnold.com.
My debut novel tells the story of identical twin sisters, Kerry and Eve, whose childhood is upended when they learn that what they both want is a future only one of them can have. After an estrangement of thirteen years, Kerry returns to her childhood home to be with her ill sister and to confront Justin, the husband she thought would be hers, and Gillian, the niece who looks just like her—hoping to finally bring closure to the dark secrets and cruel betrayals that tore the sisters apart.
My publication story started like almost every writer’s, in that I suffered for years from not even being able to get agents to ask for material after I sent queries. Now somehow here I am, with a really nice deal from a big publisher, my book sitting on the lead spot in that publisher’s catalogue, a first print run number that absolutely blows my mind, newspaper interviews and print and radio ads coming up—absolutely a dream come true; I literally have to pinch myself every day, because it still doesn’t seem real to me.
So how did I get from there to here? I wish I had an easy answer to give you, but that would be acting like the herbal-supplement people who tell you they’ve got the secret to losing weight. Anyone who says they have a surefire way of getting you published is either trying to scam you or they’re a vanity publisher. I’d have to say it’s about 80% perseverance, 10% luck, and 10% “talent.” (I put quotes around talent, by the way, because although I guess there are some people who are innately talented, almost anyone can learn to write better. Talent comes primarily from hard work, I think.) So that means 90% of it is up to you.
Just a quick note on each of these:
People will tell you it’s nearly impossible to publish a first novel without prior publishing credits, but that’s obviously not true. In my case, I never stopped believing this was what I was meant to do, and so I kept papering my walls with rejection slips, writing new manuscripts and sending them out, and then filling another wall with rejections. I kept trying because I loved to write, not because I ever expected to get published; publication was just the cherry on top. I was happiest when I was immersed in the worlds I’d created, and so I never gave up. And eventually, people started getting interested. A few years ago, I actually had an editor at Soho Press send me an encouraging letter, along with my manuscript (he actually paid for postage) with editing marks all over it, which meant he’d read the whole thing. That little pat on the back was enough to keep me going for another few years worth of rejections.
I think part of the success of this novel is that I found the right story, one that my agent and publisher believe people will connect to. I learned how to write by writing daily, sometimes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., to the point where my husband was starting to feel like a widower. And I learned by reading—I still read every spare minute, sometimes three books at a time, everything from Chekhov to Vampire novels, and I pay attention to what I like and don’t like, think of different choices I would’ve made in the writing, and what works and doesn’t work for me. (By the way, there’s very little in Chekhov that doesn’t work. . . .) For most people, this is where “talent” comes from. Not copying or emulating, of course, but learning with every book you read.
Well, this is the tricky one, because luck is mostly outside your control. But to some extent, you do make your own luck. Write the best book you can possibly write—Do rewrite after rewrite until you feel like the book is as good as it’s ever going to get. (I’ve probably written twenty versions of my second novel, and it hasn’t even gone through the editing process yet.) Do a lot of research before you decide who to query, and write a kick-ass query letter that’ll get their attention. I owe a ton to Kim, my agent, who showed so much enthusiasm for the book when she called to take me on, and I know that enthusiasm must’ve carried through to the editors she met with. So I was incredibly lucky to find the right agent, one who truly believed in my story, and just as lucky to find Caitlin, my editor, who also had so much excitement about the book that she got me excited all over again, and really pushed it to her publisher. But the luck wouldn’t have come without the hard work and perseverance.
It’s been a year and a half since I first got my acceptance from Bantam, and finally the book’s out there in the world. The book’s only just been published, and I’ve already gotten seven pieces of “fan mail,” from people who’ve bought the book. Getting those e-mails was the first time the whole thing actually began to feel real for me. The realization that people are now reading the story and meeting the characters that were alone in my head for months and months just blows me away. And that’s what made all the pain of rejection and the hard work (not to mention the carpal tunnel syndrome) worth it.
Best of luck in your own publishing adventures!
Feel free to ask Elizabeth questions in the comments. She’ll drop in during the day to read and answer them.