This week I have a special guest writer. My dear friend, Rocky Callen, was kind enough to share her publishing journey with you!
This week will be the two-year anniversary of the traditional publication of my novel, A Breath Too Late. The book grapples with difficult issues. Suicide. Mental health. Domestic violence. I remember people telling me while I drafted the novel that they would never touch those subjects, especially for young adults. These issues were too much. They said, “The book could get banned! The book may never find an agent! The book might struggle to get a book deal!”
I wrote it anyway.
I landed my dream agent.
I got a book deal within 18 days of submission.
A Breath Too Late became a Kirkus Best Book of the Year.
From the outside, this author dream of mine could look like an instantaneous success. But that’s far from the truth.
Rewind twenty years.
I was a preteen, and I dreamed of becoming an author. I never went anywhere without a stack of books to read. One day, as we were driving down the road, a book propped open in my lap, my father looked over at me and said, “Stop being such a geek,” then plucked the book from my hands and threw it out the window. I remember looking at the side view mirror and seeing the book get smaller and smaller in the reflection. I stopped carrying my stack of books. I started reading under covers in the dark with a flashlight. But I gave up the dream of becoming an author. I shoved it aside like a silly, childish thing that belonged in a sagging storage box tucked away from view. Then years later, when I was married and pregnant, I was going through old boxes, and I found scribblings from twelve-year-old me. A set of character sketches for a book. I realized, in that moment, that if I were going to ask my daughter to live her dreams, it was time to start living mine.
I started writing again. But I was still surrounded by people who didn’t understand this author dream. One day, a loved one told me to stop wasting my time and threw my manuscript in the trash. I felt frozen as I saw my pages there. There was an immediate desire in me to withdraw, to hide. But I didn’t. Instead, I walked over to the trash can, picked up my manuscript, and said, “I write because I have to.”
I went on to self-publish three novels.
In 2016, I decided I wanted to become traditionally published. I wanted my novel that shed light on the pain of domestic violence and suicide to find a wider audience. I wanted it in schools and libraries. That’s when I started hearing from naysayers—most were well-intentioned fellow creatives–who said that a book as difficult as mine would struggle to find its place in a world of gatekeepers. I wrote anyway. After I got my dream agent (after an accidental email–a story for another time), I enrolled in my MFA program. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome crippled me for months, and it took forever to do revisions on my novel while tackling graduate work and homeschooling my daughter. I was afraid that this book that meant so much to me might fail. So I stuttered to a halt over and over again. But I kept going.
Then I gave the final revision to my agent, sent in my critical thesis for graduate school, gave birth to my son, went out on submission, and got a book deal within six weeks. It was a wild, wild ride.
The advance was more than my old annual salary as a behavioral coach. And remember that person who threw my manuscript in the trash? Yeah, it was more than his annual salary, too.
It was a moment yeeeeears in the making, and it required a fierce and tenacious faith that persisted even in the face of fear, judgment, and obstacles that said I would never make it or be good enough.
I wrote anyway.
So should you.
You never know what that audacious, relentless, fierce faith will bring you.
So keep going.
You’ve got this.
Here’s the thing:
If you have this writing dream inside of you, then you can only deny it for so long. To deny it is to lie to yourself. It is an act of self-betrayal. Because the whole world can turn away, not understand, not believe in you, but the dream only withers and dies if you turn away.
I did that for years. I did that because I didn’t feel like I had a safe space to be me, to dream.
So I had to build that for myself. That’s why I support writers and creatives. That’s why I run the free Bleed Ink community online and host the Bleed Ink Retreat. Because our author dreams deserve their own sanctuary.
I want to tell you that if you are…
Feeling like there isn’t enough time,
Feeling like no one will ever really listen,
The world is waiting.
In bookish excitement and gratitude,