How It Happened: Gwen Florio

By Gwen Florio

Gwenmug2My journey from wannabe writer to published novelist was a whirlwind of six-figure contracts, glowing reviews, and instant bestseller status—the very definition of overnight success.

Pause for hysterical laughter.

But why the hell not? Because we’ve all read about just enough people—three or four, at least—who’ve had that very experience.

In my case, that scenario only works if you substitute nearly a hundred rejections from agents and editors, and a whopping three-figure advance check. The only six figures in my world involve my books’ Amazon rankings. And by overnight, I mean a decade. There were some nice reviews, though.

I wrote my first novel years ago. By which I mean I typed three-hundred-some pages, gave ’em a quick a copy edit, and queried agents. Imagine my shock when I got nary a nibble.

A few years later, I tried again, this time going through a couple of drafts before the agent query thing. I got the occasional request for a partial and even a couple of fulls. Those requests were like catnip. I sent out five queries a week until finally, sixty-some queries in, I got an offer of representation. Did the happy dance, then started checking my email every other minute for news of the six-figure contract I’d already started planning how to spend.

One year and many, many rejections later, my agent decided to leave the business (I try not to take it personally). But … but … what about my novel? Rewrite it, she suggested, and went off to enjoy a life free of whiny, needy, hopeless writers.

So I did. And did the agent query thing yet again. This time, it took just a dozen tries before I got an offer. I disciplined myself to check my email only every fifteen minutes, and I decided I could scrape by on a five-figure contract.

One year and many, many rejections later (are we sensing a theme here yet?), the new agent called to say it was time to give up on this particular book. But … but … what now? Write another book, she suggested.

Oh, sure. Just as soon as I unwound from my fetal position. Another year, another manuscript. My agent said how this one might work, albeit with some revisions. Many revisions. She suggested a freelance editor. I raided a retirement account. For the record, I consider it one of the best investments I ever made.

Again with the submissions. Lesson learned, I only checked my email every half-hour and started a new novel in between clicks. A year and the requisite many, many rejections later, I had a draft of the new novel. This time, when the agent called to say it was time to abandon Novel Number Three, I’d be ready.

But when she called, it was with news of an offer.

An offer. To publish my novel. I could Google myself endlessly, and whenever I did, up would pop an image of a book. With my name on it.

I danced and danced and danced. Every so often, my agent’s cautionary words got through. A four-figure advance, whose comma vanished after the agent took her cut. A small publisher, but well-regarded, populated by authors whose work routinely won awards—as that novel, MONTANA, would do, in addition to getting starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, which chose it as Debut of the Month.

Time elapsed, from that first attempt at a novel to a book on shelves? Ten years.

Lessons learned? Don’t give up. And, just as important, hone the hell out of your craft. I barely rewrote that first, deservedly unsuccessful novel. MONTANA went through at least a dozen revisions, and if I could get my hands on it now, I’d revise it some more.

As to that first attempt at a novel, I tried to resuscitate it a couple of years ago, thinking that I’d learned enough to transform it into something workable. Wrong. Its flaws screamed at me from every page. I finally extracted a few scenes that made it into my third novel, DISGRACED—maybe ten pages. Call them a memorial to lessons well learned.

Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose first novel, Montana, won a High Plains Book Award and Pinckley Prize for crime fiction, and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award, Shamus Award and Silver Falchion Award, all in the first novel category. Dakota was published in 2014 and her third novel, Disgraced, came out in March 2016.

To learn more about Disgraced, click on the cover below: