How It Happened by Rebecca Drake

When I got the call about my first book sale, I was caulking a bathtub. I’ve come to see this as symbolic of a career in the arts—lots of practical, hands-on work, punctuated by moments of joy.

Like many writers, this moment didn’t fit the vision I had of author life. Years earlier, I’d embarked on the journey of becoming a novelist with the naïve idea that a background in journalism would make transitioning to fiction as simple as turning a page. Many years, and multiple rejections later, I knew just how ignorant I’d been and I could feel my dream slipping away. While I’d been fortunate enough to hear positive things about my writing from several agents and editors, none had connected enough with my work to offer representation or a sale.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to meet an author who became my mentor, the talented Nancy Martin, who generously offered to read my first novel and then proceeded to tear it to pieces, pointing out exactly what was missing from my work. Such as a satisfying plot and proactive characters. “Drivel” is one word I remember seeing scribbled in the margins. “Delete” is another. I was in a critique group, but we were all at the same level, and no one had identified, and certainly not so quickly and so thoroughly, what was missing from my work. That kind of critique was a gut punch, for sure, but it was also far easier to take than the rejection letters I’d been receiving. Instead of the polite “thanks, but no thanks,” I finally had tangible feedback from someone who thought my work showed promise and could tell me how to fix it. I spent the next eight months rewriting that novel and soon after that the sparkly new version garnered me my first agent.

Like so many other writers, I was elated, sure that everything was better in the Land of Oz and now that I had an agent my career as an author would proceed smoothly and we’d quickly sell that novel, and every one after it.

Spoiler alert—it didn’t happen. That book didn’t sell, which was another wake-up call about the realities of publishing. However, it did attract the attention of an editor who really liked my writing and he asked me to submit a proposal for another novel. I came up with a new idea, sent off a proposal, and again, rejection. I wrote another one, same result. I came up with a third new plot and sent off one last proposal, certain that this editor might really like my writing, but obviously not enough to publish any of it. A few weeks later, I was caulking our leaking tub when I got the call from my then-agent that I’d been offered a three-book deal.

The three serial killer thrillers I published were great learning experiences and sold well, but they weren’t the stories I was yearning to tell. The only problem was that my editor and agent wanted more of the same. It was time for a change.

And so began the years in the desert—literally and figuratively. I was living between the Persian Gulf and the U.S. and struggling to navigate my writing career while moving multiple times, living as an ex-pat, supporting my husband’s job change, and dealing with a child’s serious health crisis. And as if all that weren’t enough, both my new agent and my mother-in-law were diagnosed with cancer.

I was caught in one of those chaotic periods when the bad news came so often that every time the phone rang I flinched. I kept writing during that period—writers always keep writing—but I couldn’t sell anything except a single short story. With a publishing history and a decent sales record, I’d thought the transition to publishing psychological thrillers would be smooth and I’d sell on spec, but it didn’t happen. Finally I realized that it was time for another change: I took a step back from my efforts to sell and focused on craft, working privately on a new novel.

And when all the other crises in my life had passed and I was able to finish that novel, I began all over again, just like I had all those years ago, in search of a new agent and a new publisher. It was scary to start fresh and at times I wondered if anyone else would be interested in this novel that was deeply personal to me. During that time a close friend told me that if I cared enough about that story to write it, then there would be someone out there who cared enough about the story to publish it. I wrote this down and kept that encouragement pinned above my desk, and a few months after I finished polishing the ninth draft of that novel, I found a wonderful new agent, and a few months after that, she sold Only Ever You to St. Martin’s Press. This time around I wasn’t caulking a tub when I got the news, but the sale was even sweeter because of all the hard work and lessons learned along the way.

Rebecca Drake’s latest thriller, Just Between Us, will be released by St. Martin’s Press in January. Only Ever You was a Barnes & Noble thriller of the month in 2016, and received a starred review from Library Journal. Rebecca teaches in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction and lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two children. Find more at RebeccaDrake.com and connect with her at facebook.com/rebecca.drake.writer and on Twitter @AuthorRDrake.

To learn more about Only Ever You, click on the cover below:

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Comments

  1. Jenny Milchman

    Congrats, Rebecca! You have worked hard, weathered a lot, and this book deserves every bit of its success.

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