I gave myself one summer to write a book and try to sign with a literary agent, and then I would give up my dream of becoming an author and move on.
Oh, how naive I was.
The year before this fateful summer, it was 2008. I was a physician and mother of three. I joke that I was post-partum and really hormonally labile, but something truly did click that year. I like to think it was the summer I found my tiny, atrophied imagination muscle and started using it again.
Though terrified that my work would be laughed at, I jumped at the chance at joining a writing workshop that paired doctors with poets and writers, and found incredible support. Shockingly, no one laughed at me. I wasn’t told to go back to my day job. My courage blossomed, and I decided I would try a novel.
One summer, I told myself. I’ll give myself just one summer.
I wrote the manuscript in one feverish, hectic month of June. I wrote after the kids went to bed, and long into the night. I was terribly sleep deprived. But I was in heaven. It was an urban fantasy, where certain illnesses were actually a secret sign of super powers. I know it sounds silly but I loved it. I learned to query. I found critique partners online. My spouse was supportive and excited for me.
By the end of summer, my learning curve was more like a straight, steep slope upwards. I knew I had more to learn, so I gave myself the fall to revise and keep querying. By early 2010, I had queried 155 agents, and after exhausting the US, I queried Canadian and UK agents. I got one revise and resubmit, but could tell it wouldn’t go anywhere.
So this time, I wrote a young adult historical novel about a female trapper in 1829. I got several revise and resubmit requests. But by the fall, I’d gotten a new idea—a near-future sci-fi, with a hefty dose of biology in it, something near and dear to my geeky heart. I was learning so much about writing that something finally gelled that hadn’t in my previous attempts. My beta readers told me, “This one belongs on a shelf. This is the one.”
I think that most of my life, I’d heard a voice telling me I wasn’t allowed to be a writer. I’d found my calling as a doctor, and that was all I was allowed. But as soon as I gave myself permission to write and found no one was really stopping me from trying, I gave it my all. I wrote or read in every second of free time I could find. I absorbed crafting articles and opened myself to advice.
But even after my first book deals, it wasn’t easy. I learned a hard lesson: Publishing is not about getting your foot in the door, and then your career just runs itself. Editors don’t fall over themselves wanting to acquire your books once you’ve jumped that hurdle. With every single book, you have to prove yourself again and again. You have to start from scratch and assume no one owes you anything.
So after a lot of rejections, and more writing, and more rejections, this year I have three books coming out, in three very different genres. (Thank goodness my agent, Eric Myers, has never told me to stick to writing one type of book. I guess my “brand” is that I write what I love.) I’m happy to share my very first historical mystery (A BEAUTIFUL POISON, Lake Union, August); my first ever adult nonfiction, QUACKERY: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WORST WAYS TO CURE EVERYTHING (Workman Publishing, October); and my first young adult literary fantasy, THE NOVEMBER GIRL (Entangled Teen/MacMillan, November).
I had given myself one summer, and it had turned into a second career for me.
It was probably the first and last self-imposed deadline I ever broke, and I’m so grateful that I did!
Lydia Kang is an author and internal medicine physician. She is a graduate of Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, and completed her training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She lives with her family in the midwest. Follow her on Twitter @LydiaYKang and Instagram @LydiaKang.
To learn more about Lydia Kang’s latest novel, click on the cover below: