Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Circuitous Path to Publication by Laurie Calkhoven

Like many writers, my path to publication wasn’t a straight line. It was more like a circle, with lots of zigzags along the way. When I left college with my shiny new journalism degree (majoring in creative writing, which I really wanted, seemed too loosey goosey), I looked for jobs in the magazine industry. Then an employment agency sent me on an interview at a book publishing company. My intention was always to be a novelist, and book publishing felt like a good fit.

I stayed for twenty years. All the while I vaguely thought I would write “one day.” I read all the time; I collected books about writing; I didn’t write. With forty looming, I realized I was going to have to make one day happen. A friend pointed me to yet another book—Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. And I started writing what she calls morning pages—three pages a day, first thing in the morning, every day. Months later I discovered I was a children’s writer, not the next Anne Tyler or Margaret Atwood. That was a surprise, but one I embraced.

In the next year and a half I changed my career from adult to children’s publishing, took a couple of classes, joined a critiqued group, and started shopping around my first novel. It made it to the acquisitions committee at four different houses. Each time there was a long, agonizing wait and eventually a rejection. Still I began to build a network of editors who were interested in my work and that led to an opportunity to write for a series. I left my job and began my freelance career writing nonfiction, media tie-ins, and “other people’s books.” I learned a lot and continued to work on my craft and my own books when I could squeeze them in.

Then I ran into one of the editors who tried to buy my first novel at an SCBWI conference, and he asked the magic question: “What are you working on?” I was about to tell him about my current TV tie-in novel when I realized this was an opportunity. Writing one of those many series books, a biography of George Washington, I had gotten an idea for a novel about a young spy in the early days of the American Revolution. I shared my idea and pretended to be farther along than I was.

He was interested. In fact, he said he’d be even more interested if I turned it into a series, featuring American boys in different wars. I threw together a proposal. It was in front of the acquisitions committee within a week, and I got an offer the next day. It all happened so fast my head was spinning. After twenty-five books, my novel was being published.  


I continue to write other people’s books. Few have my name on them. Some have been bestsellers; others have gotten starred reviews. None of them have made me happier than holding that first Boys of Wartime novel in my hands.

8 comments:

  1. Make one day happen-I need to tatoo that on my forehead! Your journey to publishing is fascinating and inspirational!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Marcia, you've made MANY days happen.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love this story Laurie. Since you make a living as a writer and have no other "day job", it's wonderful to see how your books rose to the top of the pile of all the other things you do in your writing career. And, the Boys in Wartime Series is great reading!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lovely mix of determination, long apprenticeship honing your skills, having the courage to seize an opportunity, and maybe a little bit of fairy dust, too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yay for the Artist's Way and morning pages! I am 6 weeks into a course...feeling its power working in my creative life.

    ReplyDelete