PATH - a Four Letter Word by Tracy Holczer

The time from agent query letter to my first sale was five months. Quite frankly, it was a breeze. I sent out one batch of query letters on December 17, 2011 and settled in for the long wait. Over the next couple of days, my full manuscript was requested by all parties. I settled in for another long wait. By January 11, 2012, I had a revise and resubmit request and then an offer of representation upon resubmission four weeks later. My deal with Penguin was finalized in May, 2012 and the book was published May 1, 2014.

BUT, the path leading up to the moment I pressed send on my first ever query letter was anything but a breeze.

I joined SCBWI in 2002. I slaved over a book for five or so years that I recognized wasn't good enough. I took classes and workshops and spent a fortune on craft books as well as read, what felt like, every book in my library. Then I got Grace in my brain one Sunday afternoon and wrote the first fifteen pages. I submitted for the manuscript critique at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2007 and was quite shocked when a couple of months later, Steve Mooser called with the good news that I'd won the Sue Alexander Award. I went to New York for the winter conference, met with some editors, and went back to my novel feeling ready to conquer the world.

Which is precisely NOT what happened.

I may have figured out how to write a novel. But I hadn't yet figured out how to write a GOOD novel. Like Ira Glass says (see full video - SO WORTH IT), but to paraphrase:

 "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work."

It took me three more years to write THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY. I probably wrote eight thousand drafts, seven thousand ninety-nine of them weren't good enough. But number eight thousand? That one was good enough. I finally felt like it had that "special something."

I have no doubt that if I'd queried those seven thousand ninety-nine drafts, I would have been rejected countless times. Perhaps I would have given up. I'm so glad I'll never know.



  1. Sounds like a familiar path to many of us. Most of the work for my manuscript came before it ever got out the door. Thanks for sharing Tracy. I adored your book!

  2. Yes, yes, yes! I wrote for decades without knowing another writer, without SCBWI, without feedback (except my hubby who lovingly kept encouraging me!) and the learning curve was slow and painful, and, um, yeah, 8,000 drafts for The Healing Spell. I would have given up except that my love for my story and my dream to be published was stubborn as a barnyard full of mules.

    So glad you stuck with it to Version 8,000! :-)


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