Like most, my path to publication was difficult to discern at times; sometimes it had become overgrown, other times it had a huge tree crashed across it blocking my passage. Occasionally, it stopped being a path and became a dark alley populated by gremlins mocking me for the audacity of thinking I deserved to get through unscathed. When I finally came to the other end, it turned out to be an entirely different place than I imagined, fortunately one where I was comfortable settling.
Every now and then I get an e-mail message from a teenager telling me about his or her manuscript, fully convinced that publication will come before college essays are due. I always encourage these writers – some of whom exhibit real talent – because one should never discourage the passion to write. The reality, though, is that the odds against publication are overwhelming and they are exponentially more overwhelming when you’re in your teens. Christopher Paolini wrote his first novel when he was something like fifteen, had a bestseller with it, and saw a big-budget movie made from it. He is decidedly an anomaly.
Like Paolini, I completed my first novel when I was in my middle teens. It was not Eragon. To be honest, it was barely English. I was proud of it for a few weeks, pitched it to a couple of publishers, and then put it away, never to see the light of day again. When I was in college, I wrote another novel. This one was significantly better, which is to say that it had complete sentences, characters, and many of the other important things that make up good fiction, like chapters. A professor read it and liked it enough to recommend it to his agent. The agent was polite enough to speak with me on the phone and let me know that the novel might be worth his consideration if I changed just about everything in it.
That was it for me and fiction for a long time. As it turned out, I wasn’t the kind of person who took rejection well, and to me, fiction and rejection had become synonymous. I got serious about my career, first as a teacher and then in retail and I allowed the notion of becoming a writer to simmer in the back of my brain where it settled along with the notions of becoming a rock star and a world-class chef.
Then fate intervened. A friend of a friend knew someone who had an interesting story to tell but didn’t have the writing skill to tell it. I met with this person and agreed to commit some of this story to the page. I seemed to have some skill at this and the book proposal we created found an agent and the agent found us a publisher. Just like that, after years of trying to be a writer and then years of pretending that it didn’t bother me that I’d failed to become one, I had a book deal. The book didn’t do particularly well, but it connected me with the agent and he in turn connected me with others who needed writers. Soon enough, I was able to leave all other work behind and concentrate on this full-time. This was hugely satisfying, but I’ve never forgotten how accidental it all was. If the friend of my friend hadn’t mentioned that he knew someone who wanted to write a book, and if my friend hadn’t mentioned to him that I’d once talked about being a writer, none of this would have happened.
A couple of years ago, I decided to think about fiction again. I had a good number of books under my belt by this point, and a friend in the industry who was starting a new publishing house. I showed him the first hundred pages of When You Went Away and he didn’t tell me that he thought it would be great if I changed every last bit of it. What we decided was that I would finish this novel, then finish another, Crossing the Bridge, and then get started on a third while he published the first. We are now six novels and two stories into this relationship, and I’m working on novel number seven.
My path to publication was a circuitous one. It usually is for those not named Paolini. However, I arrived refreshed. This is a good thing, because publication is not a destination. It is simply a stop along the way. Professional writers are always moving forward, always heading down new paths, complete with new crashed trees and new gremlins.
Michael Baron is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of his works. Michael is hard at work on the first follow-up to Leaves. You can learn more about Michael at our website.