(This summer, while there have been a few road trips for our family, I’m taking a virtual trip down memory lane back to when my writing adventure began. Today’s flashback takes us to years 2010 and 2011.)

After learning the hard way in 2009 that women’s fiction was a competitive (narrow) genre to try to break into as a debut author, I deliberately chose to expand my chances with a general fiction adoption-reunion story with a strong romance thread. That’s how Dance Over Me came to be written in 2010.

Coming off my previous success with the Genesis Contest, I confidently entered my new story in the 2010…and did not get the call about being a Finalist. In fact, when I opened the eventual score sheets to read the comments, I learned that the judges hadn’t connected with the character’s motivations early on and therefore did not even feel sympathy for her nerve-wracking audition. What? I loved this character and her journey to find her brother and her place on the stage.

Like I’d done before several times with other stories, I took a step back, then took a calculated risk to include an emotional prologue from my heroine’s childhood when she is separated from her baby brother. I knew there were strong opinions about prologues in general, but my critique partners agreed that the immediate connection to the character was worth the risk.

I spent the rest of 2010 writing the rest of the story and blogging about various topics while continuing to pitch my Making Lemonade and Pouting Peter manuscripts to various publishers. Of course, in the wake of the economic downturns of 2008, publishers still weren’t willing to take a risk on an unknown like me unless I was willing to purchase thousands of copies. That didn’t stop me from continuing to knock on doors while working on my fiction craft.

In early 2011, I entered Dance Over Me in the Genesis Contest again and this time got the call that it was a Semi-Finalist! That May, encouraged and emboldened by the ACFW Genesis Semi-Finalist stamp of approval, I attended the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference near my hometown with hopes to pitch the book to more editors in person.

I got my first wish with amazing (for me) results. One of my first appointments was with an acquisitions editor from Bethany House. Armed with my ACFW knowledge base about researching publishers and pitching, I was prepared not only to pitch my idea but also to draw strong comparisons to books they had recently published (and even ask if they preferred first person narrative to third person based on their recent releases). That appointment was my first ever “request for a proposal” that a few weeks later became my first “request for a full” manuscript. 

Despite learning that I wasn’t a Finalist in the Genesis Contest that year (mostly because of one judge’s strong aversion to prologues), I was finally able to see the bigger picture. The contest had opened conversational doors and given me just enough confidence to help carry me through appointments with big publishers.

Four months later, I finally received the official rejection notice but it was the “good” kind. The kind that said the editor had struggled with the decision to turn this book down, but would love to see future ideas from me! And considering debuts by Melissa Tagg and Becky Wade came out a year later, I know I had strong competition.

However, there was a second unexpected outcome from the CCWC conference. Not wanting to waste any workshop slots and learning opportunities, I randomly picked one about selling books on Amazon led by Eddie Jones. (Can I just say it must have been a divine moment and turning point in my career? Because years later, I’m now multi-published by the company Eddie owns and he signs my royalty checks. But that future connection has nothing to do with what I learned in that workshop.)

While I’m sure the class outline covered things like keywords and searches, the main takeaway I received was the knowledge that there was a platform where I could put up small books of my own to not only build a reputation but also earn an income. And it wasn’t limited to short essays or stories. I could actually publish that endlessly-rejected-book-of-my-heart for other parents of special needs kids and at least get it into the hands of a few people who could use the encouragement.

In the wake of that conference, I took the plunge and officially became a hybrid author by independently publishing Making Lemonade: Parents Transforming Special Needs. I then turned around and published two shorter collections of blog posts: Devotions from the Garden: Inspiration for Life and Pigskin Parables: Devotions from the Game of Football.

By the end of 2011, I had two finished novel manuscripts, four published non-fiction books, a dozen published articles, and a blog. And a new story idea about a football coach percolating on the back burner of my brain.

What about you? Have you ever “accidentally” been in the right place at the right time to hear about an open door? Do you think there is ever such a thing as a “good” rejection? Has a setback ever served as a set-up for a different path?

My Trip Down Memory Lane – 2010 and 2011
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