Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Writing Life: Chutes and Ladders

I've been thinking lately how much the whole 'publishing thing' is like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

I mean,
maybe all of life is like a game of Chutes & Ladders and that's why it's remained such a classic (or maybe it's just that it's so dang fun to slide the little colorful pegs up and down the curly slides), but, certainly, my publishing journey has felt a lot like playing this game.

Here, I'll show you what I mean.

Imagine my first attempt at writing a manuscript in 1998 as the Start Space, and the completion of the first rough draft of THE JETTY (4+ years) as Space #4.

Up, I go to Space #14 where there's a yummy cake waiting for me. Yay, cake! You know how I love a good cake.

Perhaps at space #15, I submit to my first round of agents, which all come back rejections. Space #16, down I go! But at Space #9, I get a bite, my first agent request for a look at a partial or full.

Woohoo, I'm off and running on Space #31!

At Space #36, THE JETTY makes it to the Semi-finals of the first-ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, but at Space #47, I'm eliminated (luckily, I land in water).

Space #28 is totally elusive for most of us -- there's a forcefield around it or something -- but it's back to Space #36 again, where I get my first real NYC literary agent who loves THE JETTY and my writing and is convinced we will get a six-figure deal.

Up to Space #44. Look how tall I feel now!

At Space #51, I finish the revisions she's asked for and we begin to send the manuscript out to publishers. At Spaces #53 - 63, the, "we love this, but. . ." rejections from said publishers start to roll in.

At Space #64, while at work on a new middle grade manuscript, I fall and break my arm.

No, really. I fell and broke my arm. Totally lost all mojo on that manuscript. It still sits half-finished somewhere.

Instead, on Spaces #61 - 79, I begin work on my second to-be-completed women's fiction manuscript, SWIM BACK TO ME and, at Space #80, it's ready to be submitted.

I land on Space #87. What more can I say?

For a while, I see stars (no, really, I'm telling you, I'm pretty sure I saw stars), but by Space #31 I'm off and running again. This time, it's a young adult manuscript, THE PULL OF GRAVITY.

At Space #36, I get an amazing editor at fsg interested, and at Space #51 she loves it!
Look at me just sweeping up over there.

But at Space #56, another in-house editor says, "Not so much," and sends me sneezing back to Space #53.

I engage in rewrites, my agent newly-confident in the manuscript and on space #71, the editor calls us back to say she misses the manuscript and, voila! I have a book deal.

It's a book deal, peeps. I eat an entire ice cream sundae!!! (Though I am careful to put my bib on.)

After 18 months of Space #91 glee and nerves and joy and revisions and line edits, the book comes out to very good reviews.

Woo hoo!

Good reviews!!!

*looks for ladder space*

Er. Um.


What? You say there there are no ladders here? Only more potential chutes? Ah, my TPoG cover hasn't made the Macmillan catalogue (most bookstores buy at least partially on cover appeal), and, as a non-lead title, I receive only mininum marketing support from my publisher.

At Space #93, I scribble profanities all over the walls of facebook and start to slide down.
Days and nights turn into endless self-marketing ventures instead of writing ones, trying to get word of my title out there. I also work on what I think will be my "option" book -- an upper YA called JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, which I finish in rough draft and my new agent loves.

Oops, might have left out some chutes and ladders, didn't I? As a result of a layoff at an inopportune time, I split with my first agent and am quickly taken on by a new one who is ready to pitch SWIM again after deep revisions. She also loves JACK KEROUAC, but I've started a second "option" effort, called FRANKIE SKY, which she loves too, and we agree to submit that for my option.

At Space #93 (what is it with that space, I ask you?) my editor rejects FRANKIE SKY as too commercial, but loves a new manuscript I've also started called IN SIGHT OF STARS. At Space 94 she's taking it up to the exec board, but unforseen objects sometimes have a trajectory of their own, and, at Space #95 she rejects it. At the same time, new shiny agent #2 -- not so new or shiny anymore -- loses steam with everything, becomes unresponsive to anything to do with my career, and we part ways somewhat less than amicably.

What day is it?

What year is it?


At Space #80 -- aw, come on, you didn't really think I would land on Space #80...

At Space #79, I get a shiny, new agent -- one who comes highly recommended by a writer-friend, and in whom I have lots of faith. He takes me on for FRANKIE SKY*** but asks for revisions which are (gratefully) made. At Space #96 I kick ass (avoiding that damned broken window) and my revisions get approved.
There are just three spaces left that stand between me and a second book deal.





one chute.

*stares at dice in hand, and tries not to pull any cat tails.*

- gae

*** 5/13 update: The manuscript formerly known as "Frankie Sky" was bought by an extraordinary editor at Algonquin Books for Young Readers and will be released as THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO in March 2014. The manuscript known as "Swim" is under consideration by an editor at a major house.


If you liked this post, please check out my books HERE and/or at your favorite local bookstore. 
And look for my third novel THE MEMORY OF THINGS coming September 2016. 



  1. This is awesome, Gae! I am enlightened and entertained and just want to give you a big ol' hug! Let's hope the right combo rolls.

  2. :)

    *blows on good luck dice for you too!*

  3. True, true, all terribly true! Being a writer, being a human being who isn't numb to the vicissitudes of life takes courage sistah. And you have that in SPADES. So glad to call you friend. xoxo

  4. Holy crap. This is the most raw awesome post I've read in a long time. Wow. I am so rooting for you.

  5. I swear I'm gonna have a heart attack if I roll a damned two, that's all I can tell you. There's only so many times your butt cheeks can take sliding down on your ass. Thanks for reading and commenting, all!

  6. and that, my friend, is why we do the "inner work" too. because that's what kicks in when your outer shell can no longer support you or take the brunt. ;)

  7. I love this post. So going through this all the time in this business. Thanks for writing this!

  8. Thanks, Margie! Nice to "see" you here. It's tough, eh? Here's to many ladders for you on the path to the big blue ribbon. <3

  9. Gae, this post could be about me (and insert fat girl eat candy for the water part).... so poignant and true.

    How many steps to the next deal? Do we even want to roll the die? This game called life is random in it's peaks and valleys.

    And you, my dear, have said it perfectly - with charm, talent, humor and a glimmer of tears.

    Thank you for being you.

  10. Thanks for this lovely comment, Bett. I realize with each submission I get more terrified. The higher up on the board the chutes get, the harder they seem to slide down. Who knew this is how it would go AFTER the first success. I suppose it keeps us humble. ;)

    Love you, girl. And wishing you huge luck on top of your beautiful skill.

  11. Gae, you don't need luck. You have the talent, number one. You get what being a writer means, what it takes. You're playing the game. One way or another, you ARE getting that second contract. And more. Can't wait to say, "I told you so." :)


  12. Hey, Katia, the thing we all learn is that it takes more than talent and perseverance. You have to connect with that one -- no, scratch that -- several readers who connect with YOUR story. Sometimes, one does, then the next in the buying chain doesn't. And then there's the consideration of "will it sell?" and "how many dollars will it earn." I thought it would get easier, but it doesn't. We write, for sure, because we have to. xo

  13. If the stars align, it's possible to complete the game in just seven rolls

  14. thanks for the tip, Anonymous. *prays to stars*

  15. Great analogy, Gae! Man, I could lose an afternoon sorting how this fits me, too.

  16. It's fun to analogize our lives to board games. I did Candy Land too. But then I had to stop because that was more fun than other writing. I mean, don't get me started on Masterpiece!