I met Leah Scheier through a mutual friend and was instantly intrigued by the premise of her book. Today she shares with us the ups and downs of her road to publication.
Do you know that daydream which you can never tell anyone about?
I suspect that we all have a couple of those. I’m not talking about anything naughty, now. I mean the one where you are sitting around a shiny table, a dozen lights and cameras pointed at your beaming face and you are telling the ladies from the View how you got where you are today. It doesn’t matter whether you’re up there because you’ve just snagged a Grammy or recently discovered a recipe for best oatmeal cookie. The point is, it’s what you’ve always dreamed about accomplishing. And it’s finally happened.
For me, getting that message from my agent that my first novel had sold to Disney/ Hyperion was my “View” moment. I’d pictured that call. Over and over and over. And each time, after the party in my head was over, I’d shake myself, wipe the silly grin off my face and get back to real life.
But, as it turns out, author daydreams are like Jane Austen novels. Her stories always ended at wedding bells — even though that moment was just the beginning of the journey. So too, I discovered that signing a contract was just the prologue to the story.
My path was an unusual one. Unlike most authors, I had not spent years haunting writing conferences, churning out short stories, poems and unfinished novels. Although I’d always dreamed about becoming a writer, when the time came to choose a career I decided on medical school. The reason? It seemed safer. I couldn’t handle the prospect of years of rejection. And I realized that the only writing that I had done to date was in my diary– which I was fairly certain no one wanted to read.
So, with that decision, the next ten years of my life were spoken for. Med school, residency and my growing young family took up every waking hour. When my training was finally over and I emerged at the other end, it felt as if I’d just touched land after being stranded at sea forever. As rewarding as my career path had been, I’d still lost a little of myself in the process.
I found that missing piece of me when I re-discovered free time and so re-discovered writing.
For the record, my motives were at first entirely innocent. I didn’t harbor any impossible dreams about actually getting published. If anyone had suggested the idea to me when I first started scribbling, I would have laughed at them. I was a pediatrician, not a writer. The author boat had sailed without me a long time ago. So I was just having a little fun, no pressure. I was writing what I wanted to read.
That was the first lesson I learned, by the way: Write what you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter what the subject is; if you are excited about it, that excitement will jump off the page and grab your reader. In my case, I began with my long-time obsession with Sherlock Holmes stories. I had read every bit of S.H. fan-fic that I could get my hands on– but in the end I still craved something different, something new. So I dreamed up Sherlock’s teenage daughter– and then told her story.
When it was finally done I wrapped my novel up in paper and tucked it carefully under my bed. It didn’t worry me that no one would ever see it. The important thing was that I had written something that I would enjoy reading. And the fact is, if it weren’t for my husband, my manuscript would still be collecting dust balls on my bedroom floor. “Come on, you might as well try,” he urged me– and so, after much hesitation, I did.
I told myself that I would give my book a hundred chances. I would send out three batches of about thirty three queries each. If the hundred agents whom I queried rejected me I would take it as a sign and move on to other things. My agent, Irene, was one of the first ones I queried. There were still rejections aplenty that came before her offer, so I had a taste of what the publishing query process would feel like. But the real gut-punchers, the responses from publishers, were still to come.
The next few months brought one rejection after another. It was demoralizing, to say the least. I stopped obsessively checking my email after the first few weeks but every time I logged in I braced myself for the sinking feeling which would hit as each new rejecton arrived. And then, finally, as I was beginning to think that I would never hear good news—we got that offer from Disney.
I had my “View” moment then, complete with a crazy midnight dance in pajamas and high- pitched shrieking noises which sent my dog scurrying to the yard in terror.
And after that most perfect of moments was over, the real work began.
Because my main character was a teen, Irene had pitched my book as a young adult novel. But the hitch was- I had written the book intending it for adults. The style was very old-fashioned, told in alternating POVs, and read pretty much just like a Doyle story (except for the teen girl thing, of course). All that was about to change.
Over the next two years my novel went through round after round of revisions. The challenge was to rework the book so that it would be appealing to young readers, while still keeping the authentic feel of Victorian England. Two major characters fell out and several new ones were added. The ending changed, then the beginning, and then the middle. And then I rewrote the beginning again. And then again. And then four times after that.
My friends kept asking me if I was disappointed that I had been asked to “change my book.” And the truth was– I wasn’t upset at all–not even a little bit. I was literally watching the story grow and develop, and improve with every edit. Okay– I may have cried a little when I received the first editorial letter. But after the initial freak-out was over and I actually sat down to work on it, all I could think was, “My goodness, she was right!! Why haven’t I thought of this before??”
I’m very grateful for the chance that I’ve been given but I realize now that this isn’t the end– not by a long shot. I used to think that becoming a published author was like getting a golden ticket into Wonka’s Chocolate factory. As long as you behave yourself, you can stay in the magical place and the candy never stops coming. But that’s not how it is at all.
I am currently going through a submission process for my second novel (a contemporary YA novel about a girl whose first love is diagnosed with schizophrenia). And let me tell you, it feels the same as the first time: “View” daydreams punctuated by moments of crushing disappointment. But still, I won’t stop daydreaming and writing.
And I hope that one day soon I’ll have a reason to terrify my dog again.
Have you, like Leah, lost a piece of yourself to demands of family or career?
It’s RWA National Week, so for a change three mystery authors will be joining us on Wednesday. Stop by and meet HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN, ROCHELLE STAAB and AVERY AAMES (aka Daryl Wood Gerber). It’s going to be a blast!
Leah Scheier was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. As a child, she was inspired by her favorite authors, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lloyd Alexander, and C.S. Lewis to dream up tales of adventure and romance. Now grown up with daughters of her own, Leah works as a pediatrician and continues to create new stories. Leah and her family divide their time between Atlanta and Modi’in. You can contact her through her web page at www.leahscheier.com.
Leah’s other social media sites are:
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/leahsecret?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeahScheier (@LeahScheier)
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