This guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate the release of her novel, here is Beth Fred, author of the YA novel A Missing Peace, sharing hers… and this is another extra-special Turning Point to share, because, well, read on and you’ll see why.
Guest post by Beth Fred
When I started reading Nova’s turning point series, I thought a turning point was that pivotal moment when things changed. The stars aligned. The writing gods gave you blessings and you were destined for the shelves of B&N. I now know turning points are a step in the right direction. If you can gather enough of these steps, you can string them together like a ladder and climb up.
I was fortunate enough to grab a few of these steps at one time and string together the first step or two of what looks like is going to be a long and daunting ladder.
I finally decided that I really could be a writer in 2010 and drafted a paranormal romance in six weeks. It sucked. I knew this, but I didn’t know how to make it not suck. Instead of editing it, I put it aside. I read YA for about three months straight and reviewed everything I read. (At the time, I didn’t even know what I was reading was called YA.) After having fun reading about 20 books in that 3-month period I knew some things. All protags are in high school, an important distinction since my first MC was in college and this was long before NA. (All protags are not in HS again I didn’t realize I was reading YA.) And paranormal romance had to be part crazy magic and part romance.
I wrote another book and it was brilliant. I was sure of it. My CPs loved it, and by this time I even knew what a critique partner was, so I was surely destined for success. This was the book of my heart. This is still the book of my heart, so you can imagine how surreal the disappointment was 105 rejections later. This manuscript is 122,000 words of experience I could have got no other way, and it takes up space in my hard drive, which will probably be its only home. But I got such a rush writing it. The story hooked me and I truly loved it. I stuck it out for 105 rejections. And then I cried. Seriously and more than once. Out of 105 rejections, I could count the personal rejections on one hand. Since every blog says you’re getting close when you get personal rejections this meant I still wasn’t even close. I’d already started working on another manuscript, which was sucking the life out of me, but I don’t believe in quitting. So I spent 11 months on it and held out until “the end.” This is still the longest it has ever taken me to write a book.
And if you feel like you’ve been listening to me ramble long enough and this should be a turning point, I felt like that too. Wrong! This was one of those places where things have to get worse for the MC before there can be a turning point—and in this case Beth is the MC. The book was at least as bad as that first horrible manuscript. There was no saving it. In fact, now that I’m in a MFA program I plan to rewrite the first manuscript completely for my thesis project. I will NEVER rewrite my third manuscript, though the themes of it are much better expressed in a book currently with my agent.
I was devastated. I had peaked in an unpublished manuscript. I did the logical thing. I maxed out my credit cards and flew to LA, where I had read so many people met their agents at the SCBWI con. I did not meet my agent here. My critique did not go well. The editor I was assigned to tried to be nice about it, but after that I could not write for six months. Every time I tried, I’d get like thirty pages into something and realize IT SUCKED. And after the experience with that third manuscript I was no longer a fan of sticking it out until “the end.” So I quit a few projects before I finally gave up.
I found out I was pregnant not long after returning from LA, and that could be a factor in how unmotivated and depressed I was, but I think even without that the lack of success it would have taken a toll on me. During this low point even my blog suffered. I’d pretty much quit reading and reviewing too. It was like I was a big fat shell that held nothing. I knew something had to change so I returned my blog to its original premise. I would review 52 books in a year, again. Reading has always been a source of inspiration for me so I figured this would help with the writing. And in the first week of the “new” P-52 two things happened. The understatement of every harsh critique clicked in my head to convey one thing: “Great voice, well-developed characters…unclear plot.” And I read Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me and cried because I’ll never write like that.
Not writing like Tahereh I couldn’t do anything about. Plotting I could. So I added a weekly feature to my blog and broke books down to seven plot points based on the three-act structure. Since I decided 2012 would be the year of the publication credit, I read submission guidelines for small presses and wrote a story for one. I missed the deadline but queried two presses anyway. Ha! Now enter turning point 1. I’d always heard a query should be only the main plot. And after weeks of breaking books apart I now knew what that was. I broke my short story into seven plot points and strung it together for my query. I had a 100% full request rate. Icing on the cake: this was the first time I had had a full request. I eventually self-published the story but I did so knowing I had interest in it.
I needed to keep writing, but I was like seven or eight months pregnant and by this time was living on my couch because things had gotten so tough I couldn’t even go to work anymore. With no energy and little motivation, I knew I needed some kind of push to be able to write another book. I wanted to take a writing class but had no firm plans to do so. Then I stumbled onto Nova Ren Suma, author of Imaginary Girls, teaching a Mediabistro class on YA. Perfect! I took the class just hoping to get motivation to write. And studying with Nova was a big deal for me, because a year earlier I’d been at a con fighting with another YA writer over an ARC of her book.
I kind of expected her to tear my work up. After all, it had become obvious to me by this point I’m not brilliant. LOL. She didn’t. She was amazingly supportive. She did tell me when something wasn’t working but almost every week she said things WERE working. Nova Ren Suma liked my writing! That gave me the courage to query again. That book made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award before being pulled because I had an offer from an imprint of Harlequin. Ha! Insert a BIG new turning point. I got an agent and a deal. More importantly, I got the courage to write my ten-year plan, which you can find here.
And the one thing I wish I could tell every writer is this. We’re all on a journey with no clear destination in sight, so I think the best way you can manage your career is to set clear, quantifiable goals and make a plan for how to get there. Be willing to change the plan if it’s not working, and celebrate the small victories—anything from a full request to positive feedback.
Don’t you want to know more about Beth’s debut now?
A turbulent, emotionally charged YA novel that breaks down barriers and challenges the status quo…
Angry, seventeen-year-old Iraqi war refugee Mirriam Yohanna hates her new life in Killeen, Texas, where the main attraction is a military base, populated with spoiled army brats like Caleb Miller.
Caleb has much to be angry about too, including Mirriam who turns him down flat in front of everyone. Eager for retribution, Caleb agrees to a dare that will see him take Mirriam to the prom and regain his pride.
But their relationship soon moves beyond high school antics. Mirriam and Caleb are bound together by more than location, and as they are forced to work closely together on a school assignment, they start to uncover an explosive story that has the potential to ruin lives—and both of their futures. One single truth changes everything and strengthens their bond.
When Mirriam’s family discovers their relationship, they decide it’s time to arrange her marriage to a proper Iraqi man. Caleb must convince Mirriam that he is in it for forever—or risk losing her for good.
- A Missing Peace is on sale September 1. But pre-order now at Amazon or Barnes & Noble!
- Add A Missing Peace to your shelf on Goodreads
Beth: I’m Beth Fred! I’m a full-time ELF keeper and part-time writer/blogger/writing instructor. I’m represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency. I like my tea hot, my romance sweet, and my guys chivalrous. Real men hold open doors, refer to you as ma’am, make promises they keep, and aren’t afraid to profess their undying love. It’s not breakfast if there aren’t carbs (at least, not in the South). Fajitas, carnitas, and churros are just a few of my favorite things. Bet you can’t guess where I’m from ;)