This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is E.C. Myers, author of Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, revealing his…
Guest post by E.C. Myers
“Path to publication” is an interesting phrase. We also talk about writing “milestones”: the rites of passage that authors face, the constant rejection before finally getting an agent and then a book deal… It seems natural to refer to publication as a journey, because every author takes a different path, at her own pace, before hopefully ending up at what might appear to be the same place, but is actually one of many possible destinations that are similar. “Publication” has as many variations as all the Main Streets found in the United States, though they are connected to each other if you can only find the right highways or back roads. Some of us stumble across shortcuts or are lucky enough to have maps or people to ask for directions, while others take a more scenic route or keep taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
As I contemplated the many decisions, coincidences, and cosmic weirdness that led me to where I am now, I realized that becoming a writer was all sort of inevitable, really. I was keeping a diary and writing Thundercats fan fiction at the age of eight, elementary school teachers asked me to read aloud stories I’d written as class assignments and told me I should enter contests, and I wrote and submitted scripts for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in junior high.
And yet, for most of my life, writing was simply something I was good at, but never a goal in itself. I didn’t know it for a long time, but I was always on that road to publication. In retrospect, the question wasn’t whether I would be a writer, but what kind of writer would I become?
Just after graduating college, as I waited to hear about a television-writing fellowship, I took a job as a technical writer. When the fellowship didn’t come through, I tried writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. But after five years of writing, revising, and submitting fiction, I still hadn’t sold anything. Then I was accepted to the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and this is where I would typically say, “everything changed.”
In fact, I have said that and it’s true to a large degree—the quality of my writing did change. It vastly improved during and following the intense six-week workshop, and I also changed my approach so I was much more disciplined and focused on building a career as a writer. Almost immediately after the workshop, I began selling fiction to semi-professional anthologies and print and online magazines. The experience had a profound experience on me, but I also can’t say that everything changed.
I was still on the same path I’d been on before the workshop, writing SF and fantasy short stories, but it was now overgrown with brambles and feeling even more like an uphill struggle toward success. I wasn’t selling my work to professional markets, and I began to doubt I ever would; it seemed I had two big things to overcome in my writing: my tendency to write long (stories over 7,000 words are much harder to sell, especially as a “new” writer), and my “YA” voice, which didn’t fit what many editors were interested in publishing.
The turning point came on a subway train in New York City during a conversation with my girlfriend. Though she didn’t read many short stories, she had always been supportive of my writing, and as it happened—as it was meant to happen, as Vonnegut might say—she was an avid reader and was working toward a career editing science fiction and fantasy children’s books. So she was the perfect person to share my young adult novel idea with, my only novel idea, which I wasn’t even sure was YA or not.
I was nervous. The story wasn’t very developed, though I’d been mulling it over from time to time for more than a year. All I had worked out of the plot was a boy with a coin, and when he flipped a coin, he shifted to parallel universes—only he thought the coin was changing the world around him according to his wishes. I thought that the wishing fountain might play an important part too, and I had some of the characters and relationships worked out. It really wasn’t much to go on, which was one reason I hadn’t tried to write it yet. I also didn’t think I was “ready” to write a novel; the common advice is that you should build up your career writing short stories for a while before trying novels, and I still wasn’t writing short stories good enough for pro markets. If I couldn’t do that much, what business did I have trying to write a whole book?
Fortunately, my girlfriend was excited by the idea. Not only did she confirm it was a great fit for YA, but she thought it would sell and encouraged me to write it. While we discussed it, she also offered some great plot suggestions that got me excited about the story too and helped me figure out the mechanics of what was going on with the coin. Best of all, she recommended recent young adult books I had to read, since I had been out of touch with books for teens basically since I was one myself.
Once I read the YA books she recommended, and everything else I could get my hands on (thank you, New York Public Library!), I realized that she was right. This was definitely a YA book, and I decided not only did I have to write it, but I might actually be able to pull it off. Those supposed weaknesses that had been pointed out in my adult science fiction and fantasy could be strengths in telling this YA story—I’ve always tended toward writing longer, more involved stories focused on the characters’ responses to remarkable situations, and my prose style was usually described as “clean” and “accessible.”
I was also lucky in that my girlfriend was an excellent editor who was very familiar with current YA and had worked on both sides of publishing, reading for a literary agent and for acquisitions editors. She gave me a fourteen-page(!) editorial letter on the first rough draft of my novel, line-edited the fourth draft (cutting seventy-five percent of the puns) before I queried agents, and helped me revise my query letter and synopsis.
It turns out that the path to publication doesn’t end when you have a book out. There’s a lot more road to travel beyond that milestone. If you want to sustain a long-term writing career, there are also many detours down unpaved, unmarked dirt roads and plenty of traffic lights and unplanned street construction that will slow you down along the way. I’m still on that journey, but because of a life-changing conversation on the subway, I turned onto a different path from the one I had started out on—a path I now believe I was meant to be on all along. Thanks to my girlfriend, I discovered a love of reading and writing YA, and I eventually got an agent and sold my first two novels.
I plan to stick with writing YA as long as people keep publishing it. And as for that amazing, editorial girlfriend… Reader, I married her.
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He has published short fiction in a variety of print and online magazines and anthologies, and his young adult novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, are available now from Pyr Books. He currently lives with his wife and a doofy cat in Philadelphia and shares way too much information about his personal life at ecmyers.net and on Twitter as @ecmyers.
Watch the book trailer for Fair Coin:
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