Welcome to Charlie N. Holmberg, the most tenacious of writers, who never gave up hope of seeing her work in print. I’m delighted to host Charlie in the week that her novel The Paper Magician is published.
Everyone knows it—the road to publication is a long and bumpy one, with few bus stops along the way. Mine wasn’t much different; it took me seven years before I reached any landmarks! But the advice that’s passed around the most is also the best: stick with it. Or, in the words of Jason Nesmith, “Never give up, never surrender!”
I’ve been writing since age thirteen, but I didn’t take it seriously until I started my undergrad at Brigham Young University. I was nineteen when I finished my first, way-too-long, truly awful RPG-style epic-fantasy novel. That burned up in a wild dumpster fire and was never heard from again.
I started a second book, one that I thought had a more original premise and interesting characters. Another epic fantasy. At this time I was able to take a creative writing class from Brandon Sanderson, who is my writing idol. He read part of it and, to my surprise and delight, actually told me I was really close, but getting from the point I was at to getting over the publishing fence would be the hardest thing to accomplish (and he was very right). I queried that book precisely six times and then put it away.
Onto book three! Another epic fantasy. I had a little more confidence in this, and I put in more effort querying it (I think I sent it out to a whopping thirteen agents). I got my first full request, but ultimately my protagonist had as much gusto as a mole rat and my plot was more or less regurgitated pieces of toilet brunch.
I wrote my fourth book, another epic—an epic retelling of Chicken Little, actually. I got more and more gutsy with querying. It sounds weird, but I actually started to look forward to rejection letters. I knew all the big-time authors had piles of them, so therefore I needed a pile of them before anyone picked me up. Mass rejection was like my publishing girl scout badge. I started pinning rejection letters to my cubicle wall. And I started to get more hopeful.
I had a little more interest in that book, even from a publisher . . . but ultimately I didn’t get anywhere. But, on the plus side, agents were starting to recognize my name.
Book five, another epic. I started getting rejections that were personalized, and that gave me hope. My writing was starting to get good enough to warrant some honest feedback. My cubicle walls were getting less and less bare. I participated in pitch contests . . . but that fence still stood tall before me, and I wasn’t getting over it. Hmmm.
I decided, well, Brandon Sanderson was on his thirteenth book before he sold anything. So I have to write at least thirteen books.
I finally took a fork in the publishing road that ultimately helped me: I detoured from writing adult epic fantasy. (This was probably the smartest thing I could have done for my writing—trying something different.) My next book was a young adult fantasy, and the first book that I thought, This could get published. I got R&Rs on it. I had publisher interest. But the publishing world is slow (one interested small press took a year and a half to make a decision on it!), and I kept pressing forward.
I wrote two more books, one YA dystopian and one adult romantic fantasy. I didn’t query either of them, but kept pushing forward. I always hesitated to set time-limited goals on myself for fear of falling short of them, but I decided that I would get an agent before I moved out of Moscow, ID (I lived there for two years for my husband’s schooling). That gave me a year and a half.
I finally wrote a YA-crossover (I had actually intended it to be adult) fantasy called The Paper Magician. I wrote the first draft in a month. I felt confident. More confident than I had ever felt. I didn’t think, This could get published; I thought, This is publishable. And I queried with vigor. So much vigor, in fact, that some rejections started to hurt. And I had no more space on my walls to post them.
I needed an outlet for the rejection, so while I waited to hear back from agents, I turned them into a quilt.
I am certainly not a professional quilter and can barely sew a straight line, but that’s okay. It’s a blanket of failure anyway, so who cares if some of the squares don’t quite line up, eh? 😉
Early on in my querying for The Paper Magician, I sent an inquiry to Marlene Stringer before heading off to the local Renaissance Faire. I checked my phone while out, and I had already gotten a response from her—a request for a full. What a great way to liven up my day! A week later, I got the email I’d been waiting nine books to read: Marlene wanted to discuss representation.
Cue me flipping out at the University of Idaho Aboretum. Could this be real?? I was in shock. We scheduled a phone call for my lunch break two days later. I asked all my questions, she gave me all the right answers. Within the next twenty-four hours, I had an agent!
And a great agent, at that. Marlene made a copyediting pass on my manuscript and we sent it on submission quickly. 47North stepped up to the plate in the first round. It bought both The Paper Magician and its sequel, The Glass Magician. The books are being released in paperback, eBook, and audiobook September 1st and November 4th of this year, respectively. I’m so ecstatic to see my writing finally over that fence and soon to be in the hands of readers!