It came to me in a flash. It was October of 2000 and I was standing on the edge of a Vouvray, France vineyard, marveling at the pristine rows of grapevines, the limestone caves and whitewashed winery on my far left, and the old abandoned watchman’s shed on my right, just off the main road to town.
“This,” I thought to my then-banker self, “would be the perfect setting for a novel.”
Eleven years, three children, and seven major revisions later, I completed my debut historical novel, The Vintner’s Daughter. Set in 1895, The Vintner’s Daughter chronicles Sara Thibault’s struggle to reclaim her family’s Loire Valley vineyard and the life that was stolen from her.
While crafting my novel over the past five years, I decided to take the advice of one of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier: “Don’t write what you know, write what you’re interested in.”
It was that passion for learning about French and California vineyard life in the 19th century that pushed me forward, along with the encouragement of my family.
Perhaps my husband David gave me the best advice. When I was frustrated because I didn’t have large chunks of time to write, or because I didn’t reach my goal of fifteen pages per week, he reminded me that Rome wasn’t built in a day. He urged me to keep chipping away at it, bit by small bit. One day, he assured me, I’d hold my finished novel in my hands.
Turns out, the years of research, of refining the plot, of writing during the kids’ naps and on the weekends tucked away in a corner of the Darien Library might have been the easiest part.
Well-meaning writers and friends lamented, “It’s so hard to find a publisher these days.” Statistically, this is probably true. However, well-crafted, high quality self-published books are climbing the bestseller charts every day.
In January of 2013, I recommitted to my goal of publishing my book, traditionally or independently. After 20 literary agent rejections last year, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel until I’d reached Kathryn Stockett status—60 rejections of The Help before she signed with an agent (I know, crazy). Only then would I consider self-publishing as a first-timer.
And then it happened. In late January, a published author I’d met at a writer’s conference last year agreed to give an interview for my blog. And-oh-by-the-way-how’s-the-agent-hunt-going? I told her of my 20-rejection triumph and she said, casually, “Why don’t you send over your query? I have an agent friend who’s looking for women’s book club fiction and I think she might like your novel.”
I’ll be honest—at this point, I was just hoping not to embarrass my new friend. I emailed my query to the agent. She was interested; she wanted to read the first three chapters. Ok, I thought, she’s being polite. A few hours later, she wanted to read the whole manuscript.
Mission accomplished, I’ve made a decent showing. When she called me the following week to offer me representation, it was like my birthday, Christmas, and winning the lottery all in one glorious moment.
So where are we now? Just today, we finished polishing up the pitch and manuscript to present to publishing houses in the United States and Canada. Fingers crossed.
This blog post is the first of a series designed to offer insights into the process of writing, pitching, and publishing (or self-publishing) a book. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, I’d love for you to join me on this journey as I uncover, brick by brick, the road “From Pitched to Published.”
If you’d like to read more about The Vintner’s Daughter, click here. If you’d like to read more “From Pitched to Published,” stay tuned for this week’s interview with award-winning self-published author and writing coach, Holly Payne.