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The Success Story of a Failed Novelist

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In January 2007, when my second child was three months old, I started writing a novel. I imagined hardcovers, book tours, speaking engagements -- the aspiring novelist's dream. (I'm not sure why in my imagination, a writer only wrote novels.)

By the end of that year, I finished a book called The Friends of Ivy Stein. When a woman from my Mommy and Me class who used to work as a foreign rights agent offered to read it, I dropped off a copy at her house the next day. The book had potential, she said, and she wanted to send it to a former colleague in New York. (We will refer to this colleague as Agent One.)

This is it, I thought. I'm going to be a writer. But in the four months I waited for Agent One to get back to me, I did very little writing other than a few short stories. I checked my email incessantly and obsessed about whether Agent One would ever read my book.

Finally, the email I'd been waiting for arrived. "I'd like to set up a phone appointment," Agent One wrote. Bingo, I thought.

The conversation started out positive. She liked my narrative voice and specifically said, "You're definitely a writer." But within minutes her tone changed. Ivy had seeds of a good novel, but the characters and the plot were not compelling enough. The reason she'd wanted to talk rather than email was to explain that one of the storylines and characters drew her in more than any other part of the book. She suggested I keep one character, Jill, expand that storyline and get rid of everything else. I quickly came up with a title -- The Everyday Guide to a Joyful Life -- and Ivy was history.

It felt good to work on a novel again. I was also thrilled that the short stories I had submitted to literary magazines while I was waiting to hear from Agent One were eventually all accepted. One of those stories was the first chapter of the new book, a fact that gave me confidence when I was ready to send out query letters for A Joyful Life.

Instead of trying Agent One again, I became a querying maniac. I researched agents and watched for the red blinking light on my Blackberry as if I had nothing else important happening in my life. (Just remembering that old Blackberry makes this story feel quaint.)

There was a point when eight different agents had answered my query letters with requests for partials or full manuscripts. One of those agents (we will call her Agent Two) spoke to me at length and asked me to work on a revision with her exclusively. She wasn't signing me, she said ... yet.

I had an almost-agent! I worked on the revisions Agent Two had in mind and sent her my new and improved manuscript weeks before my third baby was due. I was still in the hospital when I got the news from Agent Two that the revision wasn't working for her. I had two choices, she said. I could rewrite the book for her one more time, or I could end our exclusive agreement and send this version to other agents.

I took a third option and put the book away. I had lost interest in Jill and her predicaments anyway. If I didn't care what happened to her anymore, why would a reader care? Then I gave myself a writing maternity leave before starting another novel from scratch.

I wrote the first 25,000 words of about three new novels over the next year and a half. But I kept coming back to the same issue I was having with A Joyful Life. I couldn't stay interested in the characters and ideas. Everything I wrote felt like something I had already read in another novel at some point in my life.

Enter the blogosphere. Every so often while working on these books, I would turn to publishing industry blogs for advice. I became a regular reader of one in particular, a group blog called Writer Unboxed. When they had a contest in 2010 to fill their newest blogging spot, I decided to go for it. Although I didn't win, I was a quarter finalist, which meant they would use my contest submissions as a blog post. (I later started a Twitter advice column for writers there.) I submitted the other essay I'd written for the contest, "Confessions of a Query Letter Addict" to a different writing blog called Write it Sideways. Within a few weeks I had guests posts on two writing blogs I loved, but no blog of my own.

That quickly changed. On November 18th, 2010 I bought the URL with my name and started on the road to a freelance writing career. I am so grateful for the writing life and routine that I have now, a reality that probably wouldn't have existed if I had been able to get that first or even second novel published. I strongly believe that even if those books had made their way into the world, they might have been the last words I ever wrote. Those novels were not meant to be. Those agents weren't meant to be. That's not the kind of writing I want to do anymore.

What does the future of my writing career hold? I don't know, but I'm certainly grateful for the regular work I have now. I'm also grateful that the answer is still full of possibilities and potential.

This article by Nina Badzin was originally published as a guest post on author Jessica Vealitzek's blog True Stories.