A Session with Cara Sue Achterberg
Getting published requires a lot of pasta.
Not in the literal sense, although I can find plenty of inspiration in a bowl of authentic puttanesca.
I’ve always written. Most writers will say that. I kept a diary as a child, and as a teen I composed horrible, yet heartfelt poetry, worked on the school newspaper, and wrote notes to pass in class (texting would have been so much easier). As a young adult, each job I held involved writing in some form, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I got serious about getting published.
This is where the pasta comes in.
I began work on my first novel, slaving away for hours a day in complete confidence that once I finished it would be an instant bestseller and everyone would know my name. That tome was nearly 150,000 words and, when it was complete, I did a quick onceover to check for typos and began sending it out. As you might imagine, a cascade of rejection letters followed.
Instead of giving up, I did what I should have done in the first place and began learning what it takes to get published. (I promise I’ll get to the pasta….)
I read book upon book and article after article, and began subscribing to magazines, blogs, and websites on writing. I realized that I knew nothing. But I took the advice to heart and I began writing. I wrote every day. I wrote about anything that popped into my mind. I wrote about causes I was passionate about. I wrote about the things I was learning as a mom. I wrote stories that I made up while running. I wrote about what I knew – organic food, growing vegetables, training horses, and raising kids. Most of this I published on my blogs (yes, plural).
I wrote a column for our local paper about issues that raised my blood pressure, and I began blogging and writing for a regional parenting magazine. Both of these organizations paid me very little for my efforts except the pleasure of seeing my name in print.
And then I met a woman who had self-published her book. It was a skinny, odd book and I didn’t love it, but what I learned from her changed everything.
She asked, “Why do you only submit your work locally? Why don’t you try for a bigger market? What have you got to lose?”
Exactly. What did I have to lose? Instead of stockpiling my writing on my computer, editing it until my eyeballs were numb, but still worrying that nothing was good enough to pitch to real editors, why didn’t I send it out and see what happened? Truly, there was nothing to lose.
So, here’s where the pasta comes in.
I decided to treat my writing endeavor like throwing spaghetti on the wall. If I tossed enough of it out there, surely something would stick. I bought a blank journal and used leftover stickers from my kids’ art projects to paste the word “spaghetti” on the front.
Then I began sending my articles and essays and manuscript samples to anyone and everyone I could. I scoured the internet for opportunities, studied the mastheads of magazines at the library, and poured over publishing marketplace books twice as thick as my phone book.
In my spaghetti book, I listed the name of the publication, editor or agent, what I was sending, and the date I sent it. When I got a rejection (and I got plenty), I crossed out the entry with a black marker. When I got a rejection with helpful feedback, I highlighted the entry with a blue marker. When I won a contest, I colored the entry with yellow highlighter. And when a piece was published (sometimes for real money!), I highlighted it in bright orange.
The spaghetti book filled up fast. There was a lot of black marker, but there was also plenty of bright color. I was getting articles published in national magazines and essays printed in anthologies. My writing was appearing on some of the blogs I used to follow from a distance. It was exciting, but I still hadn’t achieved my goal – publishing a novel.
And then last December I got an email from an outfit called Authors First. I remember I was sitting in a dark parking lot waiting to pick up my daughter from a Christmas concert. She was late, so I opened my phone and checked my email. Amongst the normal flotsam, there was a message telling me that I was a runner-up in some contest and I’d won an iPad Mini! I was sending out so much spaghetti at that time, I didn’t even know what contest the email was referring to.
When I got home, I pulled out the spaghetti book and paged backwards nearly six months and found the entry: “Authors First novel contest, complete manuscript, 7/7.” I was thrilled, but it got even better. The next email was from the Publisher at The Story Plant asking about my writing and whether I might be interested in working with them on publication of the manuscript I’d entered.
That email came eight months ago. I’m Not Her will be published this week. And two more books will follow.
See what I mean? Getting published requires a lot of pasta.
About the Author…
Cara Sue Achterberg was the runner-up in our first AuthorsFirst novel contest. She writes poignant, incisive novels about women experiencing big changes in their lives and does so with a rare combination of warmth, humor, and compassion. http://carawrites.com