The Life Cycle of the Great American Novel

Or, How Hemingway Became an Alcoholic

When people find out my debut novel is being released this month, one of the first questions they ask is how long it takes to write a novel and get it published. I tell them Karma Patrol took two and a half years from the first word to the paperback copy, and I’m always met with astonishment.

“What takes so long?” they ask, eyes wide. “Don’t you just write it and then someone prints it?”

And I smile as I reach for my wine glass.

For you, dear reader, I have compiled a monthly timeline of Karma Patrol’s life, from the moment the idea came to me until the release of the paperback. You may want to have a sympathy glass of wine on hand.


October 2013: Lightning strikes! Concept for Karma Patrol is born.

November 2013: National Novel Writing Month. Between November 1st and November 30th, the first draft of Karma Patrol is written. Initial word count 55,224.

December 2013: Revisions underway. Lots of headaches, bagels, and wine are involved. Word count goes up to about 70,000.

January 2014: Polished draft of Karma Patrol goes out to several members of the critique group, who read it and return it with suggestions. More revisions occur. More wine. Word count goes up to about 75,000. New draft is sent to several other members of critique group, who send back their suggestions based on this draft. More revisions. More wine. Word count rises to about 80,000.

February 2014: Decide Karma Patrol is now a shining literary gem ready to take the world by storm. Research how to find an agent. Obsessively study websites about agents and queries (AgentQuery, WritersDigest, QueryShark, Querytracker). Create excel spreadsheet of agents who represent similar books. Write query and send to agents #1-4. Sit back and wait to become famous.

March 2014: Rejections from agents #1-3. Fall out of chair in shock. No response from agent #4. Queries sent to agents #5-8. Rejection from agent #6. Discover Pitch Madness, a twitter contest to find an agent. Make a twitter account. Tweet on the twitter account so it doesn’t look like it was created just for the contest. Badger friends to join twitter and help promote tweets for contest. Participate in contest. Receive partial manuscript requests from two agents, #9 and #10, and a publisher. FINALLY, SOMEONE RECOGNIZES GENIUS.

April 2014: Agent #9 and publisher #1 both request a copy of the full manuscript! Exchange wine for champagne because clearly this means publication is imminent. Receive rejection from agent #7, but who cares? Karma Patrol is going to be a star!

May 2014: No word from agent #9. Rejection from agent #10. Rejection from publisher #1. Put champagne back on ice. Resume wine consumption. Send query to agent #11, which is promptly rejected. Cry. Drink more wine.

June 2014: Pout. Work on different novels. Delete email account from phone, as repeated checking behaviors are bordering on pathological.

July 2014: Sulk. Try several new wines. Reinstall email on phone, as functioning in the real world is difficult with no email access.

August 2014: Go on vacation. While out of town, receive email from agent #9. Open email, braced for rejection, and discover an offer of representation!!!!!!!#!@!!!! Shriek. Cry. Compose self. Set up call with agent #9. FALL IN LOVE with agent #9 during call. Review contract sent by agent #9. Seems legit. Sign contract.

September 2014: Agent sends her notes on Karma Patrol. Revise novel and send back to her.

October 2014: Agent sends more notes on the new draft. Revise again. Wonder how many times one human can read the same novel before none of the words look like words. Send revised draft back to her.

November 2014: NaNoWriMo! Write first draft of sequel, Karma Chameleon, because Karma Patrol is sure to become blockbuster hit with multiple movie offers. Meanwhile, agent submits Karma Patrol to first round of publishers and offers to send updates on which publishers are considering and/or rejecting the book. Decline gracefully, then drink half a bottle of plum wine at the thought of playing another round of rejection roulette.

December 2014: Receive belated rejection from agent #5. Mentally flip hair and flounce away, as agent #9 is way cooler than agent #5. Start revisions on Karma Chameleon, then waver, then put Karma Chameleon away and start working on a different series due to nagging internal voice that says the first book might not sell and sequel might be pointless.

January 2015: Complain to fellow writers about how long the publishing process takes. Be informed by laughing fellow writers that the entire industry shuts down from November to February every year. Because of snow, or something.

February 2015: Receive email from agent with list of first round publishers who currently have Karma Patrol on their desks. Try not to picture self drinking champagne on a yacht with J.K. Rowling. Get out Karma Chameleon and start working on revisions again!

March 2015: Karma Chameleon revisions. Wine. Cookies. Wine.

April 2015: Receive email from agent asking for synopses of the next two (!!) books in the series, as a publisher is considering acquiring it as a trilogy. Start to write synopsis for third book. Realize third book does not actually have a plot yet. Frantically plot third book. Write synopsis. Send to agent.

May 2015: Receive email from agent saying that trilogy publisher declined the series, but there are several more publishers interested. One publisher has made an offer! (!!!!) Realize decision must be made to either take this offer or hold out to see if multiple publishers make offers. Search soul. Eat cookies. Realize holding out is insane. Accept offer!

June 2015: Agent negotiates contract changes with publisher. Drink champagne, but nervously. Finish draft of Karma Chameleon and send to critique group for comments.

July 2015: Sign revised contract with publisher. Revise Karma Chameleon using comments from critique group. Hang out at the beach. Daydream about fame and fortune.

August 2015: Receive comments from publisher’s editing team regarding changes to Karma Patrol. Stop at Total Wine to stock up on supplies. Revise Karma Patrol and send back to publisher. Send polished draft of Karma Chameleon to agent for review.

September 2015: Receive more comments from publisher’s editing team. Revise and resend Karma Patrol again.

October 2015: Karma Patrol is sent to publisher’s proofreader, who sends comments for revision. Revise AGAIN and resend to publisher. Receive agent’s comments on Karma Chameleon. Revise THAT book and resend to agent. Try to figure out why publishing a novel ever seemed like a good idea. Remember deep and abiding love of books. Picture these books on library shelf someday. Send agent draft of a novel from a different series to keep dream alive.

November 2015: NaNoWriMo! Consider writing third book in Karma series. Decide to go on a break from these characters, a la Ross and Rachel. Write draft of sequel to a different novel. Be continually interrupted by ideas for the third Karma book. Resist temptation and keep working on other novel.

December 2015: Publisher’s marketing division sends draft of cover for Karma Patrol. Jump up and down with excitement. Eventually settle down and try to write draft of third Karma book. Draw a mental blank.

January 2016: Switch back to revisions on other novel. Draw another mental blank. Work with publisher’s marketing department to set up book signings for Karma Patrol. Picture self on yacht again.

February 2016: Set up website with blog. Authors have blogs, right? Must write a blog. Also must write the third book. Also revise other novel. Also make another trip to wine store.

March 2016: Try to write literally anything. Fail. Lose good corkscrew. Use hammer to open wine bottle.

April 2016: Order electric corkscrew from Amazon. Receive news that publisher wants to acquire Karma Chameleon. Breathe deep sigh of relief, then groan when realization hits that this means more revisions. Buy more champagne and brace self for release of Karma Patrol!


3 thoughts on “The Life Cycle of the Great American Novel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s