My mother is convinced that my reading habit is the reason I needed glasses at the ripe old age of 5...once my parents had turned off the lights, I'd often read in my dimly lit bedroom. My dad likes to tell the story of how he found me at 5 AM, under the covers of my blanket, reading the latest Harry Potter by a tiny reading light after staying up all night.
And with the love of reading came one of writing. I have years of journals that hopefully, no one will ever read, from 5th grade until freshman year of college, filled with the drama, descriptions of boys I liked, and all the things on any teenager's mind.
As I got older, and began setting better goals for myself, one that was always on the horizon was to become an author. And at 27 years old, I did. Here's the tale of forgetting the statistics, remembering the reason you love to write, and pushing until failure isn't an option.
In the summer of 2012, I was about to enter graduate school for my M.Ed. I had a month off between the day I quit my job and the day I was starting school. I wish I could describe it as anything other than, "the stars aligned," but that's how it felt. I decided to write my book.
Writing The Rearranged Life was cathartic in so many ways. There were issues with boys that my friends and I had faced, descriptions of the university I'd attended for college and soon would attend again for my master's, and tightly wound relationships with parents that made their way to the page. It was a compulsion to finish. Eventually, I had over 200,000 words.
Now, if you're a writer, you'll see the 200k word count and hysterically laugh at how I thought that could possibly be a novel. For those of you who aren't (most of you!)--a typical women's fiction/romance-type book (I didn't even know what genre I was) is between 80k and 100k.
Then I started grad school, and for about nine months of my yearlong program, the book sat untouched in my computer though I talked about it incessantly with my friends at school.
But graduation came. So began the revising. FYI, revising is more of a writer's career than writing is. A book goes through so many iterations before it hits an agent or editor's desk. I cut my book in half (still too long) and blindly edited and revised it myself. Then came the fun part.
I googled, "How do you get published?"
I'm not even lying.
I didn't have the first clue about what I was getting into. Writers Digest, a website that offers so many incredible resources, was my first stop and that's where I learned about agents representing writers. From there, I started researching different agencies and who represented the kind of fiction I wrote (which, at the time, was called New Adult--another new discovery!).
I submitted the 95k manuscript to ten agents at first...Each agent had requirements of their own--a query letter (a pitch letter), a one-page summary, and the first x pages were standard. It was like the most nerve-wracking job application of my life each time. Some agents asked for the full manuscript. Some offered feedback, which I compiled into a list if it felt true to me and the story itself. Others passed.
That's another thing they tell you about writing but no one understands properly until they go through it--you get rejected a lot. It can either make you or break you. Writing and authorship is a masochistic endeavor if you're someone who relies on praise. Something inside stung a bit when I got a rejection but a more compelling feeling grew that this pursuit would eventually click and this was the path I was meant to be on. I've never been filled with so much conviction.
In November of 2013, I submitted to Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. In January, she requested to see the entire manuscript.
Here's the other thing you forget as a writer, and don't know as a non-writer...agents and editors are swamped. They plug through their editing and revisions for their actual clients, and have to read the x number of sample pages from hundreds of submissions a week, AND read full manuscripts from the ones they request.
I didn't hear from Stacey until July 7th of 2013...by then, I'd assumed she'd passed on it and I was on a rewrite of my entire story. I have read that you should get approximately 80 rejections before you rewrite your story. I'm not sure if that's true or not. But I got a few and decided I'd had enough and could do better. The feedback list I'd compiled from agents previous were taken to heart and I started to fix the kinks in earnest.
As I was working on it, Stacey called with an offer of representation. It was the best day of my life until then and I couldn't have been more excited about our new partnership. To this day, she has been a godsend.
We revised The Rearranged Life and she read over the second version of the manuscript. Eventually, we went out on submission with it to a few different houses and got a bite from Curiosity Quills in November of 2014. And in 2015, TRL would be released.
The journey doesn't end there. Like any field, one dynamic accomplishment or award or moment doesn't make a career. A lifelong career as a writer is defined by a body of work.
In following years, there have been plenty of stops and starts. On an Annika level, I worked for a few years while juggling writing, but then entered graduate school for a second time in 2016. By 2017, I'd started a full-time internship. I didn't realize what an ass-kicking experience school, writing and work would be. Note to self: two full-time endeavors are relatively doable. Three will break you (if you're me). Add in a move to a new city, a demanding internship, travel...2017 was a doozy! But that's another story for another time.
The Rearranged Life was initially planned to be a trilogy--the second book would follow Nithya and James, and the third would follow Max, James' brother. Unfortunately, for reasons I'd rather not elaborate on here (because they're endless), I pulled out of the deal for the second and third books because I was unhappy with my publisher. I was so grateful for them publishing my first...but sometimes you have to make the tough choice.
I did write a story about a football team--but it didn't get picked up yet and we tabled it. I'll be revising that this summer because I believe in it so much.
Then, Sourcebooks, who had read that football story, requested a three-book proposal about Indian-American characters. That is what I'm working on now. Even that has had its ups and downs with revisions and rewrites and writer's block. But it will be released next year, most likely.
I also started an Instagram account where I highlight poetry I write in my spare time and connect with readers. It's been one of my favorite aspects of authorship--being able to connect through words and then making very real friendships out of internet acquaintances.
Slowly but surely, the ride continues...and every day I am filled with awe that I get to do what I love. Even on my worst day of writing, it's still the best day of work because I get to feel passionate about what I do. It hasn't been easy all the time. I'll have days where I'd like to quit...but this entire experience began with a healthy disregard of the impossible, a concept I learned about at a leadership conference in college. People can rattle off statistics, like the whopping one I read that 1 million unagented manuscripts are floating around at any given time, looking for representation. You are theoretically the one in a million--and you have to disregard the odds in a healthy way to be able to push onward. I was aware of the odds against a career in publishing but I just figured it didn't apply to me and that level of happy disregard is precisely what drove me to succeed. In fact, it still does.
This is just the beginning and I can't wait to see what the future holds.