Welcome to The FFBC’s blog tour of Teri Bailey Black’s The Girl At the Grave! As one of the co-owners of The Fantastic Flying Book Club, I had the exciting privilege of organizing this blog tour and am delighted to be hosting Teri’s guest post on her experiences as a debut author here on my blog as well!
My Experiences As a Debut Author
by Teri Bailey Black
Two days after my book was released, I received a message from a stranger through social media: “It is 2 am, so I’m not even going to attempt writing my review until tomorrow, but your book is everything! Thank you for writing it and sharing it.”
Messages like that make my heart sing because getting published is a bumpy road with as many twists and turns as a murder mystery.
I’ve been writing stories since I learned to read, but stopped for about ten years after I got married and had four children. My first child was born with severe disabilities, which brought a few extra challenges. Plus, I started a home business that took off and kept me creatively happy. Life was busy! But as my kids hit the teen years, I yearned to write again and started carving out that time.
It took me a while to figure out WHAT I wanted to write. I started out with middle grade fantasy because that’s what I enjoyed reading with my kids. I went to a big SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and submitted my first chapter for a critique with an editor. I sat down with much fear and trembling, and her first words were, “This is amaaazing! How fast can you finish it?” Wow, that was quick and easy. I spent four months finishing the manuscript, sent it to her with confidence—and a month later received a 2-sentence form rejection letter, not personalized at all.
Okay, not so quick and easy.
By then, I’d realized that my writing voice isn’t middle grade action, it’s more atmospheric and young adult. I wrote a young adult fantasy with magic, but by the time it was done, I knew it wasn’t that special—just a practice novel. I sent queries to agents anyway and did receive some personal notes that encouraged me. They liked my writing, but not the story.
Hm. Start again—with what? By then, the market was flooded with some truly amazing YA fantasy and dystopian, so I wanted to try something different. I’ve always loved murder mysteries, so quickly landed on that idea. (At the time, I wasn’t aware of any YA mysteries, but they’ve since become a trend, which makes me happy because I love them!)
GIRL AT THE GRAVE started as an image in my mind of a little girl in the 1800’s with wild curls and dirty feet—an outcast because her mother was hanged for murder. The story started in her childhood, then wandered into her teen years. I added murder and romance. I wrote without much of a plan (typical seat-of-the-pants writing, before I’d figured out good plotting techniques.) That first draft took a year, writing occasionally.
I sent out queries and received several requests for the full, followed by rejections with praise for my writing voice but problems with the plot. One agent asked me to revise and resubmit, with a suggestion to make it either a full children’s story or a full YA story. Seemed so obvious, suddenly.
I set the story aside for six months while I read some books on plotting—wishing I’d done that earlier. Who knew there was so much to writing? (Everyone except me, apparently.) I carefully restructured the whole story, then rewrote it. This time, I saw clearly what the story needed to be.
That third version was the ticket to publication. Quite a few agents requested the full. Barbara Poelle read it and called quickly (no surprise if you know Barbara), which led to a stressful weekend as I emailed the other agents and they all scrambled for a chance. But I knew I wanted Barbara. A month or so later, she sold it to Tor Teen in a 2-book deal. Exciting!
Until . . . three months later, I received my revision notes from my editor. Her sharp, professional eyes had spotted a problem at the core of the story that would require changing almost every thought, word, and action from the main character. I completely agreed with her; that wasn’t the sticking point. But UGH! I couldn’t imagine rewriting it yet AGAIN. I flailed around for a few days, then took a deep breath and said YES I CAN DO THIS. She wanted the revision in 3 weeks. I said impossible. She then gave me six weeks, and I ended up taking 8 weeks. As the deadline loomed, there were some all-night writing sessions. I pushed the send button and collapsed.
Now, when I read reviews praising the book’s plot, it makes me giggle a little. It wasn’t easy, but I did get there in the end.
Thank goodness those first few books didn’t sell. Yes, really. I needed that practice to learn the craft, because once you hit the book deal, strong writing skills are required to revise quickly and meet deadlines. (Well, I didn’t revise QUICKLY, but more quickly than I could have a year earlier.)
I’m happy to say that my next book is coming together in a much easier fashion. Another murder mystery with dead bodies, romance, and a setting that makes me clap my hands with excitement. Can’t wait to share it with the world!
Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother’s legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer.
Only one person believes Valentine is innocent—Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.
About Teri Bailey Black
Teri Bailey Black grew up near the beach in southern California in a large, quirky family with no television or junk food, but an abundance of books and art supplies. She’s happiest when she’s creating things, whether it’s with words, fabric, or digging in the garden. She makes an amazing chocolate cherry cake—frequently. She and her husband have four children and live in Orange County, California.