The Long Road to Publication
Watermark's birth was a case of prolonged labour, to be sure. The day I turned forty, I decided there was never going to be an easy time to begin the novel-writing career I had always hazily envisioned
for myself. So on that beautiful sunny July afternoon, I asked my husband to corral the kids, I gathered all my jot notes and cue cards on which I had plotted my debut novel over the years, I sat down at my patio table in the backyard, cracked open a spiral bound notebook, and wrote ‘Chapter One’ at the top. I didn’t permit myself to walk away from the notebook until I had written four pages.
From that day on, I committed to making every possible effort to write at least three pages every day, at least five days a week. And the story poured out of me—it was fascinating to see the pages stack up, week after week, until suddenly I had four hundred pages (many of which were later cut, but that’s all part of the process). I have basically stuck to this daily writing commitment—my ongoing birthday gift to myself—ever since that day.
As for getting published, I really had no idea how slim my chances were when I began writing. I thought that writing a novel was rare (ha!) and I fantasized agents biting at the bit to sign me, the minute they read my sample chapters in their email inbox (double ha!) Note to people not in this industry: it is extremely competitive, and the odds of a manuscript moldering on the ‘slush pile’ are high. But lo and behold, I beat the odds and received several manuscript requests. Oh my god it’s finally happening! I’m breaking into the literary world!
And then came the excruciating wait—agents took between three and nine months to read my novel, with me checking my email inbox like a maniac. And then… the two-line rejection emails began to trickle in. WITH NO FEEDBACK. This lack of feedback felt like insult on top of injury for me at the time. As a teacher, I’m indoctrinated to give Timely! Detailed! Specific! feedback. But this is the business world, and agents are very busy people, and therefore, a ‘We’re sorry, but we have decided your book is not the right fit for us’ is all I got. So that was the devastating low of the process—how was I going to move forward after being rejected by the gatekeepers of the industry, with no feedback about my book’s weaknesses?
But I eventually got very lucky. I received some insightful story advice from two generous readers in the industry. After a very painful but necessary series of rewrites (more than twenty full revisions in the end), I knew I had finally brought Watermark to its full potential. I resubmitted my manuscript, and two years after I wrote those first words on my spiral-bound notebook, I got signed on by a top Canadian literary agent—the first of my dreams come true in the literary world.
My agent suggested that, in order to appeal to a broader American audience, I change the book to an American location. For the sake of my burgeoning writing career, I agreed that this was likely the best career move. Little knives digging into my heart with each deletion, I shifted my fictional Mikinaak Island’s setting about 100km south into American waters, and went through each scene changing all the mentions of Northern Ontario to Northern Michigan, all the Toronto scenes to Chicago, all the ‘colours’ to ‘colors’. But in the end, Watermark found its publishing home with an excellent Canadian publisher, and to my delight, the publisher loved the idea of relocating the story back to its Northern Ontario roots. Signing that publishing contract was one of the greatest thrills of my adult life.