• Laura Schaefer

How I Got My 10,000 Hours...Twice

People hire me because I'm good at what I do, which is connecting with amazing humans and writing their unique stories. But they also hire me because they simply like me. With that in mind, I want to share a little bit more about who I am and how I got here...my origin story regarding books and publishing. I deeply believe in the value of sharing our stories with others. When you are ready to share yours, reach out!


One question I get a lot about publishing a book the traditional way, meaning with a big New York publisher, is how to get a literary agent. First, I want to say that if you seek a deal with Random House or one of the other "bigs," you absolutely do need an agent.


Second, the process of getting one can take time and planning.


But my story was pretty weird and not particularly representative of the normal way of doing things. In 2002/2003, I researched and wrote a book about the history of personal ads. I found primary source "matrimonial ads" going all the way back to newspapers from the 1700s and 1800s. I did not have an agent at that time. I barely had a lamp that worked.


Truth be told, I had very little clue about what I was doing overall. But with the energy of a 23 year old, I put together a manuscript and started contacting smaller publishers directly using a rough online database of contacts in the industry. After a month or two, I was offered a publishing contract! This seems incredible and unlikely to me now, but it happened. Next, I started cold emailing agents saying:


"I just got a book deal, can you help me with it?"


That backwards way of doing things worked!


It would be like if you had an offer on your house and just needed a realtor to come to the closing with you. :) Turns out they love that!


Not long afterward, the publisher I'd found went out of business, so it was a good thing I had someone to re-shop my book around. MAN WITH FARM SEEKS WOMAN WITH TRACTOR (I'll be living this title down for the rest of my life) was published in 2005 and it landed me on Good Morning America talking to Diane Sawyer! Woo!


Have you ever accomplished something worthwhile by going about it...backwards?


My first book was a clear case of beginner's luck. Not only did I land on GMA, I got to write a piece for The New York Times. These early wins went straight to my head. I thought my debut experience would be my new norm.


Writing and publishing? Easy! Welcoming!


Hahahahaha


Ha.


Ha.


I was so confident back then that I moved myself right to New York City at the tender age of 24...only to realize I could not afford that place whatsoever. Not even close. I returned to the Midwest licket-y split, embarrassed and with no apartment. I also didn't know what to write about, so my literary agent Scott had nothing to sell. My intentions were all over the place. Messy. Unfocused.


I took a lot of meandering midday walks.


I complained and drank coffee.


Finally getting sick of my own pity party, I switched to writing fiction for young readers. I'd long been obsessed with The Babysitter's Club and in the mid-2000s, Twilight was showing everyone just how hot the young adult book world could be.


This meant, of course, that I needed a different literary agent as I was moving into a totally new market. Fortunately, I didn't have to hustle in this particular case. My first agent simply handed me off to a younger colleague he happened to know and it was a wonderful match. The connection was such a giant stroke of luck: this second agent of mine, the brilliant and accomplished Stephen Barbara, is still my representative in the publishing world to this day.


I started my new book by throwing a bunch of Zen Buddhist quotes, recipes, and vintage tea advertisements into a Word doc. My mantra was the project should be fun and cozy.


(This is so important. You *have* to find the joy when you embark on a new creative writing project because it is such a ludicrous way to spend your time otherwise.)


I completed a new manuscript, The Teashop Girls, and Stephen sold it to the wonderful editor Alexandra Penfold at Simon & Schuster. This book went on to earn out its advance and sell nearly 30,000 copies after its release in late 2008. I know this is starting to seem like a story with a lot of wins (and in many ways, it is), but...


S&S rejected my next effort. And rightly so, that book wasn't good. I had rushed the project and it didn't have the heart or the pure creativity that my previous two projects had captured.


Only somewhat deterred, I stepped up to bat a fourth time, writing a moody YA called Notes to Self about a girl with a traumatic brain injury. This book *was* good. Excellent, even.


Nevertheless, I was rejected.


Again.


This time, not just by one publisher, but by many.


I was 32, broke, and ready to exit the writing roller coaster...


But I didn't give up as I could not think of anything else I really wanted to do professionally. Sometimes when there is no Plan B, you just hit the gas pedal on Plan A a little harder. I turned to self publishing and, miracle of miracles, the story took off. Even though I didn't have the cache of a Simon & Schuster imprint behind me for this title, I was happy to have my story out in the world. Tens of thousands of people downloaded copies and to this day, it's by far my most reviewed book. I made money as well and learned how the KDP platform worked. I went on to create several Planet Explorers travel guides for kids using this new publishing pathway...a fun project, though it's no longer active today.


I also got the opportunity to write a sequel to THE TEASHOP GIRLS, called THE SECRET INGREDIENT.


Publishing has been extremely kind to me overall, but I often felt as if things weren't happening fast enough. I see now that I was growing, learning, and even succeeding as the years rolled by...but at the time, it seemed as if only one huge break would save me and prove to me that I was a *real* author. (Whatever that means.)


Our minds can be real jerks sometimes, can't they? We're always looking for the silver bullet, but that's not how most things work. Instead, progress is slow and success is built brick by brick.


Only now can I tell this story with clearer eyes. To make it as a writer, I had to do one thing: believe. (Major nod to Ted Lasso.)


Isn't it annoying when the thing everyone always says turns out to be true?


In 2012, I got married; in 2013 I gave birth to a beautiful and perfect daughter. Wanting a lifestyle closer to family, my husband and I chose to move with our little E to Florida in early 2015. The transition was much (much) harder than I expected it to be. Homesick and struggling, I wasn't sure what the future would hold for any of us.


Would we stick it out? Return home to Wisconsin? Become lawyers?


No one knew.


But then, like a warm hug, publishing knocked on my door again.


I was asked to write a modern middle grade retelling of the classic and beloved novel LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott, for its 150th anniversary. This project was a gift in what I now see as a steady wave of continuous gifts in my life. It was the last and most powerful nudge I needed to fully step into my identity as an author, to never hold anything back ever again. To stop putzing around tending bar or working retail. (WTH?)


I don't know why it took me 15 years to release my resistance, but then again, I don't decide if I like *people* until I've known them for a solid decade, so I guess it makes sense. A big part of my journey this time around is to learn to trust. It's a process.


As LITTLER WOMEN was released, I put out my shingle as a nonfiction ghostwriter and continued to write my own fiction as well. The rest is history.


My book collaboration services are in demand, my new novel A LONG WAY FROM HOME is stellar and will be released in October of 2022, and I've found my voice as an author, a powerful creator.


Whew.


I've been so, so lucky, and I could not be more grateful for all of my blessings.


Thank you to everyone who believed in me all of these years. I didn't always deserve it, but I needed your faith.






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