Could you write with someone? What if that someone was your BFF? That’s not the premise of a new novel (although it could be) but it’s the real life story of Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. They’ve been at it a long time. It’s not easy to write and polish and query and then to get on the path to publication with a NY publisher. But they did it—together!
Could you? Let us know in the comments!!
The road to publication: A bumpy ride, even with your BFF
We know we’ve been best friends since peg legged jeans were all the rage but couldn’t tell you when we officially became writing partners (we blame the early dementia motherhood brings). We do recall that it took five years, three manuscripts and all kinds of patience to finally get a publishing deal (cue happy dance). It was our third novel, THE TOAST that teamed us up with our dream agent, Elisabeth Weed, and got us a publishing deal with Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. It also solidified for us that there must, in fact, be a publishing God (otherwise known as Greer Hendricks).
Journeying down the very rocky road to publication with your best friend is a lot like taking a road trip with her. It starts out great—the music’s blasting, the wind’s flowing through your hair (think: Thelma and Louise, but without the driving off the cliff part) and the road ahead is full of limitless options. But after being cooped up together in a small space for too long and eating way too many Slim Jims (true story!) you definitely need to take a break!
But despite getting on each other’s nerves from, ahem, time-to-time, there’s no one like your oldest pal to navigate those bumps with you. She can be the ultimate therapist when you cannot read one more rejection letter especially when it’s written to Mr. Fenton and Mr. Steinke (another true story!) and she’s the best cheerleader when you write something that doesn’t suck.
We’ll never forget the first time an agent requested the full manuscript of our first novel. We jumped up and down, drank champagne and started mentally spending the money we’d get for our advance. So when the prospective agent rejected it a week later, asking why the hell our characters were always SCREAMING at each other, it was a major letdown. (In his defense, he was right—we did have a rather upsetting exclamation point problem back in the day.)
Undeterred, we soldiered on, querying our faces off for more than a year. We got painstakingly close to getting an agent—but the tide was starting to turn on chick lit and we had written a campy and somewhat inappropriate novel. (Liz cringed a few times when she reread it recently.) Write something more serious! The agents challenged. So we picked each other up off the floor and wrote a manuscript about a woman who regrets leaving her husband. See, agents? We can be serious! We can tackle topics like divorce, custody, regret and sadness! But we came up short—again.
The good news? After writing two manuscripts we learned a lot of valuable lessons about ourselves and about our writing (don’t overwrite, don’t create secondary male characters that are more cardboard cut out than human and don’t overuse the F word). The bad news? We weren’t sure we wanted to go through the process of writing another one that might not get published. But Lisa wouldn’t be deterred—she forced, ahem, persuaded Liz to give it one more try. This time, we decided to write from the heart instead of trying to predict what agents and publishers would want. And we think that decision made all the difference.
Despite the bumps—make that potholes—in the road to publication, it’s been a journey we’d take all over again because it’s made us closer than ever before. (There’s something sweet about sharing this experience with someone who knew you when you had a unibrow…).
Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over 25 years. They co-created Chick Lit is not Dead in 2009 to celebrate books women love and to have a place to talk shit about reality TV stars. Their novel, The Toast, about two childhood best friends who switch bodies at their twenty-year high school reunion, will be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in early 2014.