ROW80 Check-In 6 : Sarah J. Maas’ success story

Hello gentle reader,

Today I want to share with you the writing journey of Sarah J. Maas. She is 26 years old and a YA Fantasy author. Her debut novel, THRONE OF GLASS, was released last Tuesday by Bloomsbury. Already her novel has received hundreds of five-star reviews on Goodreads, it has been quoted in the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal published a whole article about it.

So I haven’t read Sarah’s book yet, and I won’t go into details about it here. The reason I mention Sarah and her book is that she started writing Throne of Glass TEN YEARS AGO. It took her ten years to write and rewrite her book, to find an agent, to sell the book and have it published. TEN. YEARS.

On Tuesday she published a guest post on The Story Siren’s book blog explaining her ten-year journey. It’s a great read, so I have included it below.

Revision, Revision, Revision.
by Sarah J. Maas

“Getting to August 7th has been a journey over ten years in the making. I began writing THRONE OF GLASS back in March of 2002. I was sixteen years old, had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, and absolutely no clue how much this book would wind up shaping and changing my life.

My FictionPress origins have been discussed a fair amount in various places around the internet, so I’ll just give you the quick and dirty account of those first six years. A month into writing TOG (then titled QUEEN OF GLASS), I decided to throw up the first few chapters on FictionPress. I got such an enthusiastic response that I kept writing—and kept sharing. And in the six years that the story was on the site (the very, very rough drafts of the first three books of the series wound up being shared), it became the most-reviewed story on FictionPress. It was my FP readers that encouraged me to get published. And one day in Fall of 2008 (a few weeks after the final chapter of QOG/TOG had been posted), their support gave me the courage to remove TOG from FP in order to pursue publication.

By that time, I’d already started a secret, massive overhaul of the series, word for word, scene for scene, adding in new plotlines, expanding the world… In the six years since starting the series, I’d graduated from high school and college, and learned a hell of a lot about writing and books and storytelling. Of course, none of that taught me anything about the realities of publishing. Like…what the average book length should be.

So, it’s with a bit of horror and shame that I admit I sent out three very preliminary queries…

With a 240k-word manuscript (for Book 1).

I got the three rejections that I deserved.

It wasn’t until the amazing Mandy Hubbard (YA author and agent…and an FP fan of mine) offered to read the ms and give feedback that I understood was NEVER going to get an agent with a 240k-word fantasy novel. And it was Mandy who found places for me to cut and trim and condense…until we had a 150k-word manuscript. A few months and some more revisions later, (in December 2008), I sent out a round of queries…and landed my amazing agent from that batch.

We actually spent several months revising the manuscript—paring it down even more (I think it was around 140-145k words by the time we went on submission). My agent went on maternity leave for several months after that, and we did one FINAL round of revision when she came back.

Then, in summer 2009, we went on submission to editors. I know the internet is full of overnight YA mega-deal stories, but mine was not one of them. It took until December of 2009 for us to hear that an editor at Bloomsbury was VERY interested.

But.

(BUT!)

They wanted Book 1 to be more self-contained (it originally had a very open and unresolved ending). And they WERE super-interested…but only if I could present a detailed outline for the mega-revision I’d do if they offered.

So, after brainstorming with my agent, we came up with a solution: I’d split Book 1 in half. Not chronologically, but rather just PULL one of the major plotlines (there were two) and set it aside to make a brand-new Book 2 (thus pushing back other books in the series). And then I’d completely revamp the remaining plotline to contain a new, resolved ending.

What’s somewhat ironic is that in my initial rewrite of TOG (back before I began querying, and before Mandy even came along), I’d removed one of the original elements of Book 1, which was this competition to find the new personal assassin for the King. BUT, when it came time to come up with this outline for Bloomsbury, that competition was the FIRST thing I thought of—so I wound up bringing that plot back into the story.

So, we submitted that proposed outline. And waited.

And waited. And waited. And in March of 2010, we got our offer, based on that outline.

Once the celebrating had worn off, I realized that I now actually had to rewrite Book 1 from the ground up. It took me several months, but I eventually turned it in. Only to get an edit letter six months later (…yep.) that involved HEAVY amounts of revision. Nearly another rewrite. But I got through it (we’re into 2011 now), and I got through her second, super-intense revision letter, and then her smaller, surface-level third letter, and then…we were done (in late summer 2011). Of course, then there were copyedits and first pass pages and all of that fun stuff afterward, but by comparison, that stuff felt like a walk in the park.

As I’ve been writing all of this out, I’ve been realizing that this looks sort of bad. THAT many rewrites and revisions? You’re probably thinking that this was the most broken and un-publishable book of all time (…I certainly like to think that is NOT the case.). But honestly? It was hell. It was exhausting, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

But each of those revisions and rewrites brought me closer to my true vision for the book, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Each edit letter gave me the opportunity to make the story better, to spend MORE time figuring out the world and the characters and the plot. It allowed me to learn SO much as a writer—but also as a person. I learned about my own strength—about just how far I was willing to go to make this book a reality. I learned that I CAN do anything I set my mind to, and that it might take years, but it is worth it.

And I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. Not a single one.

So when I walk into a bookstore today and see that book on a shelf, I’m not just seeing my book, and the story that is in my very soul. I’m also seeing over ten years of work—I’m seeing PROOF that “impossible” is nothing but a word. I’m seeing my dream, at long last, become a reality.”

So this is Sarah’s story. I hope it can give hope to all of you, fellow ROWers and would-be-published writers out there.

Now on to my ROW80 goals:

I’m still off work, which means that my daily schedule changes from one day to another. I haven’t been writing as regularly as I want to, but

1-       Write everyday: 3/7 days.

2-       Self-edit The Last Queen: a little bit done this week.

3-       Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: not done this week.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

12 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In 6 : Sarah J. Maas’ success story

  1. Writing epic fantasy, I’m very aware of the variety of ways a story can be put together. It can be both daunting and frustrating at times, so rather than thinking Sarah’s book must have been “broken and un-publishable” – I’m very encouraged to hear the process does work.

    Thanks, Sarah for sharing and congratulations on your success. You obviously have a well deserved fanbase.

    Another great post (EM. where do you find so many great authors???)!

  2. Thanks for sharing that story. It’s enough to give me hope that one day, with enough work and perseverance, maybe my train-wreck of a manuscript has a chance to get published lol Good luck for the rest of the round 🙂

  3. Juliana Haygert says:

    Oh, I already read Throne of Glass and let me tell you: IT’S GOOOOOOD!
    It’s always good to know other’s path to publication, and how hard it was for them too.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jeff Clough says:

    Sarah’s story is the sort I love sharing with my non-writer friends, none of whom understand the blood, sweat, and insanity that goes into writing words for a living. It’s great that she’s finally seen her first book on shelves, and her experience is encouraging.
    Hopefully your schedule can settle down and let you focus more on your writing soon. Good luck!

  5. Wow, you just made my day. I’ve been on sub a couple times now, with different projects, some have gone completely unanswered for two years now, so I’d given up completely, and moved on to better projects. When I hadn’t heard immediately on the new one, I felt myself slipping into a major depression. It wasn’t happening for me like so many others I’d read about, again. I love this story. Love the time frames, the angst, the waiting…it gives me hope. Thanks.

    • EM Castellan says:

      I’m very glad to hear that! I guess we all have our doubts about writing at some point and Sarah’s story do show that you should never give up on your dream. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. Gloria Weber says:

    If I worked on anything I started writing at sixteen… There were vampires and magical girls made of mist and the world thanks me for leaving that in the past. But that’s super kudos to her to have such skills emerge at that age. I wish you luck with your goals. 🙂

  7. EM Castellan says:

    I know what you mean, the stories I was writing at 16 are utterly unpublishable 😉 Thanks for your support!

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