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  • [Path to Publication] A New Writer Gets a 1st Book Deal with a Big Five—When She Least Expects It
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[Path to Publication] A New Writer Gets a 1st Book Deal with a Big Five—When She Least Expects It
Written by
Tracy Slater
November 2014
Written by
Tracy Slater
November 2014

And Why You Don’t Need to Write Everyday To Be a “Real” Writer

In January of 2013, I signed a deal for my first book with G.P. Putnam's Sons, a hardcover division of Penguin Random House, one of the so-called “Big Five” publishing houses. The book is a memoir covering, in part, a time in my life when paradoxically I wasn’t writing at all.

It’s titled The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self and Home on the Far Side of the World, and at heart it’s a story of multicultural love, marriage, and mix-ups between a liberal, independent Bostonian and a traditional Japanese salaryman (aka the shogun, aka my husband). It will be released this summer, on June 30, 2015 (give me a minute and I’ll tell you the seconds between now and then…), and for the next six months I’ll be posting here about the pathway to publication for this most unexpected book deal.

My contract was actually to write a memoir that ended with abandoning my quest to have a baby with the shogun when I turned forty-five, after five years of trying to conceive. I signed the contract, turned forty-five, and six months later, found out I was pregnant. This past February, I gave birth to a healthy, miracle baby at age forty-six and a half, and I handed in my full manuscript to my editor at Putnam—with a new ending.

Now my countdown to publication will be accompanied by endless diaper changes, late-night feedings, and new bifocals for my forty-seven-year old eyes while I navigate my way to my book launch as a first-time parent of a baby girl whom I love ferociously, feel ridiculously lucky to have in my life, but who apparently hasn’t learned to phrase “sleeping through the night” in either English or Japanese.

Here’s Why You Should Stop Feeling Guilty for Not Writing Every Day

I know I got crazy-lucky with my book deal and that there are hundreds (thousands) of writers as talented as (and more talented than) me who just didn't happen to be at the same right place at the same right time. So I don’t mean to suggest that my story reflects the average “path to publication.” But it does show that, even in today’s tough publishing climate, people do get lucky and do get deals when they least expect them.

So in the rest of this first post, I want to suggest that the story of my book deal can be read as an argument against writers’ remorse. My hope is that, if you’re like me and you don’t manage to follow the First Commandment of “You Must Write Every Day To Be a Real Writer,” you stop feeling guilty about it.

In its entirety, my path to publication actually began when I hadn’t written a word creatively for almost a year. I was forty-four years old, living in Osaka with the shogun, and worn bare from years of IVF in Japan (where I barely speak the language) and two miscarriages. I felt awful about not writing, like I was going to go through my early- to mid-forties with nothing to show but a bunch of failures and heartbreaks, and no career or creative advancement at all. But writing was just too hard: to try to create meaningful scenes and sentences amidst the vacuum of not-knowing-if-anyone-would-read-it while dealing with the pain of four years of not-knowing-if-I-would-ever-get-knocked-up.

Then one night, I saw something on the New York Times Motherlode blog about adoption after IVF, and it gave me an idea for a pitch about why my husband and I had decided, after much soul-searching, not to adopt, despite my failure to maintain a pregnancy.

So I sat down and tried to start a brief pitch, and the whole thing just came rolling out of me. I sent it the pitch that night, and Motherlode’s editor accepted it. A few weeks later the post was up, and the next day, an editor from Putnam read it and then contacted me, inviting me to submit a memoir proposal.

Of course, I was convinced she had dialed the wrong number.

I don’t know how interested any of you will be in the steps between when the editor contacted me, when she convinced me she really was calling me, and when I got the actual contract signed, so I won’t detail them exhaustively here. (Especially because they are detailed somewhat exhaustively here; I’ll be discussing some of them more fully in future posts.) But once I had some sense that at least a few people might be interested in what I had to say, it became easier to write.

Anyway, I belabor this point a bit because I frequently hear that what makes a someone a real writer is that they just write, no matter what: they just keep going. And that just hasn’t always worked for me. Maybe I’m not a real writer; maybe I’m just someone with something to say who managed to interest an editor at Putnam and hopefully will interest a few more readers. But either way, I’d like to reassure people that sometimes (or at least this time), it’s not only the people who manage to write faithfully every day who get a book deal. For me, they key was to never give up completely, but to recognize that sometimes things move or succeed when you least expect them to—and go nowhere when you most feel like they should be moving.

In any case, I’d be honored if you’d continue to join me on this experience full of paradox and crazy-good luck, as I learn about what happens when you publish a book with a “Big Five” publisher—and hopefully get to take you along for a peek into the process. Throughout, I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and your own stories about the paradoxes of writing and your own pathway to publication. Also, I’d love to hear if you have topics you’d like me to write about in these posts.

Thanks so much for reading!


Tracy Slater is an American writer based in Japan. Her memoir The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World has been named a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and is forthcoming from Penguin Random House’s Putnam imprint in June. Her blog is http://thegoodshufu.wordpress.com, she is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheWriterTracySlater, and she is grateful to be part of the She Writes community.

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  • Tracy Slater

    Karen, wishing you the best of luck with all of it! It sounds like you are doing a ton. I've never done NaNoWriMo but hope it turns out to be useful for you--I hear great things from people who do it. And thanks so much for your interest in the book and my publication path. Looking forward to staying connected here!

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Very inspiring. I plan to follow your journey to publication with Random House and to someday read your memoir. I write when I can, around home-schooling my daughter and paid work that is not writing. I am somewhat half-wittedly participating NaNoWriMo because it will get me to write more than I usually manage to. And then there's the book about a labyrinth that I am researching for and writing notes about.

  • Tracy Slater

    Thanks, Dana and Loraine! Dana, you look absolutely fabulous. Keep rocking your 50s! And Loraine, I sent my sister your link and she was really interested in your project! Best to you, and to all.

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    I agree with Dana - there is something non-random about being dragged down, feeling like you are about to lose it all or can't handle it anymore, and in that surrender being met with abundance.  Paradox as you call it.  It is what I tried to capture in my blog piece - Life is like a kaleisdoscope.  And I also agree with Jenni that you have a lot more going for you than luck - your Four Stories series sounds very hip! 

  • Dana K. Schwartz

    Keep up the yoga! I'm a teacher and trust me on this, I'm 53, have 3 kids and it's what's kept me together on all levels because lets face it, 3 teen agers, well that's actually it in a nut shell...3 teen agers.

    I'm 50 in the photo, yoga+writing=rocking that tiara like I was born with it :)


  • Tracy Slater

    Dana, thanks so very much for your comment. First and most important: love your profile pic! I so appreciate your lovely comments and your enthusiasm for following along. Re: not sweating the small stuff--that's one really nice thing about being an older mother (as opposed to the aching knees and back...). It's just easier I think to be calmer. Plus, the yoga helps, so Namaste back at you. Looking forward to staying connected here!

  • Tracy Slater

    Jenni, Thanks so much! And congratulations on your miracle son. 38! You must look like his sister. So touched by your sweet comment and your interest in following along as I move towards pub date. All my very best to you and your family!

  • Dana K. Schwartz

    HI Tracy, no matter how it happens it's a blessing on your house-getting pregnant and getting a publishing deal. I love stories about people who swim through that buoyant, strengthening layer of luck when they are most exhausted and feel like the current is just going to continue to drag them away from their goal. I agree, life happens so sometimes writing doesn't happen, but life goes on which usually gives us something else to write about. You have sooo much to write about now, I look forward to following your story. Namaste and don't sweat the small things-

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    I'll follow along with interest! Love your website and blog, and your honesty and generosity to share your experiences. You are a beautiful writer with a heart-warming topic so I am not surprised you were offered a book deal; this is only a small part luck, but mostly hard work, great writing, and a good topic (commercial I guess, however crass that sounds in this context). Congratulations, and Go girl! Re adoption, our son adopted from Sri Lanka as a baby is now 38 and the most wonderful person on this planet. There are many paths to happiness, thank goodness. 

  • Tracy Slater

    Oh wow, Loraine, I would *never* have been able to marry someone from Japan and move here if it weren't for all the tech tricks that make me feel less far away from home! Re: the books yours compare to--I don't know any of them but I will keep an eye out for them. And for yours, of course! As for xenophobia, it is certainly really homogenous here. I think it's harder for Southeast Asians or East Asians from countries other than Japan than it is for white Westerners, though. I'm also really sheltered from it b/c I work as a writer so my professional life doesn't involve relying on a Japanese company. We'll see how it is raising a mixed-race child, though, here. (She already gets a lot of attention as a "hafu," or "half" here, which leaves a lot of room for analysis and commentary...). Anyway, thanks again for everything!

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    Thanks so much, Tracy!  Yes , my voice, recording in my smallest bathroom made the cut : ).  I need to check out Heart of Darkness, I know of the other two.  It is many ways also similar to Second Sight by psychiatrist Judith Orloff and my Stroke of Insight.  My dissertation and book chapter (on my website) compares the experiences of multiracial people from Suriname and the US.  I have heard of the intensity of xenophobia in Japan - hopefully you and your family are spared from it.  So cool how technology can make the world seem so small right? 

  • Tracy Slater

    PS. Loraine, just checked out your book trailer. Well done! You have an incredible voice, by the way (it is your voice, right?), and it really adds to the atmosphere of the trailer. Your book sounds a bit like a cross between Heart of Darkness, Wild, and The Drama of the Gifted Child! I wish you all the very best of luck with it. I'm sending the link to my half-sister now, actually. She is a social worker but very interested in alternative healing, too. Happy to have found you here!

  • Tracy Slater

    Thanks so much, Loraine! That's what I get for trying to complete something in between the munchkin's naps...  Thanks again--I really appreciate you catching those errors! All my very best to you.

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    Congrats!  Happy for you.  I think there may be a typo in the beginning of your post June 2016 instead of 2015 and put contact instead of contract. Been there!