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How did you get published?

Continued from “How did you get interested in being a writer?”)

The journey from starting to write to actually getting published was long, frustrating, and difficult. I wrote 13 novels before I sold Elantris, which was my sixth. The big change for me happened when I managed to figure out how to revise. I always had good ideas and got better and better at storytelling. But it was the power of revision that finally got me published. It took about eight years of dedicated writing and being rejected.

By this time, I had already written about twelve or thirteen novels, which I was trying to market for publishing. I was still working the graveyard shift at the hotel, and eventually one of the manuscripts that I’d sent somewhere got me a callback from an editor who had finally looked at my manuscript and wanted to buy it. I actually got the phone call as a voicemail. It was from an editor that I’d sent a book to eighteen months before. By that time I had pretty much given up on it; eighteen months is a lot longer than you expect for them to ever get back to you. You figure, “Okay, it’s either lost or they didn’t like it and just rejected it but forgot to send you a letter.” 

It’s a funny story, though. The one who gave it to the person who finally contacted me was actually an agent I had met and talked to at a convention. He said to me then, “Oh, you seem so nice,” and later told me that it was because I was such a nice guy that he didn’t want to just reject the book without looking at it. I guess that got me lots of points, because he sat on it for all those eighteen months before he eventually looked at it. But by then all my contact info was wrong, because during the time that I had sent the book out, I had moved and stopped using AOL for e-mail. I had also purchased a cell phone, so my phone number was no longer accurate. So this person, who would later become my editor, had to google me. He found my contact information on my BYU grad student page, which fortunately I had kept up-to-date, and when he called me, the voicemail said, “Hi, I don’t know if this is the right Brandon Sanderson, but if it is, you sent me a manuscript about eighteen months ago, and I finally started looking at it last night. I got a few hundred pages into it, and I knew I had to call you and make sure it’s still available, because I think I want to buy it.”

I called him back, and then I called the agent that I had met, because it seemed like his editorial style matched mine. He handled the contract negotiations, and I became an author. I quit my graveyard shift job, taught freshman English composition in between to keep me going while we were waiting for the books to actually come out, and fortunately I’ve never had to go and get another real job. I’ve always worried I would have to.