My 17-Year Journey to a Book Deal (or, Keep Going)

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This is me rocking a spike, oversized glasses, and headphones that are either playing “You Can’t Touch This” or “Go West Young Man.” Also, that’s either an Ocean Pacific or Bugle Boys sleeveless T because, obviously, who covers up guns like that? But even then, I cared most about good stories.

Back in early June, I sent my literary agent a text. We were expecting to hear a final decision from the publisher on Tuesday. It was Wednesday. I felt like so much depended on this. So many years. So many words.

“Any news?” I asked in the text.

She wrote back.

“Call me.”

* * * * *

In the dog days of August, circa 1985, I was a skinny 8-year-old reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the farmhouse porch, waving away the flies. Cows mooed in the background. The thing I hated the most was mowing the lawn, or anything else that interrupted my reading.

We had no air conditioning in that massive farmhouse, only a handful of huge box fans to move the warm air around, and on especially hot nights I’d sleep on the floor in front of one of them, the loud hum drowning out the world. I attached a sheet to the fan so that it blew up around me in a dome shape. It was like sleeping inside of a cloud.

I read under that dome with a flashlight until long into the night, the pages flapping back and forth in the gale force. It was like my own world, my own universe. There was the smell of the farm, the scratchiness of the carpet, the weariness of my eyes growing heavy. There was nothing else.

I devoured books in those days. I drank them down straight. The best of them left me in something like a buzzing stupor, and I wandered the farm for weeks after finishing, drifting through the beautiful trance they left me in. I sat by the creek, fishing, and my mind followed the water, meandered all the way to the sea.

I felt a tangible ache for Narnia. I opened every closet twice, quickly, and peered deep into the darkness, hoping to see snow-laden branches or hear the voice of a faun.

* * * * *

In college I dove deep into writing. It started out as journaling, moved into poetry, and occasionally stumbled into a few, halting efforts at novels. I spent afternoons beside the Yellow Breeches, a narrow stream that wound its way through our campus. I wrote in pencil then. Words and words and words in a little red notebook I found in the basement just the other day. The eroded red notebook was hiding between old yearbooks and containers holding floppy disks. The words are barely visible now, rubbed raw by all those years, all those moves.

I wrote the first paragraphs of at least twenty novels that never went any further (I wonder about all of those characters, where they went, what ever happened to them). I wrote a fair amount on three novels, got far enough to realize I didn’t know what to do with the middle part. There was something about that section of a story that always felt awkward, always trailed off into mumbled plot lines that never recovered. I became bored writing them and figured that meant someone would get bored reading them. I set them aside or threw them away.

I finished writing one novel in those days, very short. Very not-good. I might know where it is, but I’d rather not look at it. If I do find it, I think I’ll burn it ceremoniously. Maybe on a floating bier.

* * * * *

My writing road, like most people’s, has been long and winding. For the last 17 years I’ve experienced mostly rejections: I was rejected from at least five MFA programs (at least five – I’ve lost track), numerous literary journals, countless agents, and a series of publishers. I’ve kept many of those rejections in a file folder somewhere. I don’t know why. Maybe because they’re like scars? Maybe because I still want to prove them all wrong? Maybe because they make up this long, winding road I’ve traveled?

I broke into the publishing world seven years ago with the publication of a book I co-wrote, and that led to a lot of opportunities. In the following years, I self-published three books and co-wrote another fifteen, but my dream was still to have a publishing house publish my fiction. My own stories. Ever since I was 8 years old, under that sheet dome in the middle of the night, reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or A Wrinkle in Time, ever since then I’ve wanted nothing more than to make up stories, write them down, and have people read them.


I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that one. Maybe it’s because, to me, that’s the most real sort of magic I’ve ever encountered. I want to do it, too. I want to make that magic.

Four months ago, we started sending a book proposal for The Day the Angels Fell to publishers. That’s the book you all helped me self-publish through Kickstarter at the beginning of 2015. I think my agent sent the manuscript to 15 or 20 acquisitions editors. You can read about that process HERE and HERE. And that came with it’s fair share of rejections.

As one editor put it,

“Much as I like the voice, though, I’m afraid the story overall just doesn’t feel quite right for us.”

It was a long, hard wait, and towards the end I got impatient. I felt like the road I was on had leveled out and would never change. I was ready to move on with my life, chalk it up as another failure. But my agent, Ruth, kept encouraging me.

“Just give it a little more time,” she said.

So we did.

* * * * *

Then, a spark of light. An acquisitions editor liked my book. She loved it. She wanted her publishing house to take it on. We spent the better part of an afternoon talking with her, hearing her dreams for the book. I don’t think I said much. I was in shock. Someone who believed in my writing as much as I did? Someone from a publishing house who had fallen in love with something I had written?

“I’m taking this to my publication board next Tuesday,” she said. “And I’m hopeful that after that meeting, we will be making you an offer to acquire The Day the Angels Fell.”

* * * * *

Tuesday came and went. By Wednesday, I still hadn’t heard anything. I sent Ruth a text.

“Any news?”

She wrote back.

“Call me.”

I called her.

“I have good news,” she said. I sat there quietly as she told me the story.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, was offering me a three-book contract which included re-releasing The Day the Angels Fell, publishing the sequel, and publishing a third book of fiction, to be determined. I was shocked into silence. I couldn’t speak.

About ten minutes into describing the offer and what it meant, Ruth paused. She asked me a question.

“Are you happy with this?” There was uncertainty in her voice.

I laughed.

“Sorry, Ruth, I’m just in complete shock. I’m happier than you can imagine.”

* * * * *

Maile was listening outside the door the entire time. As soon as I hung up with Ruth, she came flying into the office.

“So?” she asked. “What did she say?”

I took a deep breath. I nodded.

“It’s good news. They’re making a three-book offer.”

She squealed.

“Are you serious?” she exclaimed. I told her the details. About that time, Ruth forwarded the offer letter to me.

“Here it is,” I told Maile. I started reading it to her, the opening note from the enthusiastic editor, Kelsey, who would now edit three of my novels. Here is one of the paragraphs:

When I initially read the first paragraph of The Day the Angels Fell, I was hooked. When one of our sales representatives read that same first chapter he emailed me immediately and said “this is something special.” Whether I’m reading what your fans are writing, listening to what my colleagues are saying, or am immersed in Sam Chambers’ world myself, I know that what you have here, in this book and in your writing overall, is exceptional.

The offer letter was so kind, so encouraging, so affirming of everything I’ve always tried to do as a story-teller. I got to the second paragraph of the offer letter when I was overcome with emotion. I sat down on the floor in the office, leaned my head up against the door frame, and sobbed.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” I finally said.

“You’ve been working towards this for years,” Maile said, laughing, still in disbelief. She sat down beside me. “This is it. You’ve finally done it.”

She took the computer from me and finished reading the letter out loud, and I sat there listening. It felt like she must be reading a letter written to someone else. I couldn’t believe this was for me.

* * * * *

I don’t think I ever would have gotten to this point without you, my kind and encouraging readers. For nearly seven years you’ve been reading my blog posts as well as the books I’ve co-written. Whether it’s the comments you’ve left, the emails you’ve sent, the reviews you’ve written, or the way you gave me overwhelming support when I self-published The Day the Angels Fell, your encouragement has propelled me forward on this journey.

There’s a long, exciting road ahead. We plan to release a hardback version (hardback!) of The Day the Angels Fell in the fall of 2017 (I know! That seems so far away!). It will be freshly edited and come with a brand new cover. For those of you who have been waiting for the sequel, The Edge of Over There, we’re planning to include the first few chapters of that book at the back of The Day the Angels Fell.

This is where I ask, once again, for your help. I cannot re-launch The Day the Angels Fell without your enthusiastic support. If you’re interested in being part of a fun group that will help me with the release of this book, sign up HERE. You’ll even receive a FREE ADVANCED COPY OF THE BOOK BEFORE IT RELEASES! In exchange, we’ll ask only two things: please review the book online, and help us spread the word during its release. You’ll also receive updates on our progress and provide important input on various things as they come up in the design and planning phase.

I’d love for you to continue to join me on this incredible ride. I promise I won’t email you more than once or twice a month. I won’t be sending these out in my normal newsletter, so if you can help with this book launch, please be sure to sign up HERE.

* * * * *

Now that the spike of excitement has begun to level off, I sit back and I wonder.

I wonder if I would have been in this precise spot, written this precise book, if I wouldn’t have received all of those stinging rejections through the years. I wonder if I would have met all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way if this opportunity would have fallen into my lap years ago. I wonder if we can ever write the stories we’re supposed to write without those times of deep sadness and disappointment, rejection and loneliness.

I hope you’ll keep walking your path. I hope you won’t give up. If I can do it, you can do it. I am no writing prodigy, no natural born success. I am simply someone who insisted on putting one foot in front of the other for a very long time. Someone who, with a lot of help from my writing community, refused to cave to the voices that told me I wasn’t good enough.

I wonder something else, too. I wonder what that little boy under the fan-and-sheet dome would think if he could have read The Day the Angels Fell. I wonder what dreams he would have had after reading it, what adventures he would have taken in the creek behind the church building. I wonder what he would have thought, looking up into the oak tree, the one struck by lightning when I was ten, the one that inspired the story in the first place.

Maybe somewhere, that will happen. Maybe a kid (or an adult) will stay up late into the night reading about Samuel Chambers. Maybe this book, this story, will somehow become tangled up in their life the way all those wonderful books I’ve read have become tangled up in my own.

A writer can hope.

Remember, please sign up HERE to join the launch team and receive your free advance reader copy next spring/summer. For more frequent updates and other random stuff, you can “like” my Facebook page HERE. And whatever your current dream, keep going! 

Seven Things You Should Know About the Sequel to “The Day the Angels Fell”

cover010-e1416195041963Sometime this week, I’ll do it.

I’ll open up the Scrivener file for the sequel to The Day the Angels Fell and I’ll start the next round of revisions. Of course, I still have normal, paying projects to work on so I’ll be doing these revisions in the early or late hours of the day. But I’m really looking forward to it – I haven’t even glanced at the manuscript for a few months. It will be fun to be back in Deen (and New Orleans, and…the Edge of Over There) with Abra.

For those of you who enjoyed the first book, here are some things about the sequel you might want to know:

1) The title is The Edge of Over There.*

2) Right now it’s hovering around 80,000 words, which is pretty close to the length of The Day the Angels Fell.

3) Abra and Sam are no longer close friends. In fact, Abra kind of steals the show in this one. Which my son Sammy won’t be happy about, because his standard comment about the first book was, “And guess what? I’m the main character!”

4) I’ll be independently publishing and offering the book for preorder through Kickstarter. I decided to use Kickstarter again for a number of reasons: the Kickstarter campaign for the first one was so successful (you guys funded it in two days!!!); it’s a great way to cover the publishing costs (which, if you want to put together a professional book, isn’t a cheap proposition); and it’s one of the easiest ways I can, as an independent publisher, offer the book for preorder.

5) I’ll be looking for folks to help me launch the book later in the fall. If you’re willing to help with that (basically by helping me spread the word with your friends and family and total strangers on the internet and in person via email, FB status updates, Twitter, and megaphone shouting in the subway), let me know in the comments or by clicking the Contact button at the top of the page and sending me a short message to that affect.

6) If you support the Kickstarter campaign at a certain level (I haven’t decided which one yet), you’ll receive a short-story that reveals some VERY interesting information about Sam’s mom. And Abra’s mom, too. Listen folks – they’re not who you think they are.

7) I had so much fun writing this book. I can honestly say, along with John Steinbeck, “Even if I knew that nothing would emerge from this book, I would still write it.”

So there you have it. I hope at least a few of you are looking forward to the sequel as much as I am.

Here’s a question for you…what are your thoughts on me using Kickstarter to release the sequel? Does it feel okay to you? Does it feel icky in any way? Is it something you’d consider supporting or are you all like, “Um, yeah, already gave you money Smucker so hit the road…” Comment on this in the comments section and I’ll send out a free paperback copy of The Day the Angels Fell to one lucky winner because I’d really like to know your honest opinion.

*I initially announced the title for the sequel last week in my newsletter, the one I email out every couple of weeks. If you’d like me to let you know about that kind of fun stuff (newsletter subscribers will be the first folks to see the cover for the new book), you can sign up for the newsletter at the top right of this page. It’s painless. And you can unsubscribe anytime if it starts to feel spammy.

Help Me Title My Next Book


I’ve finished the first draft of the sequel to The Day the Angels Fell and I’d love your input on the title. I understand that you have no idea what the book is about yet, but would you answer four questions for me?

1 – Which title do you like better: A) Through Doors We Should Not Open OR B) Into the Grave of Marie Laveau

2 – Which title do you like better: C) Come Let Us Build a Tower OR D) One Third of All the Stars

3 – Which title do you like better: E) The River We All Must Cross OR F) The Edge of Over There

Which of the six do you like best of all?

Feel free to only answer in letters (e.g. ADF-D). Feel free to also give more detailed input as to why you like what you like. Thanks! I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

The Day the Angels Fell on sale for $3.99

My main blog posts are still going to be on Mondays, but I thought I’d drop a quick line here for those of you who I only connect with through this blog. The Kindle version of my novel, The Day the Angels Fell, is on sale today for $3.99. A huge thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy for partnering with me in this promotion – with her help, and with many of you spreading the word, The Day the Angels Fell broke into the top 30 for Children’s ebooks > Literature and Fiction.

Check out her short review of the book and get a link to the sale price HERE.

Have a great weekend!

Why I’m Almost Speechless (or, The Official Launch of “The Day the Angels Fell”)

cover010-e1416195041963I started blogging sometime in January, 2010. Five years ago. And in that time I made some great friends in this rather incredible place called the Internet. And I found some pretty loyal readers. Some of you have walked alongside Maile and I and our kids through those really difficult early years. You came along on our 10,000-mile cross-country trip. You encouraged me through some tough times and you were always there to celebrate with me when things went well.

I feel like today is one of these landmarks we get to experience together: the release of my first novel, The Day the Angels Fell. While I’m extremely nervous about sending this book into the world, the fact that so many of you are walking through the process with me is very encouraging. The fact that you all helped me hit my Kickstarter goal in less than two days still blows me away.

Thank you.

The book releases today. If you’d like to go ahead and purchase a copy, you can find it at Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA (support a local bookstore!), on Amazon, or HERE for Kindle.

To celebrate the release of The Day the Angels Fell, I’ll be running a little contest here at the blog. It ends midnight, Friday night. The prizes include:

– one limited-edition hardback of The Day the Angels Fell

– one paperback version of The Day the Angels Fell

– one $25 gift card for Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA

– one $25 Amazon gift card

Enter the contest through Rafflecopter below (you may need to click over to my site if you’re viewing this post as an email), and I’ll announce the winners here at the blog on Saturday (I’ll also be announcing the five winners from the Kickstarter campaign – if you bought a book through Kickstarter, share a photo of the book on Instagram or Facebook by Friday night to enter that drawing).

Thanks again for all of your kindness to me, and I hope you enjoy The Day the Angels Fell.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stop Listening To Those Voices. Create.

A friend of mine posted this on her FB page last night. She received her book! They're making their way into the world, and I'm in two minds about that.
A friend of mine posted this on her FB page last night. She received her book! They’re making their way into the world, and I’m in two minds about that.

I spent over two hours in the post office on Friday mailing nearly 200 copies of The Day the Angels Fell to six different countries. At first the lady at the post office wasn’t too sure what to think of me, but by the end of it we were chatting amicably and when I found out she liked to read, I gave her a copy. You can always tell a reader by the way they receive the gift of a book.

Two hours is a long time to stand there watching someone scan and rescan and rescan barcodes and stamp stamp stamp and type type type. It was one of those times when the voices started up again in my head. Those good old voices.

Kickstarter was a great idea, wasn’t it? the first voice asked. I mean, now instead of making a fool of yourself in front of your family and friends, you’re doing it in front of a few hundred people!

I grimaced.

Also, another voice chimes in, now that you’ve already started scheduling a book tour, that will work out perfectly once all those 1-star reviews start coming in. How fun will that be, touring with a book that everyone hates!

I squirmed.

These guys don’t pull any punches. They know how to hit you where it hurts.

* * * * *

After listening to Anne Lamott the other week, I realized that one of the things I love most about her is that she’s reached a stage in life where she seems not to care what other people think about her, and she doesn’t try to control others. Wow. Those are two things I would love to be able to say.

I don’t care what other people think about me.

I refuse to try to control other people through judgment or manipulation.

I feel lighter, just thinking about living that way.

* * * * *

So as those yellow envelopes got barcoded and stamped and sent to Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and the US, I decided that I was going to celebrate the moment. I sent out 200 books to people who wanted to read them! That’s pretty cool. On the way home I stopped at the Fractured Prune for a dozen Mocha Buzz donuts, and when I got home they were still warm and Maile, my kids and I had a little celebratory snack, both because I had escaped the purgatory that is the USPS on a Friday just before Christmas and also because The Day the Angels Fell is making its way into the world. I don’t think we celebrate our creative endeavors enough. I know I don’t.

We can’t let our fear of failure keep us from creating. We can’t let an overdeveloped need-for-acceptance stunt our development as creative people, because this thing has to be created in order for that next thing to be created in order for that finally-beautiful thing to be created. Start now and don’t look around. Put on the blinders. Move forward.


* * * * *

For any of you who receive your copy this week, post a photo of you with the book on Instagram or Facebook and tag me (@shawnsmucker on Instagram or Shawn Smucker, Writer on Facebook), and you’ll be entered to win a free copy of the book. On Friday I’ll draw five winners and mail a copy to one person of your choosing (which could be you if you want a second copy).

Four days until the launch!