How I Landed My First Book Contract!

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

I did it! I finally received a contract for my YA book The Nexis Secret from OakTara Publishers. Now I’ve morphed from hopeful writer into budding author. I was so completely shocked that I’m pretty sure I said “No way,” about 20 times. Especially when I read the email from the editor saying she loves the book, my concept is fascinating, and it has great market potential.

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

Signing my first contract with OakTara, next to mini-Jane Austen.

Back to the Start

Like many writers, I started writing short stories at a young age. I was probably about 9 or 10 when I penned my first story in fourth grade. But for me, writing always seemed like a lofty dream–something I could never really attain. It wasn’t until college that I started to wonder. Maybe I could write a book. Thanks to my drama teacher’s belief in my writing, I took the plunge and signed up for a creative writing class. That’s where I laid the ground work for this story.

After college I continued to work on my story, but it wandered aimlessly. Back then it was a coming-of-age novel with chick lit undertones. In my search for direction, I stumbled upon ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers, and jumped into local meetings. What an eye-opener. I learned chick lit was dead and college-age heroes weren’t marketable. With much wrestling and prayer, I transformed the story into the paranormal teen novel it is today. My journey from contemporary to paranormal fiction will appears in my blog post, Lighting Up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction.

Since joining ACFW and interacting with my local KC West chapter, I’ve learned to hone my writing into something publishable. Along the way I’ve made awesome friends. Let’s face it, no one can understand my brand of crazy quite like other writers. They encouraged me to read writing books, enter contests, and attend writers conferences. Without them, and the unwavering support of my wonderful husband, Sam, I wouldn’t have accomplished my lifelong dream. Because what came next was something I would’ve never imagined.

Dealing With Obstacles

Due to budget cuts, my day job turned into a data entry nightmare. Over time, my hands and elbows took the brunt of overuse, screaming their pain at me. Enough so I couldn’t write anymore. I visited many doctors, received several diagnoses, but most of them eventually got ruled out. Meanwhile, my hands and my book chugged along a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and extreme lows. One writer loved my work enough to recommend me to her agent, who hated my story. I semi-finaled in ACFW’s Genesis contest and pitched my way to three manuscript requests. Within 6-8 weeks those requests all came back with rejections.

I’d received so many rejections that I almost didn’t make it to my favorite little conference, the Called to Write Conference in Pittsburg, Kansas. Craving encouragement, I sent an excerpt for critique to Deborah Raney, one of the kindest authors in the ACFW. Not only did she love my writing, but she showed it to her editor friend, Ramona Tucker, co-founder of OakTara Publishers.

A few years ago I reviewed an OakTara book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, here on my blog. I was still a bit skeptical about this small publisher, until I listened to one of Ramona’s lectures. Her passion for writing and for the publishing industry convinced me that I should take OakTara seriously. Combine that with Ramona’s vast publishing experience working with top authors (like my favorite author of all-time, Madeleine L’Engle) and I was hooked.

A Turning Point

Apparently Deb loved my book so much she even discussed it with Ramona over dinner. On the last day of the conference Deb told me how much Ramona absolutely loved The Nexis Secret and wanted to meet me. Ramona then asked me to submit my manuscript to Oak Tara.

As many writers know, life sometimes gets in the way. My hands were getting worse until I finally lost my day job. Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. In the months that followed, the pain eased up until I was able to polish up my novel and send it to OakTara. Then I waited . . .

In my impatience, or active waiting depending on your perspective, I entered The Nexis Secret into ABNA, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My entry made it to Round 2, the top 20% of all entries. The deadline to withdraw from the contest was fast approaching, after that Amazon has first contract refusal rights. One day before the deadline I got the email from Oak Tara offering me a contract.

I admit, it took me awhile to wrap my brain around the concept. What I prayed about for a year, the publishing house with one of Madeleine L’Engle’s editors, wants to publish my book. That night I withdrew from the ABNA contest. The next day I signed and mailed the contract–and haven’t looked back.

My thirty-year dream of getting published is now coming true! (I probably dreamed about becoming an author as a baby, but that’s just a theory 😉 ) A big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last four years as I sought to turn my dream into a reality. There will be more big news to come–like my book’s release date and its cover reveal. I’ll be sure to keep you posted right here, where it all started.



  1. Pingback: Lighting up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction | Barbara Hartzler

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