anica Davidson has an amazing success story to share. What you can learn from her are several lessons, including: you never know where an assignment will lead you and persistence most definitely brings success. After you read her personal journey of being rejected for years and now having contracts for seventeen books (yes, seventeen!), we’re sure you’ll be busy figuring out how to pursue your own dreams and create a pathway to writing success.
WOW: Danica, thank you for taking time to tell us about your writing success! Let’s start from the beginning of your amazing story. When you wrote to us about your success story, you stated: “After years of rejection, Danica Davidson has signed contracts for fourteen books with three different publishers in the past two and a half years.” What were you trying to get published during those years of rejection and how many years was it?
Danica: Thank you! I had a few different novels I was sending out over the years. There was always this voice in me telling different stories, and I remember that voice from very early childhood. I was finishing novels when I was in middle school, and that’s when I started sending to agents. Either they’d ignore me, or they’d essentially tell me I was a good writer but had no platform. It was my dream to be a young writer, and everywhere agents and editors told me, “No.”
I kept submitting for about fifteen years, starting from middle school, before I made my first book sale. When I hear people dejectedly say they’ve been submitting for a few months or got ten rejection letters, I want to tell them that’s normal and to hold on. Since I turned in that success story to WOW, I also signed a contract for three more books, bringing the total up to seventeen. I just keep plugging away. Three years ago, I never would have believed this could happen. Just over three years ago, I was really wondering what I was doing and feeling like I was never going to make it in the book world, and that this dream of mine was just delusional.
“It was actually building that platform and writing as much as I could that sold my first book.”
WOW: Congratulations on three more books to bring your total to seventeen! That’s amazing. We are so grateful you wrote to us and that you’re sharing your story with us. Something must have happened—because you have seventeen books contracted, eight of which are already out. So what happened? What was the break that you needed?
Danica: I’m going to have to back up a little here. When I was in high school, I took some of my writing to the local newspaper. I did whatever freelance article they sent me to report on, and I took these articles to a local artsy paper, where I did an article on something that really interested me: interviewing anime voice actors. I sent these articles to different anime magazines, and Anime Insider liked the work, so I began freelancing for them. From there, I sent my articles to other places that would let me cover anime and manga. I got into Booklist, Publishers Weekly, MTV, CNN and The Onion, all based on writing about anime and manga! I also had a job for a while adapting manga into English. (It would already be translated; but Japanese-to-English can sound very literal and stilted, so I was hired to rewrite it to sound more natural.)
Eventually, I became a full-time journalist, still submitting to agents and editors. I was building my platform, but the goal was always to write books, not to be a journalist. Within a few years, I’d published a few thousand articles, and the agent I got was impressed with this. Then, as we were submitting my book, the publisher Skyhorse reached out to me about doing a book on manga for them because they were aware of my manga work. It was actually building that platform and writing as much as I could that sold my first book.
WOW: This is a great example of how hard work pays off. Now, six of your novels are books for Minecrafters. Can you explain to us what that means and how you were able to receive a contract for these?
Danica: Sure! After I sold the manga book, the same editor asked if I had any ideas involving Minecraft. So I took a quick peek at the Minecraft books already out there. I knew I didn’t want to write a how-to book because I’d rather be creative when I can. I decided to pitch a chapter book for ages 7-12 about an 11-year-old boy named Stevie who lives in the Minecraft world but accidentally finds a portal to Earth. I sent an outline to the publisher through my agent, and they got back within days and said they wanted it. I was given a deadline of six weeks, so I got right on it. It really harkens back to the adventure stories I liked to read and write as a kid, only these books have a Minecraft theme. The first book did well, so I ended up doing more.
WOW: That is so awesome. It is a great example of saying yes and creating your own path. One of your books is an art book: Manga Art for Beginners. So besides writing, did you also know how to draw or was this something you researched?
Danica: I worked with an artist named Melanie Westin for this. When Skyhorse reached out to me about doing a book on how to draw manga, I said I wasn’t an artist, but I knew a lot about manga. So they told me to get an artist, and I promptly did. I wrote out the layout of the book and what common character types would be shown. I also decided that each character would be drawn in about twelve steps, so you can really see what’s going on. I also wrote all the introductions and descriptions that go next to each drawing.
There’s a sequel coming out next year, Manga Art for Intermediates, which I did with Rena Saiya, a professional artist from Japan. It will continue to show how to draw manga characters in extra steps, but it will also go into more professional detail, like how to ink, what pens to use, etc.
“Find your voice and nurture it.”
WOW: What great experience! I’m sure several of our readers are now wondering a) how do they get to write commercial books like this b) are you told what to write in the contract or do you get to be creative with the characters?
Danica: It was something I got into after years of submitting and telling agents and editors I could write in different styles. I got told more than once by agents and editors that writers can only write in one style. I think the imagination is the limit!
The level of creativity varies. With the Minecrafter books, it’s really all up to me. With Barbie, I came up with the idea (in the comic, Barbie and her sisters throw a puppy party to get all the local shelter pets adopted), which Mattel really liked. But then Mattel read over my outline and script and would tweak things. So the bulk of it is my idea, but I didn’t have the same freedom.
WOW: What are the titles of your other books still coming out?
Danica: I have a sequel Minecrafter series coming out this fall, starting with the title Adventure Against the Endermen. It will be six more books, and it has the same main characters but different villains. I also have a textbook on hate crimes coming out from Rosen Publishing, which is aimed to teach students about the issues, laws, opinions, etc., surrounding hate crimes. I got that job because the editor of the Barbie comic also edits nonfiction books. (You’d be surprised how often editors work in different areas; and if they like you in one area, they might hire you in another. So if you have an editor and want to do more, always let them know you’re open.)
It looks like there will probably be another Barbie comic, and I have another manga book coming out. I have other pitches out as well, to see what lands. I’m having fun writing these series, but I also want to get some of my original work out as well.
WOW: With all this great success, are you now a full-time writer?
Danica: Yes, I’m a full-time writer. But I also still experience rejection for some of my work. I thought getting published would open up all doors, but it’s more complicated than that.
WOW: Thank you for sharing that with us. I’m sure other writers were wondering that as well. What is the advice you can give to a writer you would like to follow in your footsteps?
Danica: Love writing; don’t give up; try new things. Find your voice and nurture it. Learn from constructive criticism to be better, but also know some people out there are never going to be pleased. And have a sense of humor because sometimes life is ironic to the extreme.
“She actually simplified my letter to the basics of what I stood for, and then I got a few agents asking to see more.”
WOW: You’ve also mentioned a few times your agent, and I read on your website that you are shopping around a YA novel. Tell us a little about how you secured your agent and your novel!
Danica: The novel is one I wrote some years ago, before I had an agent. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s a world where mythology meets high school, because there’s nothing more terrifying than otherworldly forces on top of algebra homework!
I submitted queries to agents for years and couldn’t get my foot in the door. I think mostly the query letters are not read by the agents themselves. I got a couple nasty rejection letters; but mostly when they were personalized, they told me I was a good writer but not right for their list. I started to feel like I wasn’t right for anybody’s list. So then I started networking more online through things like LinkedIn, and I met an editor there. She’d just left a company and was looking for new employment, including possibly MTV. I was working at MTV at the time, and I told her I could pass her resume along. She said if I did that, she could help me with my query letter and pass it along to agents she knew. She actually simplified my letter (I was thinking it needed to be more complex) to the basics of what I stood for, and then I got a few agents asking to see more. One said he’d read my book and would get back to me in a few days. I thought that was funny because they all said that, and they never got back in the time they said. But then he did, and he offered representation. I was floored. We talked over the phone, liked each other, and signed a contract.
Sometimes people find agents creatively, like this. I hear about them meeting agents in conventions, for example. I didn’t have the funds to go to many conventions, so I did my work online.
WOW: Another inspirational story for us! You also have a very impressive bibliography of publications where your articles have appeared. What type of articles do you tend to write?
Danica: Thank you! It started with whatever I could get my hands on. I was writing about things like tractor pulls for the local paper. Then I got into my anime/manga angle, and that also led me to get into writing about American comics as well. Booklist and Publishers Weekly wanted manga articles. CNN wanted to get into geeky things, and The Onion did comics coverage but wanted more manga coverage. MTV started me out by having me write about Marvel and DC comics being turned into movies.
“The amount of rejection you typically face before you get published is much higher than most people realize.”
WOW: Amazing! How do writers break into publications, like The Onion, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Ms.?
Danica: All of these places want a few things: they want clean copy, turned in before a deadline. It sounds simple, but I’ve seen a lot of journalists go to the wayside because they don’t care about their spelling or grammar (they think the editor will fix it), or they think deadlines are suggestions. When I showed Booklist my Anime Insider articles, for example, I caught their attention because they saw a paying magazine willing to publish my writing. So they knew: (1) that meant I turned in clean copy because otherwise Anime Insider wouldn’t want to deal with me (2) I made my deadline because otherwise Anime Insider wouldn’t want to deal with me (3) they liked the writing style. Once you write for one place, other places will be willing to look at your work. Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. I had to start small and build up, and that’s usually how it works.
I want to be clear, though, that I submitted to more magazines than these, and I did not get into all of them. You never will. Some places are not hiring, or some places are not a good fit. I send in short, respectful emails linking to articles and offering to write for them. If I don’t hear back, I send a few respectful follow-up emails, making sure at least a few weeks pass in-between because I don’t want to be annoying. If there’s still no interest that I see, I move on to someplace else.
WOW: So true, Danica. Anything else you would like to add?
Danica: I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my books. Being a writer is not always easy because it’s often lonely, people find the job to be suspicious or not-a-real job, and criticism is a part of the work. And the amount of rejection you typically face before you get published is much higher than most people realize. I want struggling writers to know that they are not alone; and whatever fears you have, I had or still have them, too. Writing can also be a very humanizing experience, where we realize we’re not as alone as we thought we were.
WOW: It looks like you have an amazing career ahead of you thanks to your persistence and hard work. We really appreciate everything you have shared with us today. Thank you!
Readers, if you want to check out more about Danica and her books, please go to her website at www.DanicaDavidson.com.
Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and writing coach, living in St. Louis, MO. She blogs about practical parenting and being a single parent working on life at www.MargoLDill.com, where you can also find out more about her children’s books. She teaches the online writing course for WOW!, “Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach,” which has more details here.