I am not someone you might call a “typical” author. My first book, Taking Lives, the Prequel to the Lives Trilogy, was published just months before I turned sixty-one-years-old. I had never been “trained” to write. My undergrad was as a social studies major and psychology minor with the intention of teaching and coaching. It wasn’t until after I earned my master’s degree in counseling and moved out to California when I took creative writing and screenwriting courses. I was on the older side to suddenly become an author. But Taking Lives was the second book I wrote. My first was Stolen Lives, Book One of the Lives Trilogy.
It took me almost two years from the idea to its final form. I wrote and edited it like crazy. I got Stolen into what I thought was tip-top shape. Or so I thought.
I landed an agent, Stacey Donaghy, who now runs her own agency. She shopped it to multiple publishers, both big and small, but to no avail. Rejection after rejection followed. Enough rejections to wallpaper a small room in my house. It was nothing against Stacey. She did her absolute best, and she is one of the more successful agents in the business. But publisher after publisher stated the book was “too dark” or “good writing, but the subject matter . . .” We heard that over and over. Disheartening, to say the least.
But I was reminded that other, more famous authors, were also rejected. Among the many, I chose six I’m sure you heard of:
J. K. Rowling sent her finished manuscript to 12 different publishers only to be rejected by them all. A Bloomsbury editor finally picked up the book for an advance of just £1,500. Her editor suggested she get a teaching job, as it was unlikely that she would earn a living from writing children’s books. The book became one of the best-selling series in history, with over 450 million copies purchased world-wide.
Stephen King was the first to reject his own story, Carrie. After writing a frustrating first draft and feeling that he was wasting his time creating a book that wouldn’t sell, he threw it out. The next day, he found that his wife had pulled the wrinkled papers out of the trash, telling him to finish it. It was rejected 30 times before being picked up by Doubleday. It sold over a million copies and become a successful film.
Rejected by 27 publishers, Dr. Seuss was on his way home to burn his manuscript when he ran into an old school acquaintance. When asked what he was carrying, Seuss replied, “A book no one will publish. I’m lugging it home to burn.” The acquaintance, an editor of children’s books, insisted on seeing it. It was published to rave reviews, and Dr. Seuss went on to write over 60 children’s books.
A publisher rejected John le Carré’s first novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, with a remark to his agent, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.” The novel became an international bestseller and won several literary awards.
“Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.” Those were the words of one publisher who passed over the manuscript for Little Women. Alcott ignored his advice, and the book went on to be well received with one reviewer stating it was “the very best of books to reach the hearts of the young of any age from six to sixty.” It is still a classic 150 years later.
Joseph Heller named his satirical book about World War II after the 22 rejections he received: Catch-22.
Now, I mention these authors not to compare myself to them, or even to place myself on their level. I mention them because even the famous receive rejections. I also mentioned my age, 60, only to point out that it is never too late to do what you love to do. It’s never too late to chase and take hold of a dream. Never!
So, how did Stolen Lives finally get published?
I asked my agent, Stacey, if I could try to get it published. She gave me the go ahead with “best wishes.” To this day, we’re still acquaintances and connect every so often on Facebook.
While on Facebook, I noticed a small, tiny publisher, and I contacted them. One day after work, my daughter and I were driving home, and I received a phone call from the publisher. I was so excited, I almost drove off the road. The publisher stated they wanted to publish Stolen Lives, but . . .
“Here it comes!” I said to myself. Massive rewrites. A plot change. All of that ran through my mind. But that wasn’t what she wanted. She said, “We would like a series. Can you do that?”
My answer was, “Yes, you bet.”
The reason for my answer is that in any book, there are loose ends. While there is a satisfying ending to Stolen Lives, there were “bad guys” who got away. And a question in my mind was, “What happens to the kids once they return home?” We get that answer in Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives, and to some degree in Splintered Lives, Book Three of the Lives Trilogy. Mostly, Splintered Lives ties up the loose ends, and sets the kids up for more adventures in my more recent books. So yes, I could, and did, write a series on missing and exploited children, each earning more than 4 star ratings on Amazon.
The other part of the publisher’s “but” was that they wanted me to write a prequel to introduce the reader to the trilogy. This was trickier.
In Taking Lives, Prequel to the Lives Trilogy, I started two years earlier from the beginning of Stolen Lives. It gave me an opportunity to set up the action in Stolen Lives. I imagined what life might have been like for George, his grandfather, and for Brett, while the investigation by the FBI took place, unbeknownst to those characters. As one of my promo lines reads, Even though they live in separate parts of the country, the lives of Kelliher, 11-year-old Brett McGovern, and 11-year-old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread that Kelliher holds in his hand.
Taking Lives ends on a cliffhanger. I did that on purpose, and once you read it and Stolen Lives, you will understand why. I felt it was important that I do so.
When Taking Lives and Stolen Lives were published, they ended up #2 and #4 on Amazon, the second and third highest ratings my books have earned so far. Who would have thought? While I believed in the stories, I did not know they would become that popular.
Fast forward to one year ago today. My current publisher, Black Rose Writing, asked to re-issue all four books- the prequel and the trilogy. They did so with my eternal thanks. It has given those four books new life. In fact, Stolen Lives was named a Crime Thriller finalist in the 2021 Best Thriller Book Awards,and became a Literary Titan Gold Book Award Winner! BestThrillers wrote, “Stolen Lives is one of the year’s top books and is a must-read for crime thriller fans.” They also made it an Editor’s Pick.
After all the rejections and feeling sorry for myself, it took almost two years for Stolen Lives to get published. Like many before me, and I’m sure, many after me, my rejection became an acceptance, and that acceptance turned my writing life around. Thankfully so.
For your convenience, the links and book descriptions of the prequel and trilogy are below, in case you want to check them out. I hope you do. A dark read, but you’ll find it worth your time.
The Lives Trilogy Prequel, Taking Lives:
FBI Agent Pete Kelliher and his partner search for the clues behind the bodies of six boys left in various and remote parts of the country. Even though they live in separate parts of the country, the lives of Kelliher, 11-year-old Brett McGovern, and 11-year-old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread that Kelliher holds in his hand. The three of them are on a collision course and when that happens, their futures grow dark as each search for a way out. https://amzn.to/34nXBH5
Book One of the Lives Trilogy, Stolen Lives:
Two thirteen-year-old boys are abducted off a safe suburban street. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents have 24 hours to find them or they will end up like the other kids they found- dead! They have no leads, no clues, and nothing to go on. And Kelliher suspects that one of his team members might be involved. https://amzn.to/3oMo4qZ
Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives:
The boys are home, but now they have to fit back in with their families and friends. Their parents and the FBI thought the boys were safe. They were until people began dying. Now the hunt is on for six dangerous and desperate men who vow revenge. No leads and nothing to go on. The FBI can only sit back and wait. A dangerous game that threatens not only the boys, but their families. https://amzn.to/2RAYIk2
Book Three of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives:
Three dangerous men with nothing to lose offer a handsome reward if fourteen-year-old Brett McGovern was killed. He does not know that he, his younger brother, and a friend are targets. More than anyone, these three men vow to kill George, whom they blame for forcing them to run and hide.
A fun vacation turns into a nightmare and ends where it started, back on the Navajo Nation Reservation, high on a mesa held sacred by George and his grandfather. Outnumbered and outgunned, George is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect his adoptive father and his adoptive brothers- but can he? Without knowing who these men are? Or where they are? Without knowing whom to trust? Is he prepared for betrayal that leads to heartbreak and his possible death? http://bit.ly/SplinteredLives
2 thoughts on “The Journey to Publication for Stolen Lives, Book One of the Lives Trilogy”
I really admire your determination, Joseph!