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Natalie Birzer- on a Mission

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As a Blue Valley West student, Natalie Birzer dreamed of one day writing a book. Now, five years after her graduation, that dream is becoming a reality– her new book, “Mission Hills,” will be published in October. When writing the story, a tale of three teenage girls navigating the high school social scene in Mission Hills, Birzer drew inspiration from her experiences growing up in the Kansas City area.

“As a girl, or even just growing up in this area in general, you just see so much… all of the drama, and all of the kind of funny stories. That was plenty of inspiration to write a book about,” Birzer said.

While Birzer found that writing the book was the quickest and easiest part of the process, the remaining parts were more difficult and time-consuming.

“I got everything down on paper, and that took about two months. What took the longest was really going back and editing and filling in all of those holes. Because I knew in my mind exactly where the story went and exactly what I wanted to happen, but then, for example, my sister read through it and was like, ‘Well, you’re kind of missing an important part of your scene here,’” Birzer said. “So just going back definitely took the longest.”

Birzer believes that her path to publication is a testament to the amount of information easily accessible to young people today, as she learned much of what she needed to know from Google.

“I didn’t really have any idea when I went into it what would be a good publisher to use, what the process was, how you get publishers to notice,” Birzer said. “So I just Googled, ‘What is the first step to getting a book published,’ [and] ‘What are good publishers,’ and then I found out you’re supposed to write this query letter, so it’s like, ‘Okay, Google. What is the format of a query letter? What is an example?’ And really, that’s how I taught myself. It’s neat that we can do that because I feel like even 10 or 15 years ago, I would have had to find someone who had written a book and really asked them… but I had all of that information so readily available for me.”

One of the first things Birzer learned is that there are multiple ways to approach the publishing business.

“There’s two different options to get a publisher. To get a bigger publisher, you have to have an agent, and then to have a smaller publisher, you can reach straight out to the publisher, so I tried both,” Birzer said. “I sent the first three chapters of my book and a query letter to so many agents, so many publishers. And again, to find all of those, I Googled “agents accepting manuscripts,” [and] “publishing houses accepting manuscripts,” just took that list, sent it to everyone, and then really just waited. It was such a waiting game. Then finally…I ended up just signing with one.”

The Information Age does have its drawbacks, however, as Birzer learned soon after signing with her first publisher.

“[T]here are so many publishers out there, but it’s hard to find a credible one,” Birzer said. “When I started sending out, I had six offers right away and was just so excited. I signed with one, and two months later it went out of business.”

This early setback prompted Birzer to look more closely at the information available online.

“After doing more research, I found there are so many startup publishing houses, and really you have to look at their track record. I think I just originally was so excited to have a publishing, an offer, [but] there’s actually more to it–you can’t just choose the first one,” Birzer said.

Despite the mishap, Birzer was able to rebound and continue with the editing and publication process.

“I reached back out to another one that had originally given me an offer. Once I signed with the one I’m currently working with– first of all they edited everything, which was a little bit scary because I wanted it to be mine, but in the end I thought they had good, valuable changes,” Birzer said. “Then they did all of the layout exactly [as] it will look on the book pages. After the layout, they sent it back to me, and I went through and made rounds of changes. [Now] they’re back to the publisher, so they’ll make those changes, hand it back to me, and then once I approve it, then it will start printing, and then we’ll move on to the marketing phase.”

With all the different phases, editing turned out to be by far the longest part of the process.

“From writing it, to when it’s actually going to hit stores, I’d say [the process took] about 18 months. There were so many ups and downs. It’s just such a roller coaster,” Birzer said.

Some of the ups and downs came not from rejection and acceptance letters, but from the publishing process after she had signed.

I think just partly being at the mercy of the publisher and just trusting that they know what they’re doing [is hard]. I wanted to have control over every little teeny-tiny step. Once the publishing house has it, they’re the experts on that and you really have to trust them, and I think it was a little hard for me to give up that control,” Birzer said. However, she said it paid off because “They do know what they’re doing. I’ve never done this before.”

Based on her experience, Birzer emphasized persistence as a key virtue for future writers.

“First of all, write the book. Edit it, and then really… just start reaching out to those publishing companies and know that with whatever amount of good news you get, you’re probably going to get a ton of bad news too, and you just have to keep going out there and trying,” Birzer said. “I think more than having necessarily the best book ever is you have to be very persistent.”

Ideally, the message Birzer wants to convey through her book is one of understanding.

“The characters in my book might be a little bit bratty, but there’s so much underneath. I think girls in high school are like that,” Birzer said. “As confident as anyone seems, everybody has their insecurities and worries. Just be confident and be yourself.”

  Birzer’s book will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble online in October.

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Natalie Birzer- on a Mission