The path to publication can be a long, slow one. Just ask Rachel Hartman. Her debut, the epic YA fantasy Seraphina (Random House), was released nine years after she started writing it, with a few bumps along the way. She originally came up with the setting—the land of Goredd, highly reminiscent of medieval Europe—in seventh grade as part of a poetry assignment. Goredd, with its mixture of human and dragon inhabitants, stuck with her until she was 30, at which point she “decided what to do when I grew up” and set her mind to bringing the world to life. “I also had a baby. I did it all at the same time,” she says. “It turns out that babies are a lot of work!”

It took Hartman several years to get the draft together and acquire an agent. It wasn’t easy: she says that several agents told her the equivalent of “You write beautifully. If you ever figure out what a plot is, call me.” Hartman eventually landed with Daniel Lazar at Writers House. Her first contract, with Simon & Schuster, fell through when her editor unexpectedly left the company. Luckily, she says, “my agent was passionate” about the book, which found a new home with Jim Thomas at Random House, who was instrumental in helping her fine-tune the book. “He pushed me intellectually in a way that has seldom been the case with anyone else,” Hartman says. “It’s easy to get into a groove as a writer and not challenge yourself.”

Hartman says that hers was “a much quieter story” at the beginning, “a family psychological drama with Seraphina and her father not getting along. Jim said, ‘I love this personal, internal story, but it needs an external conflict.’ I had to find the right balance between internal and external, and that was a real challenge.” She rewrote the novel three times, with a new plot each time. The effort paid off, she says: “The plot we ended up with is far and away the best one.”

Though Hartman is new to being a published novelist, her roots in the industry run deep. After obtaining a B.A. in comparative literature from Washington University, in St. Louis, Mo., Hartman considered graduate school, but decided to pursue a career as a comic book artist instead. During this time, she worked at bookstores while producing minicomics and chapbooks to sell at conventions. This laid the groundwork for Seraphina; though aimed at a younger audience, it allowed her to explore and develop the setting, a fantasy kingdom in which dragons and humans coexist in an uneasy truce.

Hartman speaks fondly of her time as a bookseller, including a stint at a secondhand bookstore in Chicago, but her favorite memories are of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa., where she was working when she started writing Seraphina. “That’s where I launched my book tour. It was like coming home.”

Among the writers who inspire her, Hartman lists Terry Pratchett (“He asks the same kinds of questions about the world that I do, though he’s much funnier”); George Eliot (“Middlemarch is my favorite [book] of all time, especially for the world-building and the people”); and Lois McMaster Bujold (“The Curse of Chalion was my schooling in how to accomplish the balance between the internal and external”).

Hartman lives with her husband and son in Vancouver, B.C., and is working on the sequel to Seraphina—tentatively titled Dracomachia—which is intended to wrap up her heroine’s story. Hartman hopes to have it finished for a 2013 or 2014 release, but admits she’s a slow writer, saying with a laugh, “It’s a feature, not a defect.”