Publishing

The road to publication: if I’d known

This is how I imagined my writing career would go during that wonderful, magical time when I sat down to write my first novel in the late summer/early fall of 2014:

I would write the novel (no problem, I had the first draft done in a month).

I would revise (this turned out to be way fun, so, cool).

I would send to beta readers and revise some more (check, check).

I’d submit to agents (yep, not a problem, the internet is full of information on how to do this).

They would request the full manuscript (this happened too! Things were looking good).

They would fall in love with it and bing-bang-boom, I’d get a publishing deal.

Cue a long and prosperous career, movie deals, etc.

This would probably happen by Christmas.

Um, no.

What actually happened:

I wrote four novels (plus many many other half-finished projects and idea-flirtations ranging in length from a couple pages to 100,000-word forays into stories that, in the end, didn’t cut it).

I queried two of the finished novels (make that “am querying”) (with a year-break in there to have a baby, etc.) until the present day. For non-writers, “querying” means pitching my project and myself via a short email to literary agents who, if they love your book, will agree to pitch it to publishers and sign you on for the remainder of your writing career.

That’s one and a half years of active querying, or overall, two and a half years, if you’re counting.

(Can you tell I’m counting?)

I have received more rejections than I care to count. (Please. Don’t make me tally them. It’s in the three digits).

Anyone who’s been through the querying process has heard all the phrases:

“Not quite right for my list”

“While you have an intriguing concept …”

“Didn’t connect with the characters …”

“Oversaturated market …”

“Didn’t love it enough …”

As of now, two and a half years after embarking on what I was certain would be a quick journey to becoming a published author, here I am, unrepresented and still searching for that agent who will say, ‘yes! I love this story!’ Along the way, I’ve also recognized that neither of the two manuscripts I have floating out there in query-land on various agents’ computers and tablets may land me that effusive love-love relationship that writer and agent must have for their relationship to work.

Which is fine.

Looking back, I was in NO way ready to be represented in 2014. I had a lot of work to do honing my craft, learning about what gives a story good bones, and scraping those early-writer flaws out of my writing (-ings, “just,” “start to,” fancy dialogue tags, and everything the internet can tell you about, too), and I imagine I still do. For all I know, I’m not ready now either and two years from now I’ll be grateful that no one snatched me up.

That said, waiting is hard. Just to give you non-writers an idea of the molasses-speed timeline of things, it can take three months for an agent to respond to an emailed query (sometimes longer!). If she likes your query and requests the full manuscript, it can take up to a year for her to read it (my longest standing full manuscript out there is currently over the eight-month mark). If an agent signs me, I will still need to go through revisions with her, probably for a number of months. Then, she’ll pitch it to publishing houses. Cue another wait. And down the road, I know, there are even more waits. Even if I get a ‘yes’ today from an agent, it will still be years until any book of mine hits an actual shelf (and there are still no guarantees it will happen).

This process is not for those who need immediate gratification.

If I had known it would take this long, be this hard, and involve so much waiting and rejection, would I have started the journey?

Maybe, but with less spring in my step. Maybe, but perhaps with less enthusiasm and drive. Which are some of the ingredients that kept me writing.

I’m so grateful that I couldn’t (and can’t) see the future. I’m even grateful that I started out thinking I could spring up the mountain of publishing like a young goat–because it got me going. It got me writing. Now I’m readjusting. It turns out I’m not a young goat–or at least that the top of the mountain has turned out to be much further and the goat has aged along the way.

I think I’ll be a donkey instead now. Still climbing. More slowly, but steadily (I hope). Ready for the long-haul. Not exactly less hopeful, but with a hardier kind of hope that’s a little broader in its scope.

For all I know, one of the agents currently reading my manuscripts will fall in love and sign me. Though I’m not holding my breath like I was in 2014 (I’d have passed out by now). So for now, I’ll keep plodding, hopefully upwards (though ready for detours).

What’s at the top?

It’s a question work asking.

Is it becoming famous? Making millions?

I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to support my family with my writing. But right now, the top of the mountain is this:

Sharing my work with readers.

Because there’s nothing like putting something you create out there and having someone else enter into your creation and respond to it.

And the thing is, of all the different dreams I could have, that is a dream that lies within my power to realize–whether it’s in two years or twenty, with or without the backing of New York Big Publishing. Self-publishing is a viable option for the future, and I’m finally allowing myself to recognize that. It’s such a relieving thought–that I have that power–and that helps me be patient. Wait another day, another week, another month, another year. Maybe many years.

Thankfully I don’t have to make decisions now. I certainly don’t want to send half-baked work out into the internet–I need more time to hone. Revise. Perfect. See which path opens up and which does not.

The bottom line is that I love writing. I love what I’ve written. And eventually, I will get those stories out there.

But that day is not today.

So right now, I need to write and I need to wait.

Here’s to more writing. More waiting. Then more writing. And–I know–a lot more waiting.

 

writing

Pausing is not quitting

I read a book recently. I couldn’t for the life of me quote the exact line, but the gist was this:

There’s a difference between pausing and quitting.

They can look the same at first: you start a task. It gets really hard. You don’t feel like you can do it. Strength spent, you stop.

If you never come back, if that’s the end of it, you quit.

But if you come back the next day, or the next month, or the next year, and do it again, you just paused.

Last fall, I started a fantasy project. About 40k words in, I got completely stuck. The story ran out of steam.

Okay, okay, it’s fine, don’t panic, I told myself. I reasoned that not all my drafts had to come together in a month (like my previous three projects had), and that I was just facing an exciting new challenge.

In subsequent weeks, I hunkered down and did what I knew how to do: I plotted. I mapped out a progression of events with multi-colored sticky notes on a massive section of my bedroom wall. I went back and rewrote a main motivation and followed its trail all the way through, hoping the story would surge ahead (it didn’t). I brainstormed. I scrapped, I rewrote. I read blog posts about how to deal with story blockages and found lots of great advice. I took long hot showers, a place where plot tangles have traditionally come unwound.

Still, the novel was stuck.

Discipline, I told myself. Discipline is the secret. This is where the rubber hits the road. You can’t always feel high when you write. You have to learn to write from a low place too. If you want to make a career out of this, you need to learn to butt-in-chair, push-push-push, take the muse by the roots of her hair and yank her back into her place.

It didn’t work.

In my non-writing life, I can be quite disciplined (or maybe I should say stubborn). I’m the kind of person who is sometimes a little too determined to succeed. This streak kept me at a job for three years that I should have quit as soon as I realized that my boss was a narcissistic megalomaniac and most certainly a psychopath. But no–I had to succeed. I stuck it out, through emotional abuse and tirades and general misery.

I wish I’d clung less to my misguided vision of success–but that’s another story for another time. The point here is, I can be dang stubborn. I can stick to things through difficulties, tears, and beyond. Certainly I should be able to apply my fingers to a keyboard and bang out a dang novel.

I couldn’t.

Why am I failing at writing? I asked myself over and over.

But see, already I’d made a big mistake: equating stopping with failing.

Stopping doesn’t have to be a failure. Stopping can be pausing. Stopping can be natural, and healthy, and sometimes even necessary.

What I saw as a massive creative failure was just a big old pause button.

By the way, the pause button on that particular project is still deeply pressed. I sense it’s not done forever, that it would be nice to take up in the future and see if I can make something of it (I really do love the setting and the main character) but I’m not planning on picking it up for at least another year.

As the sun comes back, my seasonal sadness is lifting, and life seems all-around a happier place than it did in bleak January, I’m working on a new project birthed from an old idea in a voice completely different than anything else I’ve written.

Will I see it through?

I don’t know. We’ll see. But I certainly don’t plan on freaking out at each pause like I did with the last project.

Writing friends, there’s something to be said for butt-in-chair discipline.

BUT. Don’t recriminate yourself for pausing either.

Pausing is a necessary rhythm in the long race of life. Without pauses and rests and breaks, you will burn out.

The creative side of me, I’ve been learning, has surges and lulls that don’t seem to be entirely in my control. So my goal for this year: learning to work with them. Learning to pause without letting my self-doubt fill my head with shouts of “quitter!”

I’m not a quitter.

 

I’m a pauser.

And I think that will enable me to run longer and get further in the end.

writing

Why I write

For my brand-spanking new writer’s website, I thought I’d go down to the roots of the roots so to speak.

Why the heck do I write?

I could say, it’s meaningful. Stories have shaped how I see the world. Stories teach empathy. What more natural way than a beautifully written story to help a reader put herself in someone else’s shoes? And if we can’t put on other shoes, we become cold, hard people who judge others. Reading has taught me to see from different eyes. To suspend judgment. To strive to understand. So: I write.

I could say, because it’s fun. And it is, a lot of the time. There’s nothing (nothing, I say!) like the rush of a story that feels like it’s taken you over. Those are beautiful, powerful moments–when your fingers become divine conduits and it feels like the words are writing themselves. However, there are many parts of writing that aren’t fun. Namely, writing on uninspired days. Opening up that blank document–or worse, that document that’s just a plain old mess and has gotten completely lost in the maze of itself–and realizing that you have no idea what the crap to do with it.

I could say, because one day I realized life was too hard and I needed to escape my world, so I opened up a Word document and began to write what would become my first novel.

I could say, because a stretch of time came when I was mourning the breaking up of my band (my wonderful bandmates moved away–still makes me weepy to think about) and the creative lull (read: desert) that came after, and writing was something I could do by myself, for free, and with no planning necessary.

And all of these are true–in part.

But ultimately, none of them explain it all the way. I have to say, deep down, I don’t know why I write.

Lyrics from an old song about a boy who liked to boogie-woogie come to mind:

“Let that boy boogie-woogie. Because it’s in him, and it’s got to come out.”

Writing is in me. And it’s got to come out.