Monday, March 28, 2011

Seventeen Years of Support

I think it goes without saying that I’m a writer. As such, I feel an obligation to make my posts related to writing. It seems to me that’s what people are most interested in. Aspiring writers are given a window into the truth about breaking into to the biz while seasoned veterans find another person to empathize with. For those who know me on a personal level, they’re often surprised at the amount of heartache that goes along with this career I’ve chosen. In fact, at this stage in the game, it’s safe to say there’s more heartache than joy.

Today, though, it’s all about the joy. Today is a day to celebrate. You see, seventeen years ago today, I married this really cute nineteen year old kid that made my heart race every time I saw him. I was just twenty years old, and I thought there was something funny about the fact that neither of us would’ve been old enough to drink champagne at our wedding reception. If we’d had one, that is. Rather than do the big wedding thing, we went to the special services division of city hall and “got hitched” as my husband loves to tell everyone. It goes without saying our friends and family was shocked. It took a while for his parents to forgive us for that one. Now, seventeen years and two kids later, the couple no one expected to make it continues to beat the odds. I suppose I can’t blame the doubters. We were young, and I’m not sure I mentioned this before, but we’d only known each other six months when we did this.

You might be wondering what my wedding anniversary has to do with writing. The answer is everything. While I’ve considered myself a writer for a long time, I’ve only seriously pursued this career for nine years. I wrote my first novel in 2003, and it came out in 2006. From there, it’s been a never ending series of ups and downs. Through all of this, my wonderful husband has been there for me. He’s the one who’s listened me to complain about the catch twenty-two of getting an agent. You can’t get one if you’re not published, but you can’t be published without one. He’s listened to my whoops of joy when I succeed and he’s the one who’s dried my tears when I failed. Not only has he been my sounding board and shoulder to lean on, but he’s been closely involved with my work. He’s the one who designed my web site and maintains it. He’s the one who updates it when I ask and always finds a way to make my off the wall suggestions work. He’s the one who recovered more than four hundred pages of a novel I was working on when my computer crashed, and I thought I’d lost it all. He’s the one who designed three of the four book covers for my novels. He’s even made and had framed posters of all of these book covers. He’s designed and printed my business cards and countless other off the wall promotional items I’ve dreamed up.

If I have my way, my writing career will continue to grow as will the role he serves in making it a success. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Seventeen years down and a lifetime of success and happiness to go.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A New Sense of Purpose

Last week, I told a rather long story about the demise of my relationship with my literary agent. Today, I think I'll keep it short and sweet.

At the time of my last post, the separation was just days old, and I was still adjusting to the idea. I figured it was just a matter of time before I moved from the anger to the depression stage of grief. Guess what?

I think I skipped the first four stages of the five stage grief process and jumped straight to the last stage of acceptance. To be honest, I'm a bit surprised with my reaction. I've been uncharacteristically calm at what I once considered could be the death of my dream. Instead of being angry, I feel not only a sense of relief but a renewed purpose. 

I've heard it said that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I first heard this phrase uttered by Olympia Dukasis' character in Steel Magnolias.  Since then, I've heard it many times from many people who attribute it to a wizened relative. No matter who said it, I think I can apply this same nugget of truth to this situation. Losing my literary agent hasn't killed me or my dream of being a published writer. It's made me and perhaps even my dream a bit stronger. I feel even more driven to achieve my dream and to do it in a way that best benefits me. Already, I've taken a few steps down that road, and I'm feeling oddly optimistic.

In the weeks and months to come, I'm confident I'll have good news. Until then, I feel refreshed and ready to write. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Parting is Sweet without the Sorrow

Given the events of last week, I debated what I wanted to title this post. I have to confess that despite being a writer, I’m terrible with titles. My one small measure of comfort is that I hear I’m in good company. I once heard a story of Ernest Hemingway having to rely on his wife to come up with his titles because his ideas were so awful. Of course, I don’t consider myself to be on par with Hemingway in terms or talent or success, but it’s nice to see we share this quirk in common. The reason for my struggle isn’t due to my inability to come up with any title. This week, my debate was coming up with one appropriate to the occasion. Is this a celebration of independence to be marked with joy or an observance of a funeral to be treated somberly? I suppose that’s a matter of personal opinion. To understand what this means, I have to go back a bit.

I’m a writer. In the broadest sense of the word, I’ve been a writer since I learned how to write and was able to string sentences together. However, in the professional sense of the word, I’ve been at it since 2003.  Since that time, I’ve had what can best be termed moderate success.

As a writer, the most difficult thing is to get your work noticed. This is true whether you’re a freelance writer or a novelist, but it’s truer for those of us who are novelists. The reason being many publishing houses a) will not work with fledgling writers and b) many publishing houses will not accept unagented submissions. Bottom line? Though not guaranteed, a writer has a better shot at publication with an agent in their corner. The theory is the agent has weeded through all of their submissions and chosen only the best, most polished, most marketable, and perhaps even most commercial manuscripts to submit to the publishers they work with.

In my tenure as a professional writer, I’ve been one of the few that’s managed to snag more than one agent. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter up for debate and part of what motivated this very post. My first agent was a con artist plain and simple. As a novice writer, I missed all the signs that later made me kick myself. Devastated though I was after that disaster, I got back on the horse and went after a new agent. The second time I was much more careful about who I sent my work to. I landed one of the top producing and most well respected agents in the industry. We worked together for some time, and try as he might he couldn’t make the sale. Finally, we parted ways. It was an amicable split in the name of business, but I was even sadder than before. At least the first time I didn’t make the sales because the agent was a sham. This time, it was all on me. Publishers didn’t think I had enough talent, and that hurt. After that one, I needed some time away. I needed to regroup and decide what I wanted from this dream of mine. It took a bit of soul searching for me to decide to get back on that horse yet again. Deep down, I knew I would. It’s not in me to quit. The need to see this through is deeply ingrained in me for reasons too complicated to address in this post.

Armed with a new story steeped in controversy as well as a renewed sense of purpose, I set out to secure a new agent. I hoped to land that agent by Christmas but didn’t manage to accomplish that feat until the beginning of the New Year. Before signing with this agent, there were things she mentioned in our communications that didn’t sit right with me. I questioned her at every turn, and she provided prompt and satisfactory answers that put my concerns to rest. One of my concerns was the “full service editing” she does for all clients free of charge. When I asked what her editing entailed, she gave me an answer that led me to believe it was strictly copy editing and would not change the story. I explained to her my reservations with editing. I’d worked with an editor in the past who continually rewrote my story so it became my characters in her story. I wanted to ensure that wouldn’t happen again. My new agent assured me that wasn’t her goal at all. She simply wanted to make sure it was free of any errors prior to submission to the publishers she worked with. Satisfied, I pressed on with the relationship.

I suppose now is a good time to point out the agent’s policy on this editing. Prior to accepting a client’s work, she sends a three page document containing her editing guidelines. These are things which she expects all authors to comply with before sending the work to her. Once the author has met this expectation, the work is then sent to the agent. From there, the agent schedules it on her calendar to be reviewed by her. After she’s reviewed and marked up the manuscript with “suggested” changes, she sends it back to the author to correct. What happens after the author makes the corrections is anyone’s guess. You see, this is where things between the agent and I started to go awry. I worked diligently for nearly three months trying to conform my work to her standards. My goal was to do it right the first time so we could get it into the hands of publishers that much faster. Imagine my surprise when a week after I submitted the work to her, I received a partial back with substantial mark ups. As an aside note, I’d like to point out this was received on my birthday which made the pill even more bitter to swallow. Personal feelings aside, I’m not so arrogant as to assume my work can’t be improved. Over the years, I’ve worked with many fine editors who’ve identified and helped me improve my writing weaknesses. My favorite was the editor who told me I was addicted to adverbs. Until she pointed it out, I hadn’t realized it. With that in mind, I set aside the initial shock and set about reviewing her suggestions with an objective eye. I got as far as page three before I hit a brick wall. On page three, my agent suggested a major rewrite which included removing the entire section from pages three to six. I wondered how a suggestion like this could possibly fit into her assurances she wouldn’t compromise the integrity of my work. I immediately contacted her to express my concerns. What followed was a lengthy discussion. As the discussion progressed so did my frustration level and I found myself wishing I’d never signed with her in the first place. My agent must have been thinking along those same lines because it wasn’t long before she broached the topic of perhaps going our separate ways. Fortunately for both of us there was a clause in the contract allowing either party to terminate the contract provided it wasn’t set to expire within sixty days. While I jumped at her offer, I balked at being the one to formally end the agreement. In the end, it was my agent who said we needed to go our separate ways and requested that I acknowledge this agreement in writing. Naturally, I did.

All of this took place over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. The interesting thing about this is that I don’t feel one ounce of regret for this parting of the ways. In fact, I feel quite liberated as though a new world of possibilities has opened up, which leads me back to my struggle over the title. At some point prior to this purging of my soul, I contemplated calling this blog: did a dream just die. I’ve come to realize it didn’t. Therefore, it’s safe to say parting is sweet but there’s no sorrow and the blog is aptly titled!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Was that a Compliment?

Say the words Twilight or True Blood to me and they evoke visceral, and usually unfavorable, reactions from me. I will say Twilight is more likely to cause this reaction than True Blood, and the reason has nothing to do with the quality of the work. You see, I've never read any of the books in these series of novels. To make you understand the loathing I feel for these stories, I have to give you a little history of my literary career.

A few years ago, I managed to snag the representation of one of the top literary agents in the business.  He liked my writing and believed in my concept of having a line of young adult novels with a disabled protagonist.  Needless to say I was thrilled.  The thrill soon wore off when he began hitting walls with the editors he was pitching. One editor loved the characters and hated the dialogue. Another had the opposite problem. Still another, hated the whole thing. And yet another editor suggested my novel wasn't the kind of thing today's teens wanted.  This editor suggested that it was vampire novels that were selling big.  So my agent came to me to ask me if I had something like that. Of course I didn't. That wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to write. However, I agreed to give it a shot in the interest of getting my foot in the door.  When I finally finished the novel and got it all edited, I sent it to my agent who began pitching it to editors. This was about the time the Twilight movie hit theaters and True Blood was coming to HBO. Guess what happened next? My new novel couldn't compete with those and none of the editors wanted it. I was right back where I started with one exception. I loathed, and still do, both of these series of books and refuse to read them. For all I know, they could be beautifully written and destined to be classics alongside any Mark Twain work.

In the past few months, I've discovered Watt Pad. Since I've extolled its virtues in prior posts, I won't go into details here.  In a nutshell, it's a web site that allows writers of all ages to post work and gain an audience. Since I began posting my story, the reception from the readers has been overwhelming. By and large, they love it and beg me to post more often than I do.  A number of them have even compared me to Stephanie Myer, author of Twilight. They say everything from my book reads like hers to it being along her lines. My characters have even been divided into their own teams much like I hear happens to Myer's characters.

Given how I feel about Twilight, I find myself asking: is that a compliment? Looking at the success Myer has and the large international fan base, I'm going to take it as a yes. However, I still refuse to read Twilight!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Sign of Things to Come? I hope Not.

If you've been following this blog for a while, or if you know me personally, you know the most important thing about me. I'm a writer. Hand in hand with that is the fact that every year for the last four years, I've entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest. Since this has been the subject of previous posts, I'm not going to go into great detail about what it is. The only thing I'll say is that while I never expect to win this competition, I would like to go deep into it.

I'm sad to report I didn't make it to round two this year. That means the three hundred words I had to convince the judges that I had the next great American novel was a wash. Needless to say, I'm beyond disappointed to be eliminated at the end of round one.  I've been chewing on this the last few days and trying to find excuses to assuage my disappointment. What I've come up with is this:

This year, for the first time I entered my latest self-published novel. This is a new twist on the contest that only became an option last year. Though it was an option last year, I didn't want to enter a self-published novel. The reason was that I didn't want a lack of sales to be slanted against me. This year, I opted to enter my recent self-published offering, After All These Years. I made that decision because I've repeatedly been told it's my best work yet. With that seed planted in my brain, I thought I'd take a chance. The gamble didn't pay off. Now, I'm sitting here scratching my head and wondering if the judges checked the Amazon sales report before deciding whether or not to pass me. I suppose I'll never know.

I'll admit when I first found out I didn't get passed to round two I was more than disappointed. I was crushed. I started questioning myself and my ability as a writer. I began to wonder whether or not this was a sign of things to come. Was the fact that I wasn't moving on in this contest a sign that my dream of mainstream publication was never to be realized? Again, I don't know for sure, but let's hope not.