Monday, January 30, 2012

A Walking Cliche

For some time now, I’ve been talking about my dream of being a professional writer. I’ve always said it’s not in me to fail. In fact, I just uttered that very phrase today. That was before that dreaded email.

As with any important journey, there have been ups and downs on this road to publication. There have been successes and setbacks. Some are major and some not even worth mentioning. Today I suffered one of those setbacks, a setback so major that it has me rethinking my dream and doubting its ability to come true.

Every time I finish a new story, I get so excited about that story that I go in search of a literary agent. In my defense, I always do a good deal of editing to make sure the story is free of any mechanical errors and flows in the best possible way. Then I put together an eye catching query and go for it. What typically happens is a flood of rejections come pouring in. Most are form letters that start with ‘Dear Author’. A few are actually addressed to me but then fall into a form letter format. Once in a while, I get a bite.

Recently, I got a bite. An agent asked to see a partial of my story based on the strength of my query. Within a day of reading my partial, she asked for the final. Since then, I’ve been waiting to see if she likes it enough to offer representation. I’ve been checking my email obsessively, jumping when I hear it go off and then cursing when it’s not what I want.

Today, I both jumped and cursed for the same reason. The agent whom I’d been waiting to hear from sent me her response. While it was very polite and hit on what she viewed as both strong and weak points of the story, the bottom line was rejection. Having been rejected so many times over the years, you’d think I’d be used to it. To be honest, I am. I think this one hit me a bit harder because it falls under that category of so close yet so far. Given her initial excitement and rapid response, my hopes were higher this time around. The higher you are the harder you fall. Is that how it goes?

Whatever cliché I put on it, the end result is the same. I’d been anxiously waiting to hear from this agent, and I did and with a pretty good response time too. I guess that makes me living proof of old adage, be careful what you wish for. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

If at First...

You all know the old adage. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There’s been a lot of debate as to where the quote actually originated from, but the message is clear. Never give up.

As an aspiring writer, this is a phrase I’ve been uttering since trying to secure an agent for the last seven years. It’s a message I’ve taken to heart again and again along with several other time honored clichés meant to encourage people not to let go of their dreams. Today, I’m taking that message literally.

Today, marks the opening of the submission period for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. If you’ve been following my blog since last year then you’re familiar with this contest. It’s one I’ve entered every year since its inception in the hope of winning a publishing contract, which is part of the grand prize package.

For those of you who don’t know, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards is an annual contest. Each year, two winners are chosen, one in the general fiction category and one in the young adult category. Round one is the submission round, which began today. The first five thousand entrants in each category are accepted provided they meet all other submission requirements. From there, the top two thousand are chosen to move to round two. The next round is the quarter finals in which the top five hundred entrants are chosen to move on. After that comes the selection of the top one hundred for the semi finals. Six finalists are then chosen before the winner in each category is chosen.

Last year I didn’t even make it past the first round. I have a theory as to why, and that’s a topic for another time. The first round is based on a three hundred word pitch in which authors are charged with the Herculean task of hooking potential readers, outlining the entire novel, showing character and plot development and demonstrating an understanding of the target audience. That’s a tall order for three hundred words considering I’ve put that kind of detail into my ten plus page marketing plans. Despite the challenge this task presents, despite what I know is a controversial plot line and despite my past shortcomings (it’s a nice euphemism for failures), I’m try, trying again.

You see, it’s not in me to give up. Being a professional writer has been my dream since I first understood what it meant to have dreams. Entering these sorts of contests is one means in which I can achieve that dream. At least it is until or unless I manage to secure a literary agent who then lands a book deal for me.

So, if at first I don’t succeed, I’ll keep trying until I do because I have to believe I will.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reflecting on a Dream

It was on August 28, 1963 that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a crowd of more than two hundred thousand at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech.  Like many of you, I was given the day off from work in celebration of the amazing accomplishments of Dr. King. While some of us probably used the day to run errands or spend time with family and friends, I thought about the man that made the day possible and took a little time to reflect.

Dr. King had a dream for racial equality. His dream included a world of non violence where people of all races and nationalities didn’t just live and work together. These people were friends and colleagues. When Dr. King gave his most famous speech that day, his dream was far fetched. The idea of blacks and whites living and working together was never expected to come to fruition.

Almost fifty years later, Dr. King’s dream has come true in what some would’ve called an unbelievable fashion. Men and women of all ethnic backgrounds work side by side, live side by side and even maintain close personal relationships.

When I thought about Dr. King’s dream, I couldn’t help thinking about my own dream. Though his was much nobler and less self-serving than mine, I too have long carried what sometimes feels like the impossible dream. For those of you who know me, you know what I’m about to say.

I’ve long dreamed of being a professional writer, of being able to go into the book store and purchase a copy of my book and see my hard work become a reality. In my wilder dreams, I pictured a nationwide book tour with signings and radio and television appearances and the eventual movie adaption.

As I’m sure it once did for Dr. King and his supporters, my dream seems like one that I’ll never see come to pass. Lately, that’s been reinforced by a steady stream of rejection letters for my latest novel offering and lack of placement in a young adult novel contest I entered. While my instinctive urge is to give in to a moment of self-pity and curl up in a ball and cry about it, my thoughts are once again drawn to Dr. King.

Dr. King never gave up on his dream. If he had, our society wouldn’t be the same. Sure, there might have been another to take up the mantle, but there was no one like the charismatic King. The passion he felt for his work showed in every aspect of his life. Though his time on Earth was short, he left an indelible mark that still resonates.

I also have a dream. My dream is selfish, but it’s my dream and it’s not in me to give up on it. Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for setting such a fine example, for helping me to understand the meaning of the word perspective, for sharing your passion with the world and for inspiring me and countless others not to give up on our dreams.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Déjà Vu or a Dream Coming True

About this time last year, I was getting over my heartbreak about not getting what I wanted for Christmas-- an offer of representation from a literary agent. I was able to get over the disappointment quickly when an offer came at the start of the New Year. There was just one caveat. Isn’t there always?

The agent was new. At the time, she had made just a few sales and still wasn’t making a great deal of money at her job. When she made the offer, I was mulling over whether or not I wanted to accept it. Having a literary agent doesn’t do much good if that agent doesn’t have the contacts in the publishing industry to make sales on your behalf. That being said, I wanted to give the agent the benefit of the doubt. Much like I was a new author trying to break into the business and wanted someone to give me a chance, I opted to give her a chance.

It wasn’t long after signing with her that I began to regret the decision. As a prior editor, the agent wanted to make changes to my novel that went beyond copy editing changes. I took exception to that. If she didn’t like the novel as it was written, why did she agree to represent it? After several lengthy emails between the two of us, we agreed to exercise the mutual opt out clause of our contract and went our separate ways. Rather than seek out a new agent after that disaster, I took my work to the web and have since gained a steady and constantly growing following.

As you know from my post last week, I was reflecting on my writing career, both where it’s been and where I want it to go. Being that I just completed a new manuscript that has yet to see the light of day and I’m rather proud of if I do say so myself, I’ve decided to go for it. Yes, I’m trying to find a new agent. Of course, I did rethink that decision a bit when I got three rejection emails before nine this morning!

While I’ve gotten the expected stream of rejection, I’ve also had a couple of bites. The first of those bites came last week.  After the agent asked to see my first three chapters, I took to the web to see if I could find out her track record. Is she a legitimate agent or a scammer? Is she making money for clients or asking for money? I found nothing. As it turns out, she’s new to the business. She’s a writer turned literary agent.

Although it’s jumping the gun a bit to assume she’ll offer to represent me, I’m still overcome with the sense of déjà vu. It seems to me I’ve been through the whole new agent thing before. That’s not to say it will turn out the same way, but it leaves me a bit leery.  If she does make me an offer, I’ll have to think long and hard about it provided I’m happy with the terms of the contract. Who knows? Maybe it won’t matter anyway. Maybe the other agent who responded to me this morning, the agent with a proven track record of success with some well known publishers, will like my work and offer to represent me. Maybe it will become a moot point and I won’t be stuck wondering.

Is this déjà vu or my dream finally coming true?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking Forward and Back

First thing’s first: Happy New Year!

As I’m sure many of you did, I observed the national holiday on January 2nd this year.  Though I did a little bit of writing, I opted to wait until today to upload the first blog post of the year.

One of the things I did on my day off was chat with my husband about my writing career.  My poor husband often gets his ear bent on this subject. Yesterday’s conversation started out with me giving a rundown of the contests I’m planning to enter in the next month or so. In discussing these contests, it occurred to me that I’m entering my sixth year as an aspiring professional writer. When I said that, my husband made a statement to the effect of having a hard time believing it had been that long. With that statement, I started to wax philosophical about the next step I wanted to take with my writing career.

Depending on who you ask, six years is or isn’t a long time to be at this game. It feels like a long time though, especially when you weigh in the changes in the industry. When I first started out, e-books were a thing of the future. Now, they’re taking over the industry which can be both good and bad and is a discussion best saved for another time. Despite this change in the industry, my dream hasn’t changed. I still want to be published mainstream. The thought of facing another six years with limited success seems somewhat daunting, but it’s not in me to give up on this dream. Rather than think of what I haven’t achieved, I decided to think of what I have accomplished.

Starting out six years ago, I didn’t have a publishing credit or contest placement to my name. In fact, I didn’t even know what a synopsis was or how to write one. Looking back on those first query letters, I cringe at how awful they were and have no doubt as to why the agents passed. Since then, I’ve become adept at writing the query and synopsis and have educated other fledgling authors on how to do so. I’ve also managed to get a few magazine articles published. On top of that, I’ve gotten several noteworthy placements in literary contests, including a first place win in the Reader View’s Literary Awards. Thanks to on line web sites that allow authors to upload their works and reach a world wide audience, I’ve gained a legion of loyal fans for a series of books I never thought would see the light of day.

Have I accomplished everything I set out to as a writer? Of course not, but I’ve made some pretty darn good progress. While I can’t say exactly what the New Year will bring for my writing career, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll continue making that forward progress. Who knows? This could be the year I finally make it big. Stranger things have happened you know.