The Story Thus Far

I started writing fiction the summer after my 39th birthday. I guess it was midlife crisis time, because I have spent much of my life reading and studying fiction written by others, all the while, secretly wishing I could write some myself, and all the while assuming that of course, I couldn’t.

But 39 hit and I decided I would just write the novel that had been in my head for a decade or more, sell it to an obscure small press somewhere, and let it collect dust on a shelf, a testament to middle-aged lesbian ambition.

But that novel turned out to be the first hit of whatever-drug-supposedly-addicts-people-fatally-at first-hit these days. About two-thirds of the way through it I realized that when I actually trusted myself, I could write halfway decently. Up to that point, I felt like I was playing an actor who was playing a writer. But once I began to take myself seriously, I suddenly wanted more than an obscure and dusty out-of-print paperback. I wanted an embossed hardcover with hand-cut pages and a spot on the new releases table at the front of my favorite bookstore.

Woe is me. EVERYbody and her dog’s veterinarian’s third cousin’s boyfriend wants that. It’s a stiff competition.

But what could I do? I was addicted to fiction.

So I wrote the first novel and queried agents, (whom I’m now embarrassed to have queried with such newbie schlock) and did not get one (no surprise). The good/bad thing, though, depending on how you view it, is that the Very. First. Agent. I. Queried. asked for a full manuscript of my book three days after I emailed her. She was my dream agent. Since then, she has stopped taking new clients because she’s a rock star and doesn’t need anyone anymore. (Again, I am soooo embarrassed that she read the first paragraph—couldn’t have gotten further than that–of that manuscript. It was awful.)

But this gave me a really upside-down, backwards, funhouse mirror notion about what querying was actually like.

It’s never the same after the first time.

I went on and wrote a second book—originally I conceived it as the sequel to the first, but later revised it to stand alone. I queried that one. Three agents asked for full manuscripts. None took me on. But this, while not the same as that first time, was encouraging. The quality of my rejections was slowly improving.

I tabled plans for the third book set in the world of that first novel (I still plan to write that book as a stand alone someday) and changed worlds to write Jack. I was determined that Jack would succeed where the others had not, because in some ways it would be more clearly marketable.

I queried Jack. Again, I got three full manuscript requests from agents. One disappeared, one said no thanks and one asked for some revisions and a resubmission.

Now the quality of my rejections had improved by leaps and bounds. A revise and resubmit request is not even really a rejection! And it came with some feedback about the sort of revision the agent thought would improve the book.

So I revised. I resubmitted. And through no fault of her own, (how could she have known?) the agent sent me a final “I love this but just don’t think we can take it on” email while I was writing my father’s obituary, on the day after his death.

It was hard, to say the least.

The emotional wibbly-wobbliness of this all made me decide—almost hastily—to submit Jack, unagented to a handful of small presses. I felt like if I had come this close to an agent, I could perhaps make it with a small press.

And I really like—have always really liked—small presses. So I submitted Jack to four of them.

I got three acceptances. Boy did I wish I had an agent. But since I didn’t, I did a lot of homework (starting where every writer should start–at Writer Beware) to learn what a good book contract should look like. The best of the three I was offered came from Musa Publishing. (To be clear—Musa’s offer was the best by leaps and bounds. They are a very writer-friendly publisher.)

As a small, e-only press, Musa has a quicker release schedule for contracted writers than most presses, so once I signed the contract, I learned I would only be waiting about nine months for the release. (If you don’t know, it is often a year or even 18 months after a book is contracted before it comes out with a publisher.)

At present, I’m in the throes of edits (with my editor—I love to say that: my editor) and things are going swimmingly.

And here’s a nifty thing.  Jack is due to be released in September of this year. Looking back through my calendar, I see that it was September of 2009 when I first emailed that first query in the hopes of snaring that pie-in-the-sky agent with my dreadful first novel. That’s about four years exactly from first pitch to publication. (It’s also three completed books, though. Sometimes, you just need to put away the novel you’ve been pitching and write something else.)

Jack isn’t going to have an embossed hardcover with hand-cut pages, and though you can buy it through my favorite bookstore’s Kobo site, it won’t be on their new release table. But while my original goal is still one of my goals, I’ve also learned, in the past four years, that it’s helpful to have more than one goal when it comes to writing and publishing.

My plan now, after four years of writing and querying—and watching the publishing industry change faster than I could have imagined when I started—is to publish in a variety of formats in a variety of genres, with a variety of publishers.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting what they want. My reason for wanting to publish in this way (in these ways) is that I need to make enough money for my writing to allow me to write as much as I like. My goal isn’t to get rich—or even to “make a living” but to make enough of a supplemental income for my family that the hours I spend writing are worthwhile in a concrete, material way.

I know that plenty of people write for their own enjoyment. I do that, but in order to justify the time it takes from my family, it needs to be compensated.

So I hope that in four more years, I will have that large, traditionally published and released book, but I also hope to have a strong presence in the world of e-books. I may even do a little self-publishing (something I swore I would never do, four years ago).

That’s my story thus far…what’s yours? When did you start down the path you’re on? Where are you on the journey? Why did you choose that path? Where do you want to go next?

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7 thoughts on “The Story Thus Far

  1. Thank you for sharing! This is a really inspiring story and one worth talking about. Writing/publishing really is an industry that rewards hard work and diligence with success. We all make newbie mistakes and we learn as we go… thankfully every draft can be edited. 🙂 Congrats and I will look forward to reading Jack!

  2. Morning! Great post – I enjoyed it. In reference to your questions, I started down this path because I had no choice – I wanted/needed to tell stories. Though I have been published fairly regularly since 2002, I dealt with a six month long writer’s block last year. I’m still catching up – dealing with life and editing a couple of novellas that probably won’t be ready for another month or so. As for where I want to to go next, I want to enjoy financial rewards so I can do other real-life things that require money to accomplish. In addition to fiction writing, I’m getting back into photography and photojournalism, and I’m going to try my hand at movie screenplay writing. And, that’s about it.

  3. I started writing fiction three years ago, sort of by accident. I had decided to give myself a year to take writing seriously, but intended to write personal essays and articles. One of my personal essays kept falling short of what I envisioned, and I felt like the facts were getting in the truth, so gave myself permission to call it a short story instead of an essay. That story is still out there, and I will probably finish it someday as an essay (it was woefully under fictionalized as a short story!), but giving myself permission to write fiction was so liberating! I never looked back. I joined a writers workshop in my city, actively sought out writers I admire as mentors and teachers, worked on short stories, started a novel, but eventually I felt like I had hit a wall when it came to craft. I had taught myself as much as I could, and needed teachers. So I applied to grad school and am now in the middle of an MFA program that is everything I hoped it would be. I have published one story in a literary magazine, but haven’t sent much else out yet because nothing really feels done. My goal is to polish and then publish some more stories, and finish a solid draft of my novel, while I’m in grad school, in the hopes of landing an agent when I get out and, in my dream of dreams, selling my novel.

    • An MFA would be so much fun! But my student loan debt says “no way.” One of these days, though, I hope to do a week-long workshop or retreat somewhere. I think it would be a great way to leap to the next level of craft.

  4. Yeah, I feel very fortunate that we can afford it (the years at the law fir were gruesome, but they did pay off all the student loans….). The other thing I did that changed my life as a writer is almost literally stalk a writer I admired enormously, asked her for advice about finding a writing group, finding on-line classes, asked her to teach a class so I could take it. We’ve since become good friends, but having a mentor moved me along so much faster!

    • Mentors like that are invaluable. I group-stalk writers and publishing professionals on Twitter. Have bumped a couple into the friend category over time.

  5. ooh that is exciting! I was excited about writing for a few years but then ran out of steam. But I did publish a funny book about motherhood called Cocktails at Naptime!

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