Today call me re-named and if you missed Part I, read this or the nutshell below:
Imagine you are ten years old; you’re young for fifth grade but you read like you are old. The grown-ups shoo you outdoors to play but you’d rather stay inside among your books.
You’re sixteen and disinterested in school. Your English teacher holds your essay test on Huckleberry Finn. He says, “If you can write like this at your age…” and lets you complete the sentence.
You’ve become a teacher, too. You love your career and labor to inspire students in 55-minute increments. You fill journals with poetry, musings, rants; you write stories and songs for Christmases and birthdays, the best gifts you have to offer.
You’re married and have two children during two summer breaks. You’ve written 200 pages of a novel but there’s insufficient time; for babies, a husband, 120 students and an incomplete manuscript. You make a choice and writing waits. For years.
You turn 40, armed with a leave of absence to address the words living in your heart, twitching in your fingers, occupying your dreams. You catch the interest of an agent but you’re not quite good enough. Yet.
You’re wondering: Will I ever be enough? And thus begins the story of Part II.
When we left off, Stephany Evans had requested the book proposal for my marathon memoir, then kindly passed on representing the project. Therefore, I decided to throw myself into fiction and worked for more than a year finishing my YA novel.
LESSON: Be patient. I’m convinced that if I’d hounded Ms. Evans to maintain a connection, I’d have exhausted her initial enthusiasm. Instead, I completed an entirely new package and only then did I reestablish contact.
I knew my genre sat outside her area of interest; however, she’d been receptive when asked if I might work with her again. So I took a chance and sought her input first.
LESSON: Trust your gut. I was aware she didn’t represent YA, but Ms. Evans had proven friendly and extremely prompt with feedback. I had an instinct she’d be – if not interested – at least supportive if I sent my query.
Whether she remembered me favorably or was too polite to say no, she requested the manuscript which she then steered into the hands of an associate agent interested in YA, Heather Evans.
In quick succession came the following:
- An email from Stephany saying Heather “quite liked” the book.
- A phone call to discuss the project.
- A contract from FinePrint Literary Management offering representation.
Next came the tears, the champagne, the jokes from friends and family about when the J.K. Rowling-esque bucks would begin rolling in.
Almost daily I heard, “When can I buy your book?”
And my answer – two years later – remains, “I don’t know.”
LESSON: The road toward publication is long and branchy. I wish I’d known how much time, work, and dues-paying I’d face. I say this not to discourage anyone but to prepare would-be writers for the groundwork you’ll likely lay.
Of course there are flukes; the few who are well-connected, well-timed or flat-out brilliant. But the rest of us endure hard labor, rejection, a two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance that attends the writer’s journey.
Heather and I worked on multiple revisions of the manuscript and on my biography that contained a title as English teacher. And blank space.
LESSON: If you have blog posts, articles or short stories to submit to online or print publications (whether or not you’re paid), do it! This is professional experience you might someday add to your writer’s resume.
Heather also suggested I jump into the social media pool where I initially floundered.
Twitter links, symbols and abbreviations baffled me. Friends said, “You’re a natural,” and “They’ll love you,” but no one could suggest how to be natural and loved. I was drowning until a few special Twitter-folk and seasoned bloggers threw a lifeline to @juliecgardner. (This is indeed a debt I hope I can repay.)
LESSON: Help others when you can; be grateful and humble and nice. Generosity without strings is a wonderful thing. (And if you disagree I do not want to know.)
As for blogging, I was overwhelmed by the prospect until my brother-in-law, Randy Stuart, intervened. He had me peruse author websites (suggested by his fabulous friend, Jason Lavin) at which point I admitted to liking the “plain ones.”
My only other input was this: I wanted an anchoring theme, probably because I felt un-moored; and I mentioned calling the blog By Any Other Name after the title of my book.
LESSON: Seek help from those with more knowledge (and friends) than you. Randy wouldn’t give up until he’d launched this site; despite the fact that he, too, was a novice in the blog world. Quite simply, By Any Other Name would not exist without him and I am grateful for every one of you I’ve met here through his efforts.
Meanwhile, on the fiction frontlines, the small number of editors/publishers to whom we pitched the YA manuscript agreed: I have a strong voice but they want more connection.
I’m revising, again; making my characters irresistible, upping the ante on our love triangle. (Hello, YA!) And then? We’ll resume submissions. Unlike before, however, we can point to this blog and to Twitter; to a biography that’s more than just blank space. It is my life.
Imagine you’re forty-three (or any age at all) and you’ve decided you won’t stop fighting until your words are published. And this time? You know you’re not alone.
No. This time, you’ve got an army that is writing right beside you.
Yes, our words are weapons as we battle on.
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