Sunday, May 22, 2011

Think you can't get published? Think again

Author's note: I first wrote the following long-winded post to appear on my friend's blog. Check out The WRITE Business Solutions bog for more great posts from lots and lots of talented people.

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I know what you’re probably thinking. Who is this strange person guest blogging for Tammatha Conerly and The Write Business Solutions? Well, I’ll tell ya who I am.

I’m a soon-to-be published author, that’s who I am!

This quirky little book I began writing well over 10 years ago finally snagged the attention of an editor or two, and Carina Press will soon e-publish the manuscript I slaved over for years and years.

Sound a little familiar — that slaving away part, I mean?

I have a feeling my sad, little biography will sound familiar to more than a few of you (and if it doesn’t, why are you reading this blog? Reruns of “Two and a Half Men” are probably on somewhere. Go on, now, shoo!)

One of my childhood dreams was to become a published writer. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 12, and she made me promise I’d never stop writing stories for fun since I enjoyed it so much. Being my mom, she naturally thought I was destined to become the next Emily Bronte or something. Poor soul. I conjured up some short stories here and there as I grew older, but none of them ever amounted to much.

In college, I became addicted to reading mass fiction rather than studying or even partying, and I decided that, hey, I could do that too! I could write a book as good as, if not better, than Michael Crichton or Nora Roberts or Dean Koontz or that Stephen What’s-His-Name guy. I pulled out my word processor (remember those?) and began typing away.

I’d start a story, get distracted by another, and toss it aside.

I’d start a story, get distracted by another, and toss it aside.

One day I realized, Hmmm, maybe this writing-a-novel-thing this isn’t as easy as I thought it was.

Oh, yeah, you’ve been there, too, haven’t you?

I never stopped writing, but life came calling in the form of graduation, a career in reporting, and a hundred other annoying obligations. About seven years ago I stumbled across one of my partially written manuscripts in an old box, realized I enjoyed reading it, and thought, “Who wrote this? Me? It’s good! Oh, no, surely I didn’t write this…did I?”

It was a quirky tale about a life-weary tabloid journalist being sent to a small town in South Carolina where a whole bunch of people had reported seeing a werewolf roaming around cornfields and along back roads. She thought the whole idea was stupid, but what’s she gonna do? It’s her job to cover crazy stories. And wouldn’t you know it, the editor of that town’s newspaper is none other than her old college nemesis (and former crush) who seems determined to tag along on her werewolf-hunting adventures. Think “The X-Files” meets “Lois and Clark.”

I transferred the files from an old floppy disk (I’m really blowing you young’uns minds, aren’t I?) to my laptop’s hard drive and began typing away every night when I got off work. It was fun to get to know my characters again. They’d changed a lot through the years, but so had I. It seemed we had a lot to talk about.

Pretty soon, I had reached “The End.” I didn’t think anything in life would ever feel as good as that achievement. A completed 80,000-word manuscript, with my name on it.

Oh, yeah, life was good.

I felt certain I would have no trouble at all of finding someone eager to publish it. But where to start? I had absolutely no idea. I was a meager newspaper reporter with no publishing knowledge outside of the roaring press that churned out the comics every evening as I walked out the door. I went to the library, checked out a dozen or so books on “How to Get a Book Published,” and went home to devour every single piece of advice they could offer. And scratched my head.

I scratched my head a lot as I thought, Hmmm, maybe this getting-a-novel-published-thing this isn’t as easy as I thought it was.

I gave it the old college try anyway. Query letters to agents because you need an agent to find a publisher. Then came the rejection letters — if I was lucky to hear anything at all — piling up my mailbox. Attending writer’s conferences in hopes of making a valuable connection, only to be told “No” in person rather than in a pesky little form letter.

My book was never easy to pitch either. It wasn’t exactly a romance, but it had romantic elements, sure. It wasn’t exactly a horror story, but I’ve been told by more than one person that reading it gave them nightmares for weeks. And comedy? Oh, yeah, there are times when my book aims to get a chuckle out of you, too.

I can’t tell you the number of times I heard friends or family say, “Well, have you ever thought about self publishing?” Sure, I could have self published my book, but call me old fashioned. I wanted to do it the hard way. I wanted a completely unbiased editor or publisher somewhere to say, “Guess what, Angie? We love your book so much, you don’t have to self publish because we’re gonna do it for you!” They don’t call me Nutso for nothin’!

I just knew I was destined to be a writer. Even on those days when I want to toss my laptop across the room because I don’t think I have any more words left in me, I always eventually find myself typing away again.

I tried another year of query letters and writer’s conferences and probably should have been completely discouraged by the reaction I received. “No.” “Sorry, your story isn’t a good fit for us.” “You’ve got a great writing style, but…”

I’m convinced this is how the Publishing Deities weed out the people who just want to be published from the people determined to be published.

My armor of determination got more than a few chinks in it before I got lucky, but Determination became my middle name! Years passed. I tried querying directly to publishers and found I had slightly better luck than trying to find an agent. Instead of one-paragraph form letters, I started receiving two- or three-paragraph form letters sprinkled with some positive, personal feedback like, “You have a great voice, but your story seems kind of far-fetched.”

Far-fetched? Why didn’t you say so? Well, I can fix that!

This is the part of my story where I have to give a thunderous round of applause to the many people, like my friend Tammatha here, who kept encouraging me to keep on fighting the good fight. I consider one of my most blessed moments to be the day I was accepted into an online writing critique group, which was populated with a multitude of talented writers willing and eager to take a gander at that old manuscript of mine. Some published. Some trying to get published, just like me. In other words, a gold mine of different viewpoints and talent.

The feedback I got from them was incredible. I found myself slapping my forehead more than once. D’oh! Why hadn’t I seen that gaping plot hole? If I had been in a Mack truck, I would have driven right through it! What do you mean, my hero seems kind of mean? Really? I quite adored him!

More query letters. More rejection.

But by this point, I was confident of one thing. I now had a publishable story on my hands. But more time passed. More query letters. More rejection.

One day, someone from my first critique group e-mailed to ask me if I’d found a publisher yet. Then she suggested I try querying Carina Press, an e-publisher. “Your story is too good not to be published,” she wrote, nearly four or five years after she’d read my story (and which I took as a great compliment in and of itself).

E-publishing? Ack! No, no, no, no, no! In one of my weaker moments, I had queried an e-publisher and gotten an acceptance letter, only to decide at the last minute that I could do better than that.

Remember how I told you I was old-fashioned? I was holding out for the golden prize — print. But then I began to wonder if I wasn’t being too stubborn or prideful. We live in a day and age where Kindles and Nooks have overtaken our corner bookstores as the No. 1 place to buy the next bestseller.

Carina Press is Harlequin’s e-publishing division. I figured Harlequin was a well-known publisher, even if Harlequin itself hadn’t been my first choice of publisher either when I'd started this process years ago. I was thinking much bigger. (Yes bigger than Harlequin). Still. It was Harlequin!

So I swallowed my pride and told myself, “This is it. Your last shot. If these folks say No, you’re giving up because obviously no one likes your book that much anyway. End of the line.”

You’ve probably been there too, haven’t you?

More than 10 years after that much-younger me had started tying away on a silly little book I’d hastily titled “Cryptid,” I had pretty much forgotten about the query letter I’d sent to Carina Press in January in regards to the much more polished finished product I’d retitled “Eclipse of the Heart.” I was on vacation in New York City with my niece in March, walking around Times Square, when my cell phone alerted me to the fact I’d missed a call.

I listened to the message that had been left and then nearly began bouncing all around Times Square like some kind of lunatic.

Angela James, editor of Carina Press, had personally called to tell me that quite a few people on her staff had read my manuscript and absolutely loved it. Then those words every struggling writer yearns to hear. “We want to publish your book.”

I will never, EVER delete that voice message from my cell phone. Ever.

Sure, I’m still learning the joys of line edits and rewrites — and my book has been retitled to "Cry Wolf" and will release on Halloween 2011 — but I’m having fun soaking up this new knowledge of the publishing world, even as I finish up my next manuscript — a fantasy series I plan to pitch to Carina Press or another publisher soon.

If you take anything away from this blog post, I hope it’s encouragement. I’m living proof that if a writer has a whole lot of determination, is willing to do a little bit of hard work (okay, a whole lot of hard work), is willing to compromise here and there, and maybe has a little bit of talent too, she can finally achieve that prize that we all hope for someday — publication by someone other than herself.

Eh, so what if Carina Press is an e-publisher?

I’m pretty darn proud of myself!

And, for the record, I haven’t given up on print yet.
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