A post I would rather not write.

I don’t want to write this. I’ve put it off for over a month, though, and it’s been hanging over my head like a piano on a rope.

So. My publisher closed it’s doors. I could end the post right there, because that’s the end of it. No book. No book to hold and smell and dance around the house with. I am heartbroken. The road to this contract was a long one and to have it taken away is, well, heartbreaking. There’s no other way of putting it.

What’s next? Well, I’m on submission with a new book. The canceled one is being set aside for now, and that’s fine. I love the new book with its unusual hero, Reilly. I took a risk with him, but he turned out amazing and beautiful and wonderfully imperfect. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve written and I’ve never been so anxious about a manuscript being out there. This book is being considered by editors of the best YA books published in recent years and I’m sitting here in Maine with a space heater and safety pins holding on the zipper of my sweatshirt, typing this while my toddler naps in the next room. It all feels impossible. Like trying to break through a wall. I may scratch at the mortar for the rest of my days and never dislodge a single brick.

How the deal went down

I said I’d give a more detailed account about how my publishing deal came about. Honestly, I couldn’t do it right away. It was one of the most intense things that’s ever happened to me. It was scary. It was surreal. I had become pretty accustomed to coming thisclose, or not close at all. I understood rejections. I had solid coping mechanisms in place for them. I did not expect “yes” to be as stressful as a really bad “no.” So I needed some time to pass. For a shocking wave of oh-my-god-someone’s-going-to-PAY-me-so-if-my-book-flops-I’ll-be-failing-all-these-publishing-people anxiety to pass. I have since gotten a grip. Sort of. I’m still scared, but hopeful, too. I love my book. I am tickled fuchsia that the team at Egmont USA loves it, too.

Now, every publisher has different procedures. Some move faster. Some move slower. Two writers at the same publisher may have an entirely different experiences.  There’s a lot of factors involved that affects the pace of a publishing deal. This is how it went down for ME.

3/14/14: The Black Bird of the Gallows goes on submission to nine editors. Silence.
5/1/14: Add three more editors to the submission list.
5/15/14: I send a slightly ranting email to my agent, wondering why I haven’t received a rejection yet. I want a rejection, damnit!
5/19/14: Agent replies with soothing, reassuring words. Then mentions that it’s going to an editorial meeting at Egmont. I relax a little, try not to get excited. Editorial meetings are just step one.
5/22/14: Book passes muster at editorial meeting. It will be discussed next at the marketing meeting the following Tuesday. Now, I begin to get hopeful. I also make the error of thinking this “marketing meeting” is the acquisition meeting, so when Tuesday comes and goes, I’m convinced it got shot down. Agent reminds me that this is BEA week and they are likely focussed on that. I suddenly hate BEA. The. Suspense Is. Killing. Me.
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6/10/14: Message that marketing liked it and it will be presented at the pub (acquisition) meeting the following day, but not to worry, it “will go through swimmingly.” We are told the P&L will be done ASAP. Oh My GOD!!!!! My agent begins to alert the other publishing houses who have it that an offer is coming. I do obsessive and repetitive google searches on what a P&L is  (profit and loss statement––YOU look it up). I start to experience night sweats.
6/16/14: I again harass my agent for news (which she doesn’t have) because I cannot help myself.
6/18/14: Confirmation that an offer is coming. Hopefully by Friday, which is in two days. Plus, there is interest from another editor. Aaaah!
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6/20/14: Email from agent that she needs to talk to me but can’t reach me. Yes, technical troubles after I’ve worn my phone like an extra limb for the past month. Finally, THE CALL. The actual call. There is an offer. (Wow, writing this, reliving that moment, is making me tear up.) I actually leaped into my husband’s arms. If it hurt, he didn’t tell me.
6/26/14: Offer accepted, after some negotiating by my intrepid agent.
7/10/14: Deal announced in Publisher’s Weekly. I cry a little, seeing it there. I’ve gazed at countless weekly “Deals” page, longing for the day my announcement would be in there. And now it is. I feel like I could totally do this:
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For the rest of my life, I will remember getting that call. There are only a few times I recall being that happy. That unbelievably over the moon. I’d achieved a milestone I was beginning to think would never happen. BTW, the other editor ultimately stepped aside because my book has paranormal elements and her house is only seeking contemporary. Rereading my stress-fueled emails to my agent just now was painful. Gad, I sounded like a nut. But I learned about myself and will implement the next time I am on submission: I do not want to know what is happening every step of the way. I thought I did, but all that happened is I went bat-shit crazy for about a month. My family didn’t enjoy that. In the future, I will tell my agent to tell me nothing, unless we have an offer. Ignorance is not bliss, but in this case, it is sanity. So there it is. The highlights and the lowlights and everything in between. Live well, write on! And do some of this:
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Chasing the black moment

This is what happened. My agent sent me the list of editors we’re subbing my book to. My sweaty fingers made smudgy marks on my computer monitor as I read each editor’s name. Over and Over. Amazing names. I’ve seen them in acknowledgment pages and on blogs and on panels. What I would give, to work with any one of them. What I would give to see this burning goal of holding my beautiful book in my hands.

I don’t like to blog about writing, because there are so very many blogs about writing that do it better than I ever could, but I’m stealing a term from commercial fiction for this post: the black moment. It’s when it appears that all is lost. It’s the moment of true despair for the hero or heroine. It also marks the turning of the tide. The change of fortune from bad to good. I’m not implying that my present moment is black. Far from it. In the past year, I’ve been a finalist in several prestigious contests, secured an amazing agent and written a new book that I’m proud of. I’m enjoying this journey. The highs have blown my mind. The lows have taught me that I’m made of sturdier stuff than I thought.

But I am ready for that turn of the tide. The shift that will turn me from aspiring writer to published author. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I hope this is my black moment. I’d be okay with that.

Five words…

I was a graphic designer for nine years, and while I was decent at it, no one would ever call me brilliant. I wasn’t on the right path and I knew it, but without knowing where to go, I stayed the course. Then, the newspaper industry took a hit and the paper hubby and I worked at offered “voluntary separation packages” as a prequel to layoffs. We took them. We left our jobs and lifelong home in NJ and move to Maine, for more space, less traffic, and maybe because we needed to do something bold for once. We moved into a lovely log home in a hillside development. It was our first spring up here, and we’d walk up the street to the top of the hill in the evenings, to watch the sun set over the mountains, turning the sky gold and setting the lakes on fire.

One particular evening, the couple living at the top of the hill were having a little barbeque. They stopped us as we walked by, offering a beer and a burger and a warm smile. We accepted.

“Where are you from?” The wife, Renee asked me.

“New Jersey,” I replied, and accepted the skeptical look that everyone who is not from NJ, always gives those of us who are.

She took a swig of beer. “You’re home during the day. Whenever I drive by, your car is always in the driveway.” Then, she said the words that changed my life. She leaned in close and lowered her voice to a reverent whisper. “Are you a writer?”

I’ll never forget that moment. My breathing stopped. Time stopped. There was nothing, nothing I wanted more, than to answer her, “yes.”

As much as I hated to do it, I had to say, no, I was an out-of-work graphic designer who took a buyout from a newspaper, and blah, blah. It tasted like vomit, saying those words.

The next week, I started my first book. It was about vampires and it was truly awful.

I joined RWA, got involved in my local chapter and joined a critique group. A few years later, a couple more books, writers’ conferences and online classes, I signed with a literary agent.

Renee will never know the effect of her words. I’ll never tell her that one whispered question she’s long forgotten, showed me who I needed to be. Maybe the universe sends messages that way––through random comments from random people––and it’s up to us to tune in and then do something about it. Five words did it for me. I’m happy to say that now if someone were ever to ask me if I am a writer, I can say, “yes.”

 

My meat computer is a Mac

The Meat ComputerNot too long ago, I wondered if maybe it was time to give this stupid dream of being a writer and go back to a snug, secure cubicle. I understand cubicles, having spent nine years in one. Rejection letters were coming every day, hot and heavy: “While your writing shows promise, your project isn’t a good fit…”, “Thank you for querying me, but your concept just didn’t grab me…”, etc. Rejection hurts. It just does. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t a human being.

It was during this time of self doubt that I ran across this article on the existence of free will. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are essentially “meat computers,” and any decision we make is simply the result of the wiring of our brains. We can’t make choices. We simply execute commands issued by the synapses in our brains. I have to say, the science guys made a compelling argument. Compelling enough to make me really upset.

By this reasoning, every stupid, cowardly and just plain bad decision I’ve ever made was the output of my meat computer. I stayed in that cubicle for nine years, in a state of static self-loathing, until electrical impulses in my brain lit up and said “now, we go.” That’s just depressing. Nine years of knowing I was doing the absolute wrong thing with my life but too afraid to change anything.

I figured, if I gave up and quit writing for publication, my meat computer truly was defective. I’d come so far. I’d written a book I was very proud of, revised it until I couldn’t stand looking at it and really, the rejections weren’t killing me. When it came down to it, I simply wasn’t going to stand for a substandard brain that said it was okay to quit when things got difficult––I’d done this before. It never got me anywhere.

So, I kept going. I recorded my rejections in my querytracker.com account, tweaked my query letter––again––and sent out another five. And one day, when I least expected it, an agent who I thought was miles and miles out of my league, emailed me. She loved my book. She stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted the chance to convince me that she was the best agent for me. Yes, that was in the email. I nearly peed myself.

So maybe there isn’t free will. And maybe there is. it certainly felt like a choice to push on, slog through all the “no’s” to get to the “yes.” Either way, I have new respect for my meat computer. I wouldn’t be here without it.

To be like a shark

Before my husband was my husband, he used to have this little saying that went something like, “women are like sharks. They’re always moving forward.”

Whatever. It was him being nervous-guy about not wanting to get sucked into commitment. Turns out, he couldn’t stomach fighting the good fight and settled into domestic bliss with nary a squawk. But the phrase stuck with me, because in my case, it’s true. I’d change the word “women” to “writers,” though, and this article by Erin Bowman at The Crowe’s Nest blog lays it out perfectly:

“When you are querying, you just want an agent. When you get an agent, you just want a book deal. Once you have the book deal, you want your editorial letter. You’re anxious to move into revisions, and line edits, and copy edits, and cover art, and ARCs, and marketing, and tours, and reviews, and seeing your book on a store shelf. And then you want to sell the next novel, and the next, and repeat the process all over again.”

I am querying, and all I want is an agent. Among the rejections, requests from agents to read my book are starting to roll in at an alarming rate. My feelings on this range from giddy excitement to looming dread. If I’m soundly rejected, it means my book is flawed, fatally so. If I sign with an agent, I level up into a professional world that is currently foreign to me. I suppose in order for a writer to become an author, she has to want that next thing more than anything. Otherwise, no one would ever, ever write a query letter. And forget about a one-page synopsis. Just the words “one-page synopsis” makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But we write the query, and we write the  synopsis, because like a shark, writers are always moving forward.

First person or third person?

So, I’m working on my new work in progress. It’s young adult, of course, because I’m a “first love” addict and can’t get enough first kisses and first hand holding and oh! My heart beats faster just thinking about it. My last book, which is out on submission at a handful of literary agencies (fingers crossed, people!), is a first person narrative, has a crazy high concept and is pretty intense all the way around.

This book is more…sensitive. True, it’s about mermaids who hibernate and there’s a dead body and a love story, but at it’s core it’s about a boy who comes to realize he’s not a loser pothead, after all and falls in love with a girl who spends six months of the year sleeping in the mud on the bottom of a frozen lake. I’m writing in the third person, and struggling with it, frankly. The book feels like it should be written in the first person, but the main character is a seventeen-year old boy, and I honestly don’t feel qualified to write from that deeply inside the brain of boy at all, let alone a teenaged one.

Because really, it’s no big secret what dominates the brain of a teenage boy, and there’s not much of a story to it. As of now, I’m not sure if I should just go ahead an switch to first person, or keep slogging along in third. I feel like I’m hammering a round ball into a square hole. One thing I’ve learned about writing is, a solution always comes. Usually in the shower or in the moment just before falling asleep, unfortunately, but that’s a rant for another post.

Submission fail

So today, this post is inspired by my own idiocy. I spent a ton of time writing my book. Revising it. Editing it. Revising it again. And again. The query letter took weeks. I sent out the query to five agents, and lo and behold, I got a request to read the manuscript. I was very excited, so what did I do? I wish I could say I took my time, went over a checklist detailing everything that should be included in my submission, but no. I did not do that. I sent that submission out as fast as my little fingers could click. Not my best moment.

Guess which one of these fails occurred when I sent my submission:

A. I sent the whole thing in 16 pt. Ariel font
B. I left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages.
C. I sent an old, angry version of the book riddled with swear words wherever I couldn’t find an appropriate adjective.
D. I sent the submission to the agent one down in my inbox, from whom I’d just received a form rejection.

They’re all great and terrible submission fails, but if you guessed “B,” you’d be correct! left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages. The title is the file name, however, and both the query letter and the accompanying synopsis has all that information, so I decided (after several agonizing hours) not to resend it. I thought it would be more annoying to send a “oh, I’m resending this because I’m a dumbass and am already proving myself a pain to work with.”

Still, I feel like an idiot. Lesson learned: Slow down, breathe. And make a damn checklist.