It’s submission day (again)!

Oh, the ecstasy!
The emotions are etched in my memory like a high-contrast, high-definition photograph.
I actually screeched that day six years ago when my then-agent emailed a list of editors at various publishing houses who received my manuscript for consideration.
It would all fall into place from there. I just knew it.
My novel would be on the shelves within a year.
The next novel would result in a bidding war.
Everyone would be reading my stuff.
Yup, that’s what happened.
Not!
What a contrast from today.
Today, marks my third submission day (My fourth if I count rewritten and resubmitted work.) and the emotional picture is far less jarring than it was six years ago. It’s more like soft-touch through a sepia filter. I feel no euphoria. Only a pleasant buzz.
And I like it that way.
The first time around, rejection was devastating. I had jumped so high that I had a long, long way to fall and the landing hurt — a lot. My then-agent was new to the business and had set his own expectations just as high.
We had buried several truths in our ignorance:
– The manuscript was not ready.
– My agent did not have the necessary connections. (He now represents only nonfiction.)
– Debut authors are a hard sell.
You know that saying, that ignorance is bliss?
It’s not.
Ignorance, in this business, often invites disillusionment. Disillusionment takes weary, broken writers by the shoulders, spins them around and encourages them to walk away from that which has hurt them. They leave their dreams behind because they don’t want to experience that kind of severe impact again.
That could have been me, but one thing kept me from surrendering to disillusionment’s power: my journalism experience. When the first novel failed to sell, I started researching the business of publishing while writing another novel. I connected with established authors and aspiring writers like me. I asked questions. Lots of them.
I needed realism and I found it.
I met authors who had written multiple novels before they celebrated publication. I became friends with a writer who sold her first novels in mere days, not only because she is that good, but also because she is smart and savvy. She had spent as many years researching the markets and the players as she had writing.
I also met writers who had simply gotten lucky.
I opened my eyes and saw the mistake I’d made in signing with an agent who had no experience beyond his previous job working for a publisher. He knew a great deal about the after-market end of the business, but not enough about selling to publishers.
I left my agent with two completed novels in hand and started all over.
I had just started a third novel when I connected with my current agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli, a woman who has been in the business longer than I can ever hope to be. Liz is calm, but enthusiastic. She is practical, but ambitious. She’s connected, but in ways that run deep. Her contacts are more than business associates. Like her clients, most are friends.
And she’s worn off on me.
I hope this novel sells, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t dream of it. But I won’t let those dreams overwhelm or distract me. I refused to pour all of my being into the fate of this one novel. If it sells, I’ll be screaming from the roof tops, but I’ll wait until that happens to climb up there.
For now, I’ll just sit on my porch, where the ground is only a few feet below me, and focus on the next novel like the one under submission doesn’t exist. I know I’ll lose my balance if this novel doesn’t sell. I’m only human, after all. But the landing won’t hurt so much and my recovery time will be minimal.
And I’ll climb right back up the stairs to the porch and start writing again.

Waiting

The Waiting Place …
… for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

–Dr. Seuss: Oh, The Place You’ll Go!-

Including me.
And it’s killing me.
I thought the hardest part of this whole publishing thing would be finding an agent. So when I did, I figured I was relieved of the stress, that my agent would take that load off me and I would be free to pursue everything else.
But it doesn’t work that way.
I was naive.
I had no idea just how hard it is to wait.
Yes, I had to wait when I was sending out query letters to agents, but that was active waiting. I never knew when I checked my email whether I would find a rejection; or a request for a partial or full manuscript; or a request for my nonfiction proposal.
And, if I got a rejection, I didn’t let it get me down.
I just whipped off another query letter and prepared to wait again.
I’ll admit it; it was kind of fun.
It was even kind of exciting.
This is different.
Don’t get me wrong.
I appreciate being in this situation.
And I have a great agent who will do great things.
But, while he is submitting to publishers, I am simply doing everything I possibly can to distract myself. I’m trying not to get my hopes up every time the phones, trying not to check my email every ten minutes, trying not to imagine a whole bunch of editors saying, “Nah.”
I’m really trying.
I’ve written another chapter of my second novel. I’m working on a freelance piece. I’m tearing wallpaper off bathroom walls. I am concentrating on my four children and on making their summer a good one.
But it’s not enough because I still have time to think.
Think.
Think.
Think.
Sigh.

When kids are screaming and an editor calls

A fellow writer fretted loudly on an online forum the other day. She was a nervous wreck.
Her agent had just told her that an editor from a publishing house would be calling her within the next “few days.”
No specific day.
No set time.
Nothing.
She has children.
What should she do, she wondered, if the kids start acting up when the editor calls?
The tone of her post was apologetic, embarrassed, like she felt she should hide the fact of her motherhood from the editor and she didn’t know how. What she wanted, it seemed, was advice on how to pretend she is not something that she most definitely is.
But here’s the reality:
With the exception of John Grishman, Jodi Picoult, the “other” Lori Foster and a handful of other wildly successful authors, most writers either have day jobs or they are home taking care of children, writing on scraps of paper while cooking dinner, helping with homework or hiding in the bathroom.
Editors, if they are experienced and good at what they do, should know that. They should know that if they call unannounced, they are taking their chances. And the author should know that the editor knows he or she is taking a chance.
So why get the jitters?
Now, I have not had the good fortune of chatting with an editor from a publishing house just yet, but I have received important calls while caring for my four children. The older kids can usually be controlled with a stern look, but the twins, like most toddlers. tend to get in certain uncontrollable “moods.”
Sometimes, they want me to hand them the phone so they can say, “‘ello” about 50 times in a row. And they won’t let up. They follow me around, both of them together, tugging on my legs saying, “‘ello? Please?” and then screeching when I try to shoo them away.
Other times, they are in the fighting mood–cranky and tired, and tired of each other.
Still more often, they are in the “I want” mood. In this mood, they want something, I give it to them and then they want something else. It doesn’t end until either they nap, someone takes them outside or Diego comes on the TV.
So I’ve developed my own rules for handling such situations.
I start with a bribe–a movie, a Popsicle, a lollipop–artfully and quietly handed off or popped in the DVD player while still talking, uninterrupted, in an adult manner with the caller.
If that doesn’t work and I get the feeling that things will be okay if I just have a moment to get them under control, I ask the caller whether I can dial back in a few minutes. If he or she can’t agree to that, then why calling in the first place?
What’s two or three more minutes?
We could have killed that with awkward silence at some point in the conversation.
If I know it’s just going to be one of those days, I ask the person on the other end whether I can return the call at a later hour or on a later date, and I make arrangements for someone to help me with the kids.
Then, when I return the call, I hide in the garage or the basement.
I don’t mind chatting with the kids around if the caller doesn’t mind.
But there is one thing I will not do: I will not give into intimidation.
No call is important enough.
I have a passion for writing. I keep a notepad in the kitchen because I can’t help scribbling down my thoughts throughout the day. In fact, I wrote this post between 3 and 6 p.m. on an old steno pad and here I am typing it in at 12:39 a.m.
But my passion for my children is, and always will be, greater.

Readers are the best critics

Originally posted Dec. 31, 2008

When I finally completed my novel, I took the next appropriate step. I sent copies of the manuscript to nine or ten willing readers and then paid an editor to review it for style, grammar and content.
The readers were great.
The editor was a mistake.
He did an excellent job copy editing and he gave me some useful advice, but I hired him because he was a friend. That is where I went wrong. I should have done my research first.
Now, I love criticism—brutally honest, constructive criticism. Those writers who can’t take and appreciate criticism shouldn’t attempt to make a career of writing for public consumption.
And the criticism I received from the readers was excellent. It resulted in the elimination of two characters, a few changes in the minor plots and many, many smoother transitions.
The editor’s criticism led to a faster pace in the earlier chapters and the correction of several errors that had slipped past me. But his content advice, his take on the novel as a whole, was problematic.
If I had not had 11 years of journalism experience and a master’s degree worth of workshop experience, I might have done one of two things: I might have cried and given up, or I might have taken all his recommendations to heart and ended up with a novel that was a Grisham rip-off.
As it turns out, he is a huge fan of Grisham and doesn’t much like literary fiction. My novel does move rather fast, especially through the courtroom scenes. But I am not Grisham and I don’t want to be (Well, I wouldn’t mind his paycheck.).
My style is what it is. The book is an historical novel that is primarily literary fiction, but with a bit of mystery and suspense.
In my years of workshopping and in my experience as a freelance editor, I have had to work with many genres that I find somewhat unappealing. I’ve had to get past my prejudices. I have had to edit or critique the work within its genre.
He couldn’t and, in fairness to him, I never asked.
So here is my point.
I was careful when I selected my readers. I should have been careful when I selected my editor. I should have hired someone who came recommended by other fiction writers and who reviewed the work primarily for copy errors.
I should have simply let the readers do the rest.
The reality is that the readers are the market. They are the people we should be writing for, not the editors, not the fellow writers. Teaching them to critique is easy. Simply give them a few questions to ask themselves when they are done and request that they mark places in the manuscript where they have either stumbled or flown through.
So hire a copy editor. But instead of hiring a content editor or a “book doctor,” contract with a book club. Offer to pay for lunch one day if they will agree to read your manuscript and fill out a questionnaire after.
That’s what I should have done.