Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Toolbox Tuesday: Armor

Since I just got another rejection from a big NY house this past week, I thought it prudent to address the author's need for armor in their toolbox.  Depending on what kind of writer you are and where you want to take your book, you're going to need to make sure you've got a good set of emotional armor.

If you're like me and your dream is to become a New York or USA Today Bestselling author, then 9 out of 10 say go the conventional way through New York.

First, you're going to deal with having to go through numerous edits with beta readers before you even think of pitching an agent.  Sometimes this is the most difficult part for a writer: taking that primary step and letting someone else look at your baby.  Being as shy and self-conscious as I can be, this part was very difficult for me.  I kept wondering, "What if they don't like it?"  Of course, at 20 (when I started all of this) not liking my book translated to not liking me.  I was also terrified that I sucked and sucking at writing meant I couldn't be a writer.

I assume everyone has this mentality at first, but then you live, you learn, and since you're too big for Luvs, you build armor.  I almost cried the first time I got a manuscript back from a beta reader.  I had been intelligent in choosing my old roommate (she'd been an editor for her school paper and thus the toughest Grammar Nazi that I knew), but man, did it ever hurt.  I also had many arguments and discussions with people who told me certain aspects of the novel didn't make sense or were unclear or they didn't like a particular character.  I got defensive, told them they weren't supposed to understand or that was just how things were.  But then I realized that if I actually wanted to be published, I had to make some sacrifices for the sake of the reader. 

My biggest lesson as an author: If you're not willing to bend a little for your readers, your market, or the industry, then you aren't writing for other people, you are writing for yourself...And if it's just for you then why the heck are you torturing yourself with trying to get published?

Things got better after that.  It turned out that I didn't suck, I just needed to work on some things.  So, I did the best I could with my beta readers, compiled a list of agents, wrote a query, and started pitching.

And got rejected.  And rejected.  And rejected.  I got a couple of partial requests...and got rejected.  During all these rejections, I was writing another book.  It was the only way to prove to myself that I could use what I learned and write something better than what was being rejected.  I was challenging myself as an author.  When I finished, I gave that novel to my betas.  They loved it, there wasn't that much I needed to fix.  I was jubilant!  So, I decided to pitch that one instead. 

And got rejected and got partial requests...and then got full requests.  Then an agent who was willing to consider taking it if I made some changes.  We will call her Agent A.  After a brief phone conversation with her, I started a huge edit that completely changed my book.  I gave it back to her and waited.  During that time I got rejected by two other agents who had asked for full requests.  And then Agent A got back to me and decided not to take it despite my three painful months of changing my book for her.  Luckily, I had met an agent (B) at one of the conferences I go to and she'd asked to see it if Agent A didn't pick it up. 

She liked it, signed me, but suggested making changes to it as well.  Month after month, edit after edit, I kept thinking, "This is it!  This is perfect!  This will be the last one!"  But it never was.  I cried, I screamed, I went through a period of writer's block.  Nine months later, the only thing that kept me going was sheer determination not to let my own monster kill me.  And then one day, that was it.  I was done and we were going on submission.

And now the rejections are coming again.  My dream houses, Tor, Simon and Schuster, Penguin...they've rejected me.  Why?  Not because my book sucks, but because the market is too full of the kind of book I've written.  I have a piece of gold, but it holds little value in an inflated market.  But I hope and pray everyday that someone will like it enough to hold it up and say, "This piece of gold is better than the rest!" 

Until then, I continue to write and I've gotten a few of my short stories published through small publishers.  Still, even here I need my armor.  I have to deal with getting reviews from people who don't like my work and I need to deal with having to promote myself if I want sales.

When my novel does sell, I know that I'm going to have to deal with contractual issues, deadlines, promotional fiascoes, touring, and a grueling schedule.  I'm also going to have to contend with the very real possibility that the book will tank and no one will want to publish anything by me again.

I started writing my first book when I was 18.  Seven years later, I've completed four manuscripts and still don't have a novel published.