The Past, Present and Future of This Novel

I began this journey in January 2013.  I wrote everyday, blogged every week and, to my surprise, finished a first draft in six months. Editing sucked—like really sucked.  But I did it, took writing classes, entered contests and called myself a writer.

In March 2014, I found out I was a finalist in a writing contest, which led me to my first retreat. Whoa!  That was when I realized this didn’t have to be as solitary an experience as I thought.  I discovered a community of people just like me!  It was energizing.  So in May 2014 I started the infamously ego-bursting process of pitching my novel to agents.

A temporary shift in focus

The summer of 2014, something crazy happened.  I landed a job (as a lawyer) that I loved!  At that point, I more or less stopped everything novel related.  I stopped pitching agents, my blog consistency went way down, and I didn’t do much work on my manuscript.  I consciously re-prioritized during that period because I wanted to make a good impression, and it seemed like a natural time for a break (because pitching agents is a waiting game).  The only thing I kept doing consistently was blog for The Write Practice.

Over the next 6-8 months, I received dozens of rejections.  Most agents said nothing, but some of them explained why.  The most consistent feedback I received was a) they liked my writing style and b) they did not know how to sell my book.  Where would it go in a bookstore? (I don’t know)  I really did not want to self-publish (a personal choice for me- self publishing is a great option for others) so I started seriously considering a small publisher that read (and seemed to like) my manuscript.

I think that’s where I was at when I last posted to my blog.  I’m embarrassed to say that was August 2015!

Since my last post…

Since my last post here’s what happened:  while I was talking to the small publisher, one agent was reading my full manuscript.  (Let me explain—after you send a query letter to an agent, they take months to request a portion of your manuscript.  Then they take weeks or months to read that portion and request the whole thing.  At that point they take weeks or months to read the damn thing.  Send. Wait. Wait. Rejection. Rejection. Send. Wait.  So yeah, I was waiting on the agent.)

Ultimately, the agent rejected it and I told the small publisher I was ready to rock and roll.  Maybe the day after I made that known, an agent I had queried ONE YEAR earlier requested my full manuscript.  Fortunately, they got back to me relatively quickly with a friendly rejection where they essentially reiterated the two points above with greater detail.

Moving forward with the small publisher

In March of 2016, I FINALLY received a publishing contract from the small publisher.  I hired a lawyer/agent (ironically, one I had previously pitched) to review it, and she gave me great comments.  The publisher and I discussed the agreement further in person during a meeting in which I was advised to begin thinking of my one-year promotion plan.  He made it very clear that, all authors (self-published or not) need to hustle to sell books and the best thing I could do for myself was to figure out I was going to get my name out there, starting NOW.

Thankfully, I had been invited to a retreat outside of Atlanta hosted by The Write Practice that happened to be taking place that month.  I attended with a goal of finding ideas and strategies to help me formulate that plan.  That was last week and I more than fulfilled that goal!  I left with concrete promotion ideas and ideas  to address some creative issues I just haven’t been able to resolve with my novel.  I was ready to create a 12-month plan.

Step one of that plan? Return to blogging.

So here I am.  Can’t wait to finally turn this dream into a reality!

Oh, btw- like my new header?!

Personally, I LOVE it! It’s a pic of a me drawn on the pages of a Moleskine notebook.  My friend Ross Boone, who I met at The Write Practice retreat drew it for me!  Not only is he an awesome illustratorhe writes too! He also gave really thoughtful advice during the retreat.  Thanks Ross!

View More: http://phillipvn.pass.us/writepractice2016

This is one my headshots from the retreat.  Phillip van Nostrand is an awesome photographer! 🙂

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Sad Truth: Getting Published is Like Trying to Find a Legal Job

Blah.

I considered making that my entire blog post and then leaving it up to interpretation. I thought maybe it would make my blog more literary cuz it forced you to think, you know?   Dig deep.

Jk.

The truth is, “blah” describes my current feelings toward the finding-an-agent process.

I expected to endure rejection, of course.  If I learned anything from blogging it’s that this industry is tough. Tougher if you’re a woman. Still tougher if you’re a black woman. I was told not to quit until I was rejected by 100 agents. I’ve been rejected, but not by 100- yet. So yeah, I anticipated the ego-bruising part.

What I didn’t expect was for the process to be so much like finding a legal job.

I know. Exactly.

I went to this legal panel a few weeks ago called “Broadening Your Legal Exposure.” It was all about how, in order to make it in this town, you need to join organizations, publish articles, and take on speaking engagements. My reaction was “useful stuff.”

The next day, I, unrelatedly, started browsing through writing blogs about how to get an agent, and gleaned this advice: join organizations, publish articles and take on speaking engagements. And attend writing conferences. My reaction was “are you f-ing kidding me.”

It’s not that I ever expected the process of writing a book to be pure. For better or for worse, I never had the delusion that it was all about the art, creativity, etc.

In fact, if I’m being honest, I was probably counting on that fact to some degree. You know, trying to give myself a leg up by blogging, staying on top of the industry, etc. I tried to turn this law firm background into advantage (beyond the freedom to not write in poverty, I mean). Like, I should know something about business or whatever. I figured that would help.

The problem is that some point along the way, I grew to appreciate the art form more and more and to raise the standards for myself creatively. I put in some serious time, effort and cash to make manuscript the best it could possibly be at this moment. So I’ve done that and now I’m faced with this hustling, networking, get your name out there stuff, and it’s just so annoying.

So annoying.

It’s like Blah.

Cheryl Strayed Retreat and The Story I Had to Tell

A couple of weeks ago I went on a writer’s retreat taught by Wild author Cheryl Strayed called the “The Story You Have to Tell.”  I would tell you where it was, but I don’t want you to hate me.

Instead, I’ll tell you about Cheryl.  Cheryl Strayed grew up in an abusive household, lost her mother at age 22, spiraled in her grief by having sex with strangers and using heroin and told the world all about it.  She’s written essays and books about the worst moments of her life—not because they happened, she said, but because she’s a writer.  Doing so turned her into an excellent writer, a compassionate human being, and someone whose fans approach her regularly to tell her the worst things that ever happened to them (something I saw happen at least once a day).

I think a lot of people were drawn to the retreat as a healing mechanism for something they were going through; however, I wouldn’t say that it was a depressing experience.  Cheryl taught for 3 hours a day, we worked on writing prompts, shared work with others and ate gluten-free, mostly vegan food together.  The whole thing just felt very honest.  Everyone was really open in their writing and in general.  Although I was motivated to attend because I think her essays The Love of My Life, and Heroin/e are perfect examples of writing, I think this environment of vulnerability and honesty did ultimately teach me something about writing.

First, I internalized the power of vulnerability, especially for novice writers.   When you haven’t had the training, experience, or mastered the technical skills, that’s basically the only real tool you have to create something great.  Second, I think I write a lot from my head, which seemed separate from writing from my heart.  Now I think the best way to go is to write from your heart but with what Cheryl described as a “literary consciousness.”  Basically being conscious of the point of what you’re writing and making it make sense.  I think that’s the money combo.

So in honor of today’s post on openness, I will tell you about the story I had to tell when I was writing “Lessons from Robin.”

It all started three years ago when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up.  Not only was I reeling with emotions, but I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands.  That ish was crazy. I couldn’t believe that it happened and I couldn’t believe how traumatizing the experience was.  Add to that that one of my close friends in D.C. lost a parent a few weeks earlier, the other drifted away for other reasons (that could be its own novel), and everyone else was in another city, I felt like I was going through the whole thing alone.

I had a story in me, but it wasn’t really about love or grief or the dude.  It was about how I was a completely different person when I left that relationship than when I entered it.  That experience changed me, and I didn’t know what to make of that.  So there was a loss of a boyfriend, a friend, and also myself.  I never knew that a relationship could have that kind of effect on someone, so I wrote a story about that.

It’s still not an autobiographical story!  The characters aren’t me or people I know, but the core of it comes from that experience.

Do you have a story you have to tell?

lumeria

The retreat site.

cheryl strayed

Me and Cheryl.  I suppose I’m cheesing a little too hard…