I am not my MS or How Disaster Breeds Reinvention

As any writer trying to get published the traditional way will tell you, this journey is not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit. Writing a book is hard. Revising is hard. Querying is hard. Rejection sucks. True success stories are few and far between.

When you’re in the querying trenches, the term “on sub” has glamorous allure because it’s a feature of that rosy, mist-covered territory known as Agented Authorland. “On sub” is the shining way that leads to the even shinier hallowed ground known as Publishing Contractland. That’s how I saw it anyway.

Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish

Unfortunately, up close and personal, the landscape is stony and littered with carcasses of dead manuscripts and sundered agent-author marriages. It can be a dark and lonely “Land of Broken Dreams” kind of place. Once on sub, you’re supposed to keep your mouth shut, grin and bear it. Gone is the rowdy camaraderie of querying writers lamenting and rejoicing, loudly and often, with others of their kind. Of course, in theory you have your agent to complain to, but somehow griping at the person who saved your ass from the slushpile and is the one most likely to lead you through the wasteland seems ungrateful. Not to mention stupid. What if she decides you’re a whiney-pants loser and tells you to find your own way? It could happen.

Apparently my book’s topic is far riskier than I realized when I wrote it. But I have hope, and a great agent. My ms is with editors. I won’t say how many or which ones or how long they’ve had it. Gag order, remember?

BUT what if I don’t get a book deal for this ms? A disaster, right? Wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, etc.

Loss of groove…

In reflecting on two previous personal disasters, one major and one minor (at least to everyone but me), I have to say sometimes disaster is a blessing disguised in a really scary costume.

Disaster #1. Five years ago I was part of a down-sizing at my workplace. I didn’t see the pink slip coming. That day was jam-packed with shock and devastation. The economy was a shambles and nobody was hiring. I collected unemployment, dutifully scanned employment listings, etc. To make a longish and miserable story short, when I couldn’t find a job, I stopped banging my head against the proverbial wall long enough to ask myself what I really WANTED to do. The answer was “write a book”. Thank you, former employer, for firing me. You have NO idea how grateful I am. Also thank you for unemployment compensation while I got started. And thank you to my supportive-in-all-ways husband.

Disaster #2. I’ve been blonde all my life, every shade from dishwater to platinum. It’s part of what makes me “me”. Peroxide and I have a good working relationship. Usually. But last week, when I colored my hair, something went horribly wrong. The ends turned blue-gray and the roots turned brassy orange. I turned heads at the grocery store and the school bus stop. When I got to the salon two days later, it took two stylists four hours to deal with my hair. Apparently it had schizoid reactions to every tint they tried. One part would turn gold, another green, another grayish purple, or so they later told me. Thank God I was in the sink room with no mirrors. The only color that “took” authentically was red, so I finally ended up a coppery color. All my life I’ve avoided reds/oranges because I thought they fought with my skin-tone. But guess what? I love it! My eyebrows and freckles make sense. My eyes look greener. Maybe I was born to be red.

MeFern2

So, if I don’t get a book deal, I’ll be crushed. But only temporarily. I am not limited to blonde. I am not limited by what editors decide about this book. I am whoever I want to be and I will write another book. Redheads are feisty. 

The Claw, er, The Call…

This is the post I honestly despaired of ever writing.

Three completed books and two years stumbling in and out of the query trenches brought me to this moment. Finally!

Yes, I’m about to throw another Toy Story reference at you. Here it is…I feel like one of the aliens. Except that bratty Sid plays no role in my story.

If you’re reading this and you aren’t a writer, then you may have no idea why anyone would want/need an agent. Or why agents aren’t lining up at writers’ doors/inboxes offering to represent them. They stand to make some cash if they sell the book, right? Or can’t a writer just “hire” an agent?

Trust me when I say – that’s not how it works.

A decent agent receives a deluge of a few hundred query letters from writers, EVERY WEEK, in which the writer describes her awesome manuscript and anything about herself she thinks might hook the agent (namely previously published work). Out of those queries, the agent might ask for a few partials or even a couple of full manuscripts to read.

The overjoyed writer says a prayer, or lights a candle, or whatever, and fires off the submission. And then waits. And waits some more. Most of the time the agent writes back a couple of months later and says “Thank you, it was very nice, but I didn’t fall in love with it enough to offer representation.” Or something to that effect. The typical agent will actually offer to represent only a few people during a year. She hopes (usually) that these authors will be “career” writers, not just one book wonders. A busy agent might have thirty clients. Period. No room for more. Until somebody dies. And even then she’ll keep representing that author’s estate, trying to make more money for that estate, and of course herself.

An author wants an agent because, with the exception of smaller presses, publishing houses will not even read a query from an unagented author.  The publishers rely on agents to filter, or gate-keep. And to find what the publishing house editors have told the agents they want. So, for the most part the only way to get a book into readers’ hands without an agent is to self-publish, or query a small press. Self-publishing and small presses work out very well for some authors, but I prefer to go the traditional route, at least for now.

Of course having an agent does not guarantee getting a book deal from a publishing house. There’s a whole lot of submitting to editors, gnashing of teeth, chewing of nails, ranting at anyone who will listen, and eating of chocolate. Yes, writers do a lot of waiting. And eating of chocolate. Agents probably do too. Mixed in with frantic bursts of revising, synopsis-writing, etc.

So, now non-writers and writers alike will understand why I am delighted to announce-

I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

I’ve been doing a lot of this…

The Backstory-

Yes, I entered a bunch of contests this fall. I got some requests, but no offers.

I mailed out a few small batches of queries.

I got a “revise and resubmit” with a verbal intent to offer for TENDRIL. Then from a different agent I got an actual offer, also for TENDRIL. After a whirlwind of querying and follow-up “nudging” a week or so later (stating that I had an offer), I got a bunch more requests. Eventually I ended up in that enviable, but unexpectedly difficult, position of having more than one really good offer. There are still agents who have fulls, but didn’t get back to me by the deadline I set.  And I also have a few partials out there for FOOLISH.

On December 22, I accepted the offer from Stefanie Lieberman at

Janklow & Nesbit Associates in NYC.

Until today I kept rereading her emails to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

But today there was something outside my front door.

Fedex

and inside the envelope was the contract…