When It’s Time to Permanently Shelve Your Unpublished Novel

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

 

36 Weeks Until Publication 

Though my Friday blogs focus mainly on my preparation for self-publishing this summer, I still haven’t completely given up on the hope of traditional publishing someday. Today, I’d like to talk about what happens when you reach the end of the line on a given project.

For self-publishing, the “end of the line” can be a very happy time. The end – or what you could even call the beginning – is publication. For traditional publishing, the end of the line can be when you’ve queried all the agents you can find and contacted all the publishers who are willing to accept un-agented material, and, quite simply, nobody wants your work.

I think we all know that writing can be a huge risk. If you do it right, it takes an awful lot of time, work, research, rewriting, and editing to complete a project. No matter how good a manuscript might be, the possibility is great that it will always remain unpublished.

I’ve almost reached that stage with the first manuscript I ever wrote – my middle-grade novel called RAIN ON THE WATER. I wrote it first as a screenplay all the way back in 1994, and then years later, in 2009, I turned it into a novel. I’ve written lots of other works in the meantime, and that’s why it’s taken so long to reach the end of my queries for this one. Today, I sent my last agent query for this book. I reached the end of the all the lists I could find. I plan to give it a few more weeks to hear back from the literary agents, and then I plan to query publishers in December. I don’t expect that it will take that long, since I would be surprised if I find a large number of publishers willing to look at unagented work.

There’s almost a sense of relief in letting this novel go. Not worrying about querying for this one means one less thing I have to do. I have another middle grade novel that I plan on querying with  in the next few months ( I won’t consider self-publishing any of my middle grade work, because I can’t imagine how you would market to nine-year-olds online). For that one, I’ve decided I want to wrap up the queries much faster, rather than letting it drag on for years. I hate to sound pessimistic, but twenty years of writing will do that sometimes. I figure I will query the list of agents, then publishers, get rejected by everybody, and then move on to other projects…

Still, it is a little difficult to let this novel go. It was the first story I ever wrote! There are a lot of memories associated with it. I remember exactly where I was when I came up with the idea for the book (college lounge room). I remember the field trip to the Indian burial ground when I was doing research for the story. I remember all the reading I did about Native Americans. The Native music I listened to. All the heart I put into the story and the characters. I remember that day when I lived in Baltimore and we were in the middle of a huge snowstorm in 1996 and I received a phone call from sunny Los Angeles. It was the producer from Mega Films, Inc, telling me she wanted to option my screenplay. I remember years later when another producer, from Runaway Productions, also optioned RAIN ON THE WATER. I remember reading the story to my kids. They really liked it. My kids are very sweet, and they would tell me they loved it no matter what, but I would know if they were lying. My son always insists that he loves my dinner, even when I burn it beyond recognition. I know he’s lying, but I love him for it. I know my kids. I know when they’re bored. They’re not good fakers, and I’m telling you, my daughter was on the edge of her seat when I read her this book.  I was surprised at how much she got into it. I really was. At the time, she didn’t really realize that, since it was a kid’s book, of course everything would turn out okay! She even read the book AGAIN on her own. That really floored me.

I also remember the years and years of rejection. I remember the literary agent from New York City who told me she loved the novel. She told me she wanted to represent it. Then she ignored me for two months, leaving me hanging, only to finally summon the energy to tell me she was “too busy” to represent my novel after all.

I get the rejection thing. I do. But there’s no excuse for the particularly cruel type of disrespect for a writer displayed by that agent. I still don’t know how  she was able to say something like that, all but promising representation, and then walk away without a word for months. I can’t help but hope that one of the publishers DOES say yes. With a deal on a table, it would be easy to get an agent to represent me. I can’t help but wish I could go back to that agent and tell her that if she hadn’t been so heartless, I would have let her have this deal without her even having to do anything!

Okay. Back to reality. That’ s not likely to happen. What is likely to happen is that I will close out my querying for RAIN ON THE WATER by the end of the year. The sun will set on that particular book, and I will start 2014 without that novel being in my life anymore.

Of course, nothing that you’ve written ever really goes away. The lessons you’ve learned and the experiences you have stay with you. I can truly say I gave it my all with this novel, and it’s okay to let it go.

I think it’s almost time.

– Linda Fausnet

Attending a Writer’s Conference: A Lesson in Crushing Disappointment

I attended a writer’s conference last week hoping to come away energized and inspired. I haven’t been able to write much lately because I recently started a new job, I’m taking an online medical transcription class, and I still have all the usual responsibilities of being a wife and mother. It’s just temporary, but it’s been years since I’ve gone this long without writing. Once I finish my online class I can go back to writing, but in the meantime, not writing makes me feel like I’m missing a limb. It’s hard for me to identify with writers who say they have trouble “getting motivated” to write. To me, there aren’t enough hours in the day to write as much as I would like, and that includes the 8 months when I was recently unemployed and I wrote pretty much full time. Which was awesome. I’m so grateful to have a job that I really like now, but to go from writing full time to working full time AND taking a class is quite a jolt.

            I hoped that attending this conference would be a great networking opportunity to connect both with other Wannabe writers and with literary agents and publishers. In particular, I signed up for a pitch session with a Senior Editor with Harper Collins. Harper Collins doesn’t accepted unsolicited, unagented submissions, so that rare opportunity was worth the price of admission right there.

            I didn’t get much advance information from the conference organizers. Typically, you should get information with directions, parking instructions, and at least some idea of what the workshops would be. All I had was an address for the University of Baltimore. I was already sleep-deprived and pretty burned out from all the work I’ve been doing lately. After driving around for more than 25 minutes and parking THREE different times, only to discover it was only 2 or 4 hour parking maximum, I nearly gave up. I was just so tired. I seriously thought about just going home. But how could I miss this golden opportunity of a pitch session I had already paid for? I finally found a spot and stumbled into the conference. I grabbed a cup of coffee and, within five minutes of sitting down, I promptly won a raffle for a $25.00 gift certificate for Amazon.

            Okay, things were looking up…

            The first session was kind of interesting. I took notes and learned some stuff. I felt kind of fidgety and nervous, though, since it was almost time to do my pitch with the Harper Collins lady.

            I was told in advance to send in my query letter and the first five pages, which I did. They also recommended that I bring the same with me, just in case. So I did. I sat in the hall and went over my quick 3 sentence logline and my 5 minute overall pitch.

            As it turned out, I never got to use either one.

            The New York City senior editor lady was pleasant and kind as she proceeded to critique my query and first five pages. Her comments were helpful and constructive, which was great. Well, it would have been if that’s what I had signed up for. Look, I’ve been to conferences before. You can sign up for a Query Critique OR A First Five/Ten Page Critique OR a pitch. A pitch is not a critique. A critique is not a pitch. A pitch means you verbally synopsize your script/novel and hope that the agent/editor/producer/whatever likes your idea enough to want to read the whole thing. I’ve attended a pitch session before when I pitched my screenplay to a whole panel of producers, which was terrifying but also cool. They said I got an “A” on my pitch. Sweet.

            So what should have been a great opportunity turned out to be a total bust. The lady wrote on my query “Interesting concept!” which almost depressed me further. She liked the idea. Too bad I never got to pitch the story to her. She critiqued the first five pages and then my “pitch” session was over.

            It was incredibly disheartening.

            I spoke to another Wannabe writer who had signed up for FOUR alleged “pitch” sessions for later that afternoon and she was horrified by what happened at my session. I told her that maybe my lady did it wrong and that hers would be better. I hope so. I would be incredibly pissed off if I ended with four different critiques of my five pages instead of being able to pitch my story to four publishers.

            For lunch, we were on our own. Of course, I didn’t know this ahead of time having received zero information on the conference schedule. This isn’t unusual, but the conference committee usually provides a list of local restaurants for attendees. Nope. So I went wandering off by myself in search of a place to eat. I found a nearby restaurant – Oriole Pizza and Subs. You simply cannot go wrong with a restaurant that serves an item called “Soup for the Yankee Hater’s Soul.” I saw a bunch of people sitting at a large table who were all wearing name tags from the conference. I swear, it felt like I was in the high school cafeteria on the first day of school. Awkwardly, I asked if I could sit with them and they said yes.

            I sat and spoke mainly with the people on my right. You know how it is when you sit at a large table, especially in a noisy restaurant. You can’t talk to everybody, so you kind of break into smaller conversation groups. The people on my right were all very sweet and nice to talk to. They were all Wannabe writers like me.

            It was only at the end of the meal that I realized that while all the people on the right were Wannabe writers, literally ALL the people to my left were literary agents from New York City.

            I walked out of the restaurant with tears in my eyes, mourning yet another lost opportunity. I can’t tell you how many literary agencies have listed right on their website that they will only read manuscripts from people who are referred by other authors or who they have met at conferences. I don’t know any published authors personally. Seriously, what average person does? Even when you go to conferences, you pretty much meet other Wannabe writers. And, though the agents to my left seemed nice, they pretty much drank pitchers of beer and chatted with each other. Even if I had been able to talk to them, what are the odds that the few agents I spoke to would represent my specific genre?

            The whole experience seemed like a big, expensive lesson in utter frustration. I feel like I’m trying to do all the “right” things that people tell you to do to break in, but nothing was working.

            I figured I would stay for one more session and then go home. The whole day just seemed so depressing and I felt more discouraged than I had in a very long time. Look, I’m a Wannabe veteran. I wrote screenplays for 15 years and now novels for 3 years. That’s 18 years of the Wannabe life, folks, and I’m proud to say that I NEVER wanted to give up. Never. Not once. Never even thought about giving up. I know the odds and I’m charging forward anyway. I’m not giving up. Ever. But I’m a big believer in going with what works and what feels right. Staying home and writing and blogging and social networking feels right. I meet lots of Wannabe writers that way and even speak to the occasional author or agent. I feel like I’m DOING something.

            This whole conference did not feel right. It felt like being at a club that didn’t want me. It’s probably just me, but that’s how I felt.

            On the plus side, maybe I can stop feeling so hopeless that I can’t afford to go to more conferences. It seems like I’m not missing out on as much as I thought. It seems to me that sending out 100 carefully tailored query letters to agencies that I know represent my type of manuscript is a better plan than hoping to meet the right agent randomly at a conference.

            I will say that the last session made me feel slightly more optimistic. There were two agents and the senior editor I spoke with earlier. The one agent said that she doesn’t even have an assistant and that she reads every single query she gets. Though it might take several dozen queries before I get a yes, people do says yes to me. I get my novels read. I’ve even had some interest from an agency lately.

            So maybe I’m doing okay with what I’m already doing. I totally get that writing is a business. That’s what I have a blog, a Twitter account, and that’s why I read blogs, writing craft books, and anything else that I can get my hands on. I take my writing career seriously. Always have. I treat it like a part time job at the very LEAST.

            I realized I feel the most inspired when I’m working at home or when I’m standing in a bookstore or a library.

            So maybe that’s where I need to stay.

Will Write for Ink

It’s been a busy week in my Wannabe life. On Wednesday, I finished a very lengthy and grueling third draft of my latest comedy screenplay. I was incredibly relieved to finish it. I really need some space from that one, so I am putting it away and not even looking at it until after Thanksgiving. After that, I hope to go through it and punch up the dialogue, strengthen the characters, and generally tighten up the story, all of which should be easier than banging out new pages every day. Of course, that’s what I thought this third draft would be like. It turns out, however, that the script sucked. I pretty much had to write it all over again.

When I finish a draft, especially a tough one like this, I can’t help but sometimes imagine that today’s accomplishment might be tomorrow’s rejection. I’ve been through the same drill with each script for the last decade and a half – draft a script, rewrite the hell out of it, query every producer that I can with it, some will read it, most won’t, and then once I’m out of production companies, I move on to the next script. Rinse, lather, repeat. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done so far on this script. I dragged myself out of bed at 5am every morning and worked on it whether I felt like it or not. I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I don’t wait, I just DO. And somehow, between running a household, paying the bills, raising two kids, and working a full time job, I manage to finish a screenplay – one hour at a time. I’m proud of it, but I can’t help but wonder if it will eventually result in a success, or is this script just a bunch of future rejection letters waiting to happen?

I’ve been so busy writing this script that I haven’t had too much time lately to work on marketing the middle-grade novel I wrote last year. However, late Sunday, I took some time and sent out a few emails to literary agents. I can only do email because, at the moment, I cannot afford ink cartridges for my printer. If it wasn’t for my mother, I wouldn’t even have paper…The life of a starving writer.

On Monday, less than 24 hours after I sent out the email queries, I received a rejection. Such is life as a Wannabe in the digital age – bad news travels FAST.

On Thursday, the day after I finished my tough draft of the new screenplay and was wondering why I put myself through all this, I got another email. A literary agent in New York City requested the first 50 pages of my novel! I literally did a double take as I read the email. I finished this novel last year in November. For a solid year I’ve sent out queries to agents and for a year every single one of them said NO. It got to the point where I would sent out several queries, wait for the rejections, then plan to send more. It becomes so automatic after a year of rejections, I almost forget that once in a while, people do say YES.

The best case scenario is that the she will love the novel and decide to be my agent, perhaps putting me on the path to publication. Maybe I’ll look back and laugh – remembering that I actually had to wait for my next paycheck to buy ink so I could send out the pages. If nothing else, perhaps the agent will send me some notes on how to improve the novel. I know the story is strong – after all, the same story in screenplay version is currently optioned by a production company in L.A. The jury’s still out as far as whether or not I am any good as a novel writer.

Either way, it’s a win. I needed a win right now after having worked so long and hard on writing, even if it was on an unrelated script. It was wonderful reminder that today’s hard work really can be tomorrow’s success story. Even if it did take more than a year.