What to Expect When You’re Aspiring,
& Why You Need a Dragon
Sadly, Barbara Poelle’s blog has been discontinued, leaving a gaping absence in what I read on the internet in my pajamas Tuesday mornings. But my favorite entries were the ones in which she used baby animals to demonstrate the publishing industry, mostly because they managed to be so accurate, yet you also wanted to hug them. I would love to keep that tradition alive right now, but if you ask me, the path of a writer looks something like this:
When you start out, you are here:
You aspire to be here:
Or, if you’re on the modest side, perhaps you’d be content to be here:
But before you can be either of those things, you should consider getting one of these:
Allow me to explain…
It makes no difference if you are a Harvard professor who perfects his literary opus in the twilight hours once the papers are graded and the kids tucked in, or if you are a teenager writing a rough draft in a spiral notebook labeled “Math” during study hall. At the start of the publishing journey, everybody is a fluffy kitten. And when you’re a fluffy kitten, all published authors, regardless of their advance, print run and popularity may seem like a Pegasus to you. This is because they’ve written a book and found a publisher who deemed it worthy of being on store shelves. That is the holy grail of the aspiring author’s journey. And, really, what more could a kitten ask for?
In my kitten phase, I had Pegasus daydreams with show pony hopes. I worked on my manuscripts on the office computer, or late at night when I was so drained from my workday I could barely remember what commas were. I was inundated with “how to write” “how to be published” “how to get an agent” “how to make editors fall in love with you” books and articles from friends and family hoping to give me a leg up. And there those things sat on the bottom shelf, unread. I perused them sometimes, but would quickly become intimidated. There was just so much advice, much of it conflicting, all of it written with adamant urgency. I decided I was better off just writing it my way and hoping for the best.
Eventually I got an agent. For a while I thought this alone would upgrade me to a Labrador Retriever or maybe a Gorilla, but despite my delusions, a kitten I remained. This realization came to me when, rather than agent rejections, I received editor rejections. Many were personal, but most were boilerplate. At times I sought advice from fellow aspiring authors, but, much like before, I found the responses conflicting and intimidating. And once again, I found myself writing and hoping for the best.
As an agented writer, I was still a kitten, but I was a kitten with a pet dragon who both knew the industry and came to know how I operated as a writer. This is a valuable combination that I hadn’t encountered in any of my prior advice-seeking adventures. There were several people who knew the industry, sure, but not one of them knew me—and that made all the difference. Thus, I give you my most valuable piece of advice: look for an agent who gets you. Because no matter where your journey to publication ends, nothing will ever be so important as where you start.
Conversations with my agent led to new drafts, and more confidence. I was still writing the way I’d always written, but I started to tackle those word documents with a fury. If something wasn’t working, I changed it. If my writing was hindered by an obstacle, I wrote, deleted, and rewrote until I was happy with what I saw. I had a whole 80’s montage thing going on.
And still, the rejections came. And still, I kept at it. (I have to emphasize my willingness to improve. If a kitten isn’t getting a dragon, or has a dragon but isn’t getting an editor, that kitten should look into what is and isn’t working in his or her writing, and go from there).
And then… success! Success came hurtling through the plate glass window of my life like an angry bull who’d had a few too many, knocking over the wingchairs and startling the pigeons. If you’re a kitten, the greatest day of your life is the day you get an agent-dragon. After that is the day you get a publishing contract. That’s when the crazy stuff begins.
What does it mean to work with an editor? Well, I can only speak for myself, but my experience has been just phenomenal. The word “editor” can evoke images of changes, red-pens, rewrites and a sledgehammer to the house of cards a writer has assembled with such precision. And, don’t get me wrong, red-penning is a part of it. But it was abundantly clear from the moment I started working with my editor that she signed on for this story because she already loved it for what it was. There were no attempts to shape it into something else. We had, and continue to have, detailed conversations about the world, the characters, and what makes the whole thing tick. Editing is a blast. Things jump out of the manuscript that never would have occurred to me before reading my editor’s notes.
After that, copyedits. I have heard a lot of authors gripe about the tediousness of copyedits, but I sorta find them comforting. The hard stuff is done. Now it’s all about commas and continuity. This is the literal red pen phase. And once it’s over, the manuscript is as done as you, the author, can make it.
Then… finished copies! On bookstore shelves! And you’ve done it. And I have news for you, whether you see yourself as a show pony or a Pegasus, you’re a Pegasus. You’re a force to be reckoned with, lightning bolts crisscrossing behind you and little rainbow clouds swirling around under your feet. This is your thing. Own it. You earned it.
THANK YOU LAUREN for sharing with us your story! And remember--comment here and comment on Lauren's interview here for a chance to win a copy of WITHER for yourself!