Life Lesson No. 14: Never Say Die

I’ve been working on a novel for nearly seven years. The path has been slow-going and fraught with frustration. Trial-and-error learning, especially in the absence of any real feedback, is incredibly time consuming.

Things I didn’t know seven years ago: whether or not I needed an agent, which publishers accept unsolicited submissions, acceptable word count, genre requirements, how to build suspense, importance of conflict, what makes for good dialogue, the uber-importance of the first words of the novel, consistent POV, back story placement, and how to make use of all five senses, to name a few.

The first iteration of my novel weighed-in at 45,000 words. It opened with a description of the weather (a huge no-no), and I hadn’t yet learned that each chapter needed to include conflict and end in suspense. However, excited to have managed to get the story down on paper at all, I sent out a spate of submissions to potential agents. Most didn’t respond; others sent boiler-plate rejection letters.

So I signed up for a creative writing class and bought a couple of how-to’s. Armed with fresh information, I edited. Along the way, potential scenes bubbled up from what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement,” and my novel grew to 55,000 words. I confidently sent out another salvo of submissions to potential agents. Result? See the preceding paragraph. A slurry formed in the pit of my stomach: rejection mixed with feelings of ineptitude. I questioned whether I actually had what it took to be a published writer.

However, determined not to give up, I bought Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, along with enough books on writing to fill a small bookstore. I read each one, highlighting salient points in pink, yellow, blue, and green. I took another class, then edited some more. I entered a couple of contests and paid extra for critiques; I attended a couple of conferences. I established a daily writing schedule and stuck with it. My novel grew to its current 75,000 words.

Having learned that first-time, unpublished authors have about as much chance of acquiring an agent as they do getting hit by a monkey falling from a spaceship, I plumbed the Predators and Editors website for small publishers (I started at the end of the alphabet, figuring most writers would start with the A’s). Carefully following guidelines found on each publisher’s website, I again began the submission process. This time, I hit pay dirt. After having accumulated enough rejections to paper our guest bathroom, I was offered contracts from three publishers within a space of about four days. Thrilled into near-catatonia, I researched each, and decided on the one that had most authors in their stable as well as most titles in print.

As a poly-published author once said at a conference I attended: I’m not aiming at the Pulitzer Prize. (Huzzah to those who are.) My aim is to pull my Readers out of their reality and into another for a bit. We’ll see how that pans out.









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