The Journey Is the Reward

The Journey Is the Reward

I have to keep telling myself that.  Over and over.  It’s become my Writer’s Mantra: “The journey is the reward.”  (My second choice for a mantra would be “Success is the best revenge,” but I’m still working on the success part.)

I’ve recently had a stretch of good road (figuratively speaking, of course. Here in Colorado it’s currently -2 degrees, and Global Warming is starting to sound like a good idea. ;-), and since everyone enjoys a little schadenfreude now and then, I thought I’d tell you a bit about my journey:

  • Author writes a steamy short story for a Valentine’s Day surprise & decides to turn it into a novel.
  • Finishes writing novel 2 years later.
  • Author celebrates.
  • Starts editing novel.
  • Determines that novel is a mess.
  • Signs up for Stanford University writing class.
  • Completes writing class, learns what a query is.
  • Edits novel, cutting or rewriting every weak scene, character, paragraph, and word.  Removes 400+ adverbs, 250+ superfluous dialog tags, and a lot of  ‘then’s.
  • Makes long list of character traits: likes, dislikes, language usage, flaws, etc.
  • Edits novel, working in unique traits for each character.
  • Rereads novel start to finish, looking for weak scenes.
  • Rewrites weak scenes using “worst disaster” rule
  • Finishes writing novel for the second time.
  • Discovers
  • Writes 400-word query and adds an 8-word author bio.
  • Sends out 10 email queries for a “science fiction” novel.
  • Receives 7 email replies: 6 form rejections and a short note chastising writer for sending a 1st person POV novel query to a hates-1st-Person-POV-agent and informing writer that book is NOT science fiction.
  • Author despairs.
  • Discovers
  • Spends 2 months learning to write a query. (This is extremely painful.)
  • Writes 200 word query; spends 2 weeks tweaking it.
  • Discovers plot problems in novel (due to query).
  • Fixes outline, rewrites novel for the third time.
  • Submits old short stories and novel excerpt to online literary magazines.
  • Spends two weeks attempting to figure out what genre book is by scouring internet. Conclusion: Not Science Fiction.
  • Signs up for 4-Day Algonkian Writer’s Workshop in San Francisco.
  • Prepares for workshop by learning what a blurb, tag line, pitch and hook are.
  • Writes a blurb, tag line, pitch, and reads 10 bestsellers looking for the “hook.”
  • Rewrites novel (for the forth time) and adds a hook.
  • Attends workshop.
  • Discovers that there are huge numbers of people who have written terrible novels and are desperate to get them published.
  • Also discovers that feedback from said writers with terrible, desperate novels is useless.
  • Meets with 6 different agents and gives pitch.
  • Discovers that “open to submissions” agents attend conferences in San Francisco to visit Golden Gate Bridge, eat at nice restaurants, and gawk at men dressed in tight skirts and 4-inch heels.
  • Realizes that novel is desperately terrible.
  • Author despairs.
  • Spends a month working on a better outline, expanding the world in the novel, adding supporting characters, deleting and rewriting.
  • Spends another month reading books on writing, editing, and queries.
  • Finishes writing novel for the fifth time.
  • Decides that novel will never be finished and starts tagging novel versions.
  • Has three short stories and a novel excerpt accepted for publication!
  • Author celebrates.
  • Writes 100-word query including 3 sentences of Author Bio.
  • Sends out 25 queries to “women’s fiction” agents.
  • Receives 19 form rejections and one very nice rejection telling author that book is not “women’s fiction,” book is “science fiction.”
  • Rewrites query, weighting and balancing every effing word.  Cuts out one great sentence to add “more white space” to query. Determines that novel does not fit in any one genre and probably crosses 3 or 4.
  • Sends out 25 queries to “mainstream fiction” agents.
  • Receives tons of form rejections and 2 requests for a partial.
  • Sends off partials. Never hears another word from one agent (after sending multiple emails and one registered letter). Other agent says book is clever and well-written but crosses genres, and publishers will not buy books that cross genres.
  • Determines that books crossing multiple genres do not get published.
  • Author despairs.
  • Decides that author LIKES to read books that cross genres and thinks that more publishers should publish cross-genre books.
  • Gets annoyed with NYC publishers in general.
  • Submits novel to various contests to see what other people think. (Spends $200.)
  • Novel wins one of the contests. Author gets a check for $30 and a certificate.
  • Author celebrates.
  • Reads feedback from contests and rewrites novel for the sixth time.
  • Gets feedback from one contest reviewer suggesting book is a romance, and that author take out word “penis” and substitute “softer” option.  Reviewer suggests: “tool.”
  • Author falls off chair laughing.  Cannot see self using the word “tool” in place of “penis.”
  • Researches romance genre.
  • Does not like to read romance novels and cannot make it past the first 50 pages of any of the best-sellers in “romance.”
  • Also does not like book covers of shirtless men with shaved chests.
  • Is absolutely, positively certain that novel is not in the romance genre.
  • Author despairs.
  • Reads The Time Traveler’s Wife and discovers that it crosses 3 or 4 genres!  Damnit, if she can do it, I can do it.
  • Researches TTTW and discovers that Niffenegger had terrible trouble finding an agent and finally gave up. Subsequently had terrible trouble finding a publisher, but didn’t give up.  Discovers that Niffenegger is now a millionaire.
  • Author celebrates.
  • Rewrites query, including that novel is in same genre at TTTW and includes first chapter at end of query.
  • Decides to do an experiment.
  • Sends out 25 queries with humorous tone.
  • Sends out 25 more queries with gloom and doom tone.
  • Sends out 25 more queries with literary tone.
  • Sends out 25 more queries with romantic tone.
  • Form rejections fill email inbox. Two emails contain words of encouragement and one apologizes for not being able to take on a first-time writer with no platform despite loving the writing.
  • Two requests for partials end in rejections: (1) tone in query does not match tone in novel, and (2) novel not in stated genre.
  • Author despairs.
  • Rewrites query trying REALLY HARD to match tone of query to tone of novel.
  • Researches agents and agencies and Publisher’s Marketplace.
  • Sends personalized email to 20 agents currently accepting queries in multiple genres. States in query that novel crosses genres just like TTTW.
  • Gets 5 requests for partials, which turn into 4 requests for “fulls.”
  • Author celebrates.
  • Gets 2 offers of representation.  Both agents are young, new to publishing, and work for small, obscure agencies. But both agents are based in NYC.
  • Author celebrates.
  • Decides on one agent based on her enthusiasm for the novel, and the agent’s total agreement that novel is NOT a romance.
  • Receives Editorial Letter from agent.
  • Makes changes to MS and returns to agent.
  • Agent submits MS to NY publishers.
  • Starts writing second book in series.
  • Gets glowing reviews from editors, BUT book crosses genres and cannot be sold.
  • Agent submits MS to second round of NY publishers.
  • Publishers love book, but cannot sell it.
  • Author says the word “self-publish,” and agent drops author like a rat contaminated with The Plague.
  • Author despairs.
  • Author starts writing third book (in a 5-book series)
  • Author submits MS to independent publishers.
  • Author gets 2 offers to publish (minuscule advance, but 40% royalties!)
  • Author signs on with bigger publisher of the two.
  • Author celebrates.
  • Publisher asks author to change book to make it more appealing as a “romance”
  • Author despairs.
  • Author resigns (muttering “throbbing member, my ass.”)
  • Author researches publishers who will allow author to keep editorial control.
  • Author discovers a new-approach, hybrid publisher.
  • Author submits to hybrid publisher.
  • Six months later, hybrid publisher offers to publish book (and all books in the series)
  • Author celebrates.
  • Author joins hybrid publisher.
  • Author discovers that publisher is having trouble attracting and keeping experienced copyeditors: Editors do not get paid a dime until the book is sold, and most editors make <$20 a month on a published book. Estimated time to make up investment in book editing: 8+ years.
  • Author discovers publisher’s marketing support is focused on books in high-volume genres (i.e. romance, sci-fi, mystery), not cross-genre books.
  • Author complains about lack of editors and marketing support.
  • Author is fired.
  • Author despairs and celebrates at the same time.
  • Author decides to self-publish.
  • End of discussion. Author will self-publish.
  • Just suck it up and do it. Author will self-publish.
  • Author hires editor, proofreader, cover designer, and reads tons of marketing advice.
  • Author gazes into dwindling bank account.
  • Author purchases domain names, publishing “company” name, and builds websites.
  • Author purchases accounting software to keep track of dwindling bank account.
  • Author begins final edits to first novel and prepares for Summer 2014 book launch.
  • ***

Total time to write and publish first novel: 5+ years.

Number of times self-publishing considered (and backed down): at least 4.

New gray hairs: a lot.

Books published: 1 (soon to be 2!)

***Stay tuned for the latest updates.  I’ll share what works (and what doesn’t).

Remember, the journey is the reward (but a little success doesn’t hurt).


2 thoughts on “The Journey Is the Reward”

  1. I love your journey journal. My own experience is remarkably similar, except that I am beyond thrilled that I didn’t get picked up by any outside publisher. I’ve got six books out and can’t imagine giving up the control to any body who would tell me to use the phrase “throbbing member.” However, it usually does take a number of books in your back list before the financial side starts to fall in the Benefit column rather than the Drawback one. Keep writing.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Donna.

      Today, I look at that list and laugh at how naive I was (and how far from publishing quality my book was at the beginning). And I definitely agree with you: the self-publishing journey is not without its potholes (and minefields!), but it was definitely the right choice for me too. My second book comes out in July and the road ahead looks inviting.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement!

Leave a Reply to D.L. Orton Cancel reply