Roller Coaster Ride
GREAT IDEAS COME FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
The first novel idea that I seriously followed through with was a YA contemporary. The idea came from my own experiences as a school principal and a football parent. During the time I wrote the book a few years ago, I was immersed in football with my youngest son. I sat every afternoon surrounded by teens, in carpool line, at the football field, at games.
My motive was to put a book into the universe that allowed kids to talk about the hidden epidemic of drug abuse among athletes.
Not a huge amount of adults are aware of it but student athletes in many schools have huge pressures to use “a little something” to help them out. People have heard about the problems at the professional levels of athleticism—Olympics, national leagues—but I wonder where parents think that pressure begins. It begins in high school. The story isn’t didactic, but realistic, and approved by the football players who were on my writing team.
That manuscript’s opening pages recently won first place for awesome openers with RateYourStory, a lovely recognition of my writing. And, the only recognition that manuscript may ever get. Anyway, that let me know that at least the opening was compelling. Beta readers and critique partners had helped shape it up over a period of years. That was an affirmation I needed.
SO, WHY DID I TURN DOWN AN OFFER?
I was excited beyond belief when I got an offer from a publisher last year through an online conference. I assumed it was a legitimate offer since it came through a trusted venue. And, it was legitimate, nothing shady at all. But, it was a brand spanking new publishing company. And when I sent the email to agents who had my manuscript or a newish query, one agent (very kindly) walked me through all of the problems associated with such an offer. She pointed out that New Publishing Company’s web site was less than perfect, their only books had been written by a company owner, etc. Kind agent said I’d be better off self-publishing and keeping ALL of the profits since they could offer so little. Never be first with a new company. I heard that again recently from another agent I respect.
For me, the most important factors were two:
- Could they get the book into schools?
- Were they a PAL publisher with SCBWI?
For that book, at that time, those were important factors to me. Now, my factors might be different. I’m at a different place than I was a year ago. The answers to both questions were negative. So, I reluctantly turned down a publisher who sang great praises for my manuscript. And, doing it by email, to this day, felt cold. I still feel terrible, but also I know I did the right thing—for me.
Another request for a full came through that same conference. Disappointingly, although they loved it, it wasn’t dual perspective, which they wanted. They asked for more work with the same voice and characters, and dual POV.
This time life got in the way. I had started going blind with early, fast-growing cataracts. Two lens placements, and two additional surgeries later, my vision is not great. It will only get worse from here—it’s just a question of how rapidly that will happen. Writing is harder, so more valued!
My first serious consideration of an offer on that YA manuscript taught me a hard lesson. Don’t assume anything about a publisher.
I’m beyond proud to be releasing a picture book series, and a chapter book series with a small publisher. But, I did my homework. And I made the decision that was right for me.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
That manuscript has been SO close, and I may pursue it a bit more—enjoy the roller coaster ride. I may not. I change my mind daily. I started the dual POV with the same characters, and have a good start on it. I’ve queried the manuscript more and had full requests, but nada. I’m not patient with querying, and I haven’t done enough. I get way more discouraged when I hear how saturated the market is than I do by the ups and downs. Or I get sidelined by life—as we all do.
Sherry Howard lives with her children and crazy dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the beautiful horse farms her state is always bragging about. She was an award-winning educator, serving as teacher, consultant, and principal in one of the largest urban-suburban school districts in the US. Sherry loves to read, write, cook, and sit in the sand watching the waves when she can. Her poems and stories have appeared in multiple journals and anthologies. Her picture books and chapter books release with Clear Fork Publishing this year.