When I began my first novel, I had no intention of leaving my job. I loved Human Resources training. Not only did I enjoy helping people, but it was a role that couldn’t have suited me better. So, even as I worked on my first draft of The Star Child, I planned to continue working full-time, dedicating my weekends to writing and family.
So…I Might Have Changed My Mind
My discontent with trying to fit both working full-time and writing into my schedule kicked in after I had my second son–the one we affectionately refer to as Bam-Bam. With a generous maternity leave, I not only had time to spend with the new little guy, but also to self-publish The Star Child. It was a huge accomplishment–especially with a newborn. It also planted a seed:
What if I don’t go back to work?
It was a big decision. There were dozens of factors to take into account. My company had always been extremely generous–I’d be giving up a lot more than just a salary if I left. At this point, I only knew two things: I was done sidelining my writing and tired of leaving my family to travel all over the country.
With my husband’s support, I decided to turn in my resignation. Signing my first publishing contract with Inkspell Publishing, spurred me on–the suggested I demanded release schedule for the series, which I was determined to meet. I’d get to write full-time and stay home with my boys. What could go wrong?
The Truth Behind the Choice
It all sounded good on paper–or to be exact, my color-coded Excel spreadsheet. Once I’d left my job, though, it all hit me. After being a high-earner for years, I came face-to-face with life as someone without an income. Sure, my husband was still working, but I wasn’t making any money. I’d told everyone I’d freelance in whatever–graphic design, web design, whatever I needed. The truth, though, is that freelancing is tough work. Customers have strict demands. Freelancing rarely paid well, at least when I factored in all of the time. Plus, there was the culture shock.
I went from being able to buy whatever I wanted, to pinching pennies to buy coffee. With my job, the health insurance was so wonderful that I never saw a bill. With my husband’s insurance? I saw $4000 worth of bills in three months. Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that.
By the time my first book launched in September of 2012, I went from having no credit cards, to $10k in credit card debt. Then my first royalty check came–well, at least I could afford to buy that coffee.
The good news was that I was still able to pay all of my bills. The bad? I couldn’t take my kids to the museum or on vacation or do anything at all. How could I possibly promote my upcoming book with no room to breathe financially? Forget trying to promote my work. I couldn’t afford to buy a copy of my book, let alone spend it on advertising.
The Proof Is In The Budget
Something had to give. So we took a good hard look at our finances–here’s where we landed. We:
- Looked at every bill. Where could we cut? We changed cable plans, cell phone plans, paid off our cars to eliminate car loans.
- Consolidated loans.
- Refinanced our house.
- Wrote down every recurring expense and tried to plan for them.
- Tracked expenses by category.
- Did our best to budget for expenses and put aside money for savings.
- Talked about every expense we had–in-depth.
- Started shopping smarter, buy food at stores like Aldi, devising stricter grocery lists. This even resulted in healthier eating.
After all this was said and done, I rebooted my expectations. No, I couldn’t live the way I used to, but I could live a better life, a richer one.
Now, I make hard choices about where and when I spend money. Book marketing is usually done on a quarterly basis and planned in a year in advance. I try to minimize surprises.And all those bills? Well, they’re still there, but we’re working on them.
Okay, maybe it’s not writing for a living J.K. Rowling-style, but I write every day, watch my kids grow up, kiss my husband goodnight each evening. The only time I spend on airplanes is on family vacations.
So, guess what? It didn’t work out the way I thought it would. But now, coming up on my third anniversary outside of the corporate world, I’m still more than okay. And most important? I’m still writing.
http://ow.ly/Ml1er The Upside of Friends With Book Deals @kacimari @StephanieKeyes #New #Blog Post #amwriting
THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR WHEN ALL YOUR FRIENDS HAVE BOOK DEALS AND YOU DON’T:
1. Early reads. That’s right bitches. I read it when it was a draft!
2. Looking cool at parties. Oh hey, nice book. Check the acknowledgements for my name. (Because I know all of you go to parties where the main theme is reading.)
3. Feeling like a Twitter rock star when your famous friend replies to your tweet. #BFF #WriterFriends #IKnewHerWhen
7. Movies. Did you hear my BFF’s book was optioned for film? What are you doing with your life?
8. Friend critiques. Like, I know you’re famous and everything, but will you please take a look at this?
10. Being in the “in” crowd. Just think, once you finally get that book deal, you’ll already know EVERYONE in the biz.
What is it about your favorite novel that makes it your favorite? For me, it’s a few things.
I love a likable character, one to which I can relate. One that makes me feel what he or she feels, that makes me believe what he or she is going through is real. I want to live whatever life they are living. I want to experience everything they experience, both the good and the bad. I want to be transported into their world…
Which leads to my second point…
I love books with believable worlds, where the author has done a fantastic job at world building. I want to believe the place truly exist, that the rules and laws the writer has established are well thought out. I want to feel as if I am a part of that world.
I love novels that paint vivid descriptions. A novel that transports me to a particular time and space so that I feel the cold and hear the hard-packed frozen earth crunch underneath heavy footsteps. A novel that allows me to hear a twig snap in the otherwise quiet wilderness.
I love to read books that are packed with action and filled with emotion.
And perhaps most importantly, I don’t want my favorite books to end.
So, what does all this have to do with rewriting? Well, as a more seasoned writer who has learned through trial and error and a lot of heart ache to embrace my characters and to live and grow with them, the rationalization behind it is simple. Know what you love about a novel and then strive through the rewriting process to ensure that your work mimics the work of those novels.
BUT…..BUT…BUT… It wasn’t always that easy!
When I first began to write creatively I was asked by my critique group what my main character was thinking and feeling and what he smelled as he walked through the kitchen. They wanted to know what? I sure as heck didn’t know the answers. And as embarrassing as it is now for me to admit, I really didn’t care. Because, like… how would those answers have anything to do with my story? I’d thought I’d gotten involved with a bunch of crazies. Thankfully, I continued attending the critique sessions, continued to read and to write, although thoroughly confused about what it was they were asking of me.
It wasn’t until I was writing a story about a guy in a wheelchair that I got what they were talking about. I easily became the main character in my story. Why? Because I use a wheelchair in real life. I was able to relate, able to understand what he was going through. Little by little, over the course of weeks and months that followed, I learned how to get close to all of my characters in that same way, learned it was vital to include the type of sensory details my writer’s group had asked for me to include.
Now, I always ask my characters the same questions my writer’s group asked me. Those, and a lot more. I ask my characters what they know, what they love, what they think and what they feel. I ask them why and what and how. If they don’t give me the answer that I need, I ask again. And again. I think of them as children, children who do not always want to be forthright with the answers to my question. (Those of you with kids of your own will easily understand.) Eventually, I find the answers I need, although it may not always be what I expect or what I am looking for. I let my characters guide me. I let them tell the story.
Recently, while writing the first draft of my latest novel, I introduced a character into the beginning of the story, but finished that draft without using him again. Something was wrong with that picture. His appearance in the beginning was too important for him to be ignored. I didn’t lose sleep over this particular fact, and eventually, about one half of the way through my second rewrite, while brushing my teeth no less, he spoke to me. He told me how he was to be used. His answer was as clear as if I were living through him, or he, through me. I knew when he was to reappear. Where it would happen. How it would happen. How often it would happen.
Whether good or bad, while rewriting, I often find myself living in another world, the world I’ve created. At times, when driving, I find I’ve driven miles without remembering the actual drive because I’m living different scenes of my novel. Sometimes, my children, or my wife (this is when it can get bad), accuse me of not paying attention, of not listening to what they have to say. Of course, I deny it, but I know it’s true. And for those times when I’m smack in the middle of creative thought, I accept it as necessary because then, and only then, am I able to embrace the rewrite so that my writing will then become like the novels I love to read.
A psychologist would probably tell me the ideas that come my way are courtesy of my subconscious. They’d say I was crazy if I’d tell them my characters spoke to me. I’d tell them that’s only because they’re not listening.
There are plenty of traditional routes towards getting published, and when I started shopping out my manuscript for The Order of the Key, Book 1 of my series, Keys and Guardians, I systematically went through all of them.
- Cold query agents? Check!
- Spend hundreds on an informative Writer’s Conference with the added benefit of pitching to various agents? Check (thanks to my day job’s Christmas bonus)!
- Chatted with an agent I met? Check (Lesson: I’m awkward. My husband is MORE awkward.)!
- Ask published writer buddy to hook a sister up? Check!
- Cold submit directly to small presses? Checkity-check!
I was hitting brick walls left and right. Even when I got a step closer, pitches leading to partial manuscripts ended up leading to zilch. I wasn’t at it for very long, but I’ll admit that I was beginning to get discouraged. I’m an efficient organizer, which means that in six short months I managed to rack up an impressive number of rejections.
I don’t want to give you that number. It feels like failure even though you know it’s not necessarily about the story, but a question of agent/publisher taste.
I had just gotten through a conversation with a writer friend, asking him if he would be game for a second round of beta reads (he had been unavailable for the first set) because I was beginning to think something was wrong with the story. I actually said, “When this next round of rejections comes in…” with absolute certainty. I hadn’t given up. Order wasn’t going back on the shelf. I just had to admit it was time for a new plan of attack.
And then came Twitter’s Sci-Fi Fantasy Pitch Event, #SFFPit. I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t even know it was happening until the day of the event. That morning, I plugged in a really bad, cut down version of my logline and tweeted. Nothing. Radio silence. I wasn’t surprised. What could a tweet do for me? I didn’t see how I could sum up my story in 140 characters when I had a hard enough time writing a two page synopsis. I expected nothing.
I did a quick Twitter check before I left my desk at my day job and saw that some people were still accepting twit pitches in earlier time zones. Shrugging on my coat, I lazily tapped out a tweet that felt more like commercial copy than an actual pitch.
— Justine Manzano (@justine_manzano) December 9, 2014
You see that Favorite? That one lonely favorite? Can you imagine what I could have accomplished if I put a little more thought into it? It didn’t matter though. What mattered was that my publisher saw something they liked. That’s right. I said MY PUBLISHER. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
The lesson here lies in my question. What could I do with a tweet? I could get myself published, that’s what. Every little opportunity that crosses your path is a shot. All of those things I mentioned up at the top? All valid methods of getting an agent or a publisher. But so was the one thing I thought would do nothing for me.
Keep your eyes open. Be mindful. If you see even the most paper thin thread hanging, grab it and see if you can climb your way to the top. It may not hold you at all, or it may carry you just long enough to grab a thicker rope. But you’ll never know if you just leave it dangling.
Justine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account @justine_manzano, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. The Order of the Key, the first book of her YA Fantasy series Keys and Guardians has been contracted for publication by Distinguished Press and will be available for purchase in Summer 2015.
I’ve loved to write since I was in elementary school. There was nothing better than arriving at school to find out that our morning assignment was to write a story. My friends and I begged my third grade teacher to let us take our notebooks out to recess so that we could work on our stories. I spent summers with a pile of paper and a box of crayons creating books that I bound with yarn. I filled several spiral notebooks a school year.
Then I grew up. Suddenly, writing became a little more intense. I started getting graded for what I wrote. I learned about deadlines. I was forced to share my work with other people. I found out that you almost never write the perfect story the first time around, and there is always something to revise. I started submitting my work to agents. My email inbox started overflowing with rejection letters. All of the sudden, I didn’t really love writing anymore. In fact, about six months ago, I sat down in front of my computer after working two jobs and typed three words: I hate writing. Then I walked away from desk and didn’t return.
I didn’t write for three months. I helped the student athletes I tutored brainstorm ideas and edit their papers and essays without wondering about my own writing. I celebrated my writer friends’ accomplishments without worrying about whether I was doing enough to be successful. Best of all, I read. I read newspapers, blogs, and short stories. Some weeks I would read three or four books. I read so many YA novels that I wish I had been eligible for the monthly reading contest for teens at my local library. I would have dominated those kids.
It was in the midst of one of these YA novels that I suddenly remembered why I started writing all those years ago.
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell is a YA book about two teenagers living in Omaha in 1986. These two misfits are forced to sit by each other on the school bus and eventually fall for each other.
This book made me remember the wonderful, terrifying emotions that come with being young and in love for the first time. There were some tough issues these two lovebirds had to deal with that I never had to experience in my real life. But after I finished reading the book, I felt like I had.
I started writing because I wanted to experience things I could only dream about. I started writing because I loved creating characters and situations and figuring out what happened with them. I liked that often times the characters you created taught you something about yourself. I enjoyed that I could rewrite the outcome of past experiences.
It turned out I didn’t actually hate writing. I did not enjoy the process of securing an agent. I hated deadlines and being told what I could and couldn’t do. I hated that I had revised my novel for two years and it still wasn’t good enough.
I started writing for myself. I wrote without worrying what an agent would say or what people would think. Some days I wrote for two hours. Other days I wrote for ten minutes. Sometimes I wrote with pen and paper and drew scenes in the margins.
The reality is that my current writing habits are not going to advance my writing career. Everything I wrote needs revision. I probably should be writing more often. I know that I will face the exhaustion and rejection again. Next time, I want to be ready.
So for now, I’m taking the time to remember all the reasons I love to write.
Kathleen Ingraham is a 2011 graduate of the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College and currently works for a printing company in Lawrence, Kansas. Her work has appeared in Sucker Literary Volume 2 and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Follow her on twitter: @K_Leen
Give me YA any day—although I cross all lines of genre, age, and interest. After more years than I care to reveal, my prolific endeavors may—let me repeat that—may be on the way to success. If adversity teaches us to grow, I should be ten feet tall by now. Instead of five feet two inches. But enough about me.
Growing up, we had this grocery store chain, the A&P. Never did know what those initials meant. Artichokes & Plums? Anchovies & Persimmons? Whatever. At this point I’m going for Angst & Perseverance, the words that characterize my publishing journey.
The day I got my (first) agent, I celebrated. Called everyone, changed my Facebook status, knew that success was a mere signature on the virtual line away. Instead: Agent #1 got fired. Agent #2 became ill. Agent #3 also got fired. Agent #4 took a non-agent job.
Which means at present I am swimming in the slush pool once again. Is this a sign? It is time to simply write for my own pleasure? That’s the angst whispering into my ear. While perseverance shouts at me to keep going.
Even beyond my agent issues, there have been publishing potholes big enough to swallow more than one manuscript. Yes, I have persevered…only to run into that blasted angst over and over again.
I started with a slew of rejections. There were the bad ones: no answer or, “Dear Author.” The good ones: great story but not right for my list. And my favorite response for Mystery at Bikers’ Rest: “The mystery distracted me from the story.” Huh?
Then, success! My initial sale, a trilogy no less, got a great editor. We completed work on the first book. I drank a Corona with lime and chose a killer dress for my book launch party. At this point the publisher’s parent company had industry-related problems; nothing personal. Except that several projects got cancelled. Including mine. Angst, anyone?
Then I co-authored a series, and we sold it. First edits were finished. And the publishers decided their vision of my character was better than mine. A double helping of angst, hold the whipped cream and cherry.
Perseverance kicked in. The book sold to another publisher. It should come out this year. And my trilogy is back on the market. (Feel free to contact me, all you hungry publishers out there.)
So here I am. Several projects are submitted. I have a huge backlog of work and an almost-completed historical fiction YA. Plus sparks flying in my brain for the next project. That’s the good news. But I have no agent, no editor, and no real clue what comes next. Angst-ville.
And that is exactly where writers are at their best. Without problems, we really don’t learn much. I now understand contracts, fine print, trust, and industry standards. Good stuff.
I’ve also harnessed the feelings associated with each rebuff. My work-in-progress protagonist displays deep anxiety and dread, aka angst. I know how it feels, and I’m able to show it. Rejection? Check. Betrayal? Check. Happenstance? Check. The negatives become positives as I use them to mine the depths of my characters’ psyches. Which makes me a better writer, and (hopefully) attracts the agents and publishers I need.
The same is true for perseverance. Every book involves at least one major conflict and several minor ones. If the characters folded at the first sign of a challenge, the book would end by paragraph two. When I soldier on in spite of delays and lack of immediate success, I am able to create characters that have the same ability.
Do I enjoy the angst inherent in getting published? Nope. Do I long to persevere in the face of adversity? No way. Am I willing to accept whatever comes with the business of writing? Oh, yes. Because I will write, published or not. I would just prefer to get my file cabinet full of manuscripts into the hands of readers. They’re the ones who really count.
And they, too, can learn from my process.
The A&P grocery is gone from our community. The memory lives on. And just maybe, instead of pushing my cart down the aisle marked Angst & Perseverance, I will set my sights on Acceptance & Promise.
And when you see my name on a shelf at the bookstore, know that I’m hoisting a Corona—with double lime.
Last Saturday night, during dinner of left-over Chinese food, my husband asked me about my writing and if I’ve heard from my agent, adding with great, walking-on-eggshells care, “You haven’t mentioned any of it in a while…and you seem so calm lately.”
Translated: Thank God you took a break from all that. You are so much easier to live with.
Let me step back a bit, a few months ago, I told my agent that I was taking a break from revising the current project that we had been working on…I gave a really good and valid reason: I’m taking a class and doing an internship right now and need to focus on that. I will have the whole summer to finish the revision and get it back to her.
Legit and solid plan. Not to mention, excellent for my mental health. This particular manuscript was already on its 6th or 7th rewrite, and I had at least one or two more to go. Artistically, I needed a break…hell, mental health-wise I needed a break.
So, back to our dinner conversation…
I looked everywhere but at him. Pile of dirt dishes in the sink. Senior citizen cat attempting to clean himself. A piece of crusted over jam on the table from breakfast that morning.
It got so quiet that the only sounds were chewing and silverware clinking noises…and the cat still trying to lick his hindquarters.
I finally made an mmmmhmmm noise. But then all the noises stopped. He was waiting. He wanted more. He knew there was more.
So I put my fork down and I whispered, staring at that damn spot of jam, “I’m afraid.”
Then I finally looked up at him, and he nodded, understanding in a way that only a spouse of 16 years, and a partner of 22, can.
That’s all we really said.
But it got me thinking.
I AM afraid to go back at it with this manuscript. And, I have been a lot happier since I stopped working on it.
I’m 39 years old, with 16 years of experience in the writing and publishing arena; I’m no longer doe-eyed about this process. I’m f@#$ing tired.
My ultimate goal as a writer is to be published. I’ve achieved that. My ultimate, ultimate goal, is to get a book deal—not for the money or fame—‘cause FYI, there’s none of either in publishing unless you are already famous. No, I’ve wanted it for a kind of validation and yes, a reward for hard work done.
So what am I afraid of in terms of revising this particular piece? That this time will be the time that I give up. That I will revise this manuscript (number 5 of 10 total) and that this rejection will be the one that ends it for me. The one that makes me give up… because I’m f%$*ing tired and because I like being happy, which I have been for the last few months, for the first time in so long because I haven’t had the albatross on my back of revising and knowing that most likely the revision won’t lead to a yes.
Oh and you should know this…these three months of not revising have included other writing-related things. I submitted another manuscript to a contest. I republished one of my self-published Maddie books. I started this blog. I know exactly why none of that made me feel depressed: I didn’t do any of those things with the hope or dream of book deal in mind. My intention with all of those things was to simply share my voice with others.
It’s not writing that makes me feel like shit. It’s constantly revising towards something that I don’t really know exactly what it is… and then getting rejected. Writing with the intention to get a book deal has started to wear on me. I’ve been telling myself all these years, this is just part of the process and most writers take a while to get their first book published. All of that is true, but it does not take away from what I feel and how this whole thing has affected me.
And yet, my plan is to go back to that manuscript, revise the sh$t out of it, submit to my agent, fingers crossed…and stay in therapy the whole time : )
For a debut author, receiving an offer of representation from a literary agent is a huge moment. Once you have an agent, you have it all, right? Validation. Security. A six-figure deal and movie option.
Well, sort of.
The reality is, agents don’t always work out. Some quit the business. Others switch agencies and/or genres, which may mean they no longer service their existing clients. Others do a poor job of selling their clients’ books.
And in other cases, a particular author and a particular agent just don’t mesh.
That’s what happened to me. I’d received an offer of representation for my debut novel, the YA science-fiction adventure SURVIVAL COLONY 9. The offering agent seemed perfect: she was enthusiastic about the book, knowledgeable in the field, connected to the right people. I signed the contract, revised the manuscript per her notes, and then. . . .
Then I’m not sure what. I didn’t hear from her for a long time, which was odd; we’d been communicating regularly up to that point. When she finally got back to me, the news was grim: the revised manuscript “needed work,” she told me. Lots of work. Professional editorial work, to the tune of $5000. I told her I didn’t have that kind of money. She told me she wouldn’t send the manuscript out on submission until I had it professionally edited.
So I fired her.
Well, okay, maybe fired is the wrong word, inasmuch as she wasn’t my employee. Technically, I exercised the termination clause in our contract. But it sounds way cooler to say I fired someone.
To this day, I have no idea what went wrong. Maybe she lost interest and was trying to drive me away. Maybe this was some kind of kickback scheme whereby she’d take a cut of the editor’s fee. (Such schemes do exist.) Maybe someone higher up instructed her to focus on another project. Who knows?
Or maybe we just weren’t suited for each other, and the relationship wasn’t meant to be.
Two valuable lessons here.
First, if you’re ever in a comparable situation, don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s something wrong with you (or your manuscript). Many writers go through multiple agents before finding the right one. It’s a normal part of the business, a normal part of human interaction. Just as fifty percent of marriages fail, so do a certain percentage of author-agent relationships.
Second, if this happens to you, don’t make the mistake of clinging to a failed relationship in hopes that it’ll improve. In all likelihood, it won’t. The real reason authors, especially debut authors, cling to such relationships is that they’re afraid they’ll never find another agent. But that’s not true. If one agent liked your book enough to represent it, another agent will. So be honest with yourself. Admit the relationship isn’t working. Then cut your losses and move on.
That’s what I did. And in short order I had a new agent, an offer on my novel, and a book to hold in my hands.
Plus, I get to go around telling people I fired someone.