Something really strange happened to me about a month ago. I got a book deal.
The first, and only, publisher I sent my book, Almost True, to accepted it for publication. My emotions ranged from excitement to dread to disbelief to excitement to dread to disbelief and then back to dread. My feelings about actually getting published were muddled, to say the least. But the dread persisted and here's why:
I felt guilty. I was supposed get my first rejection letter with the first press I tried to publish with. Real writers get rejections. And they get a lot of rejections. That is part of being an aspiring author. You get rejected but you persist. It builds character. It tests your determination. The submitting and rejecting of work is a crucible. It separates the serious writers from the hobbyists. Plus, it is unheard of to get accepted by the first publisher you try for. Mine was the guilt of an extremely lucky person.
And I felt guilty because I've written a book my grandma won't read because the content could be considered offensive. This issue deserves a post of it's own and maybe one day I will be able to distill into words the complicated relationship I have with my writing and the expectations of my religion. But getting the book deal made me realize I wasn't ready to openly share my writing. I wasn't ready to turn my Facebook page into an advertising platform for my novel because I felt like if I were to say “Please read my book” I'd need to include an asterisk with a message at the bottom of the page that said “unless profanity and mature themes will offend you, then please don't read my book and please don't judge me.”
Aside from the moral dilemma I was having, there were also legal implications with the book deal. I was given seven days to review, sign and return the contract to the publisher. And the contract was written in that stupid legal jargon that hides what you are really getting yourself into. I did what all authors with book deals should do, I had a lawyer look over the contract. Luckily, my father-in-law is a lawyer and he looked at it free of charge. (Well, not entirely free, I had to email him a copy of my manuscript so he could read my book.) I also read the contract about a million times, too. From what I could tell and what I researched on-line, the contract was crap. After an hour long conversation with my lawyer (I love how official that sounds!), we decided I needed negotiate a few things before I signed:
Her email back was professional and the message was this: we don't negotiate on our contracts. So I walked away. I had to protect my book and my fiscal liability.
It never occurred to me that I would get a book deal that I would have to turn down. But given the muddle I was in with publishing, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. If anything, it was a relief in some ways. See, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do with my writing. In the mean time, I'm not shopping Almost True around. I'm tinkering with it some more, trying to decide if I should turn it into a book my grandma would feel comfortable reading or if I am secure enough and brave enough to present it as is. Either way, I am confident publication is in my stars, even if I have to self publish.
I went to Life, the Universe and Everything again this year. I missed last year because I was 8.5 months pregnant and I didn't want to birth my baby at a writing conference. The conference was notable this year for a couple of reasons.
1. I had to bring the baby with me because he will not take a bottle and is still figuring out solids (even though he is 11 months old, common, kid!). My husband, Brandon, was sweet enough to come to the conference with me to help take care of the baby so I could enjoy the panels. Brandon ended up getting something out of the conference, too. He teaches a comic book as Lit class at the community college and there were a number of comic book related workshops and panels he was able to attend. I think the conference was a win for everyone.
2. My very dear friend, Apryl, traveled all the way from Arizona to attend the conference. It was fun to see her and catch up and show her what beautiful place Utah is to live. Southern Arizona does not have OMG-huge snow-capped mountains.
3. I pitched my book to a publisher. Okay, so I didn't actually "pitch" because when someone asks me what my book is about I reply with "I don't know." I never know where to start. Do I start with that plot and if so, do I start at the beginning and how detailed should I be? Or should I start with the characters? Maybe the themes? Anyway, I had the option to either pitch or have the representative critique me query letter and first page. I went with a critique because it felt much lower stakes and relied less on me talking. Anyway, she liked my query and the first page and said to send in a submission package. So, I am going to send in my book for consideration! Yikes! We'll see what happens and I will keep you all updated.
All in all, LTUE this was excellent, mostly because going to a conference like that makes you feel like a real writer.
Saturday I went to my first writing conference: Life, the Universe and Everything. It's a speculative fiction conference and since the book I am currently working on is technically "paranormal romance" (although I like to think my book is more sophisticated than that label suggests) I thought I should go. I've heard good things about the conference and with my SLCC student ID I could go for free. I thought going to a conference with tons of other people who want to achieve the same thing as me would make me feel like my dreams were impossible, that the odds were stacked against me. But the opposite happened. I walked away from the conference feeling like my dreams are possible, l just have to keep working hard. Life, the Universe and Everything was a super awesome experience! Here's what I took away from the conference in no particular order (except I do save the best for last).
1. Almost every published author on every panel I attended said they wrote for years and got hundreds of rejection letters before they sold their first book. One of the authors (I really wish I wrote down her name) said that the people who don't get published are the ones who give up. If you keep writing and keep working you will get published.
2. Throw away your first book, even if you love it and its awesome. You have not yet written your best work. (I do agree with this and I think after this rewrite on my current novel I'm going to call it done and move on to another project. Maybe I'll try writing something I won't mind my parents reading.)
3. Read anything and every thing. Read outside of your genre. The more knowledge you have to pull from, the better your stories will be.
4. Subplots are to help build and round out your characters. Characters should have interests and passions outside of what is directly happening in your story and subplots should be used to develop these passions.
5. Ebooks are the future. Getting a print book deal is not what it once was. There are many more opportunities out there to successfully self-publish.
But the real thrill for me has nothing to do with the panels I attended or what I learned about writing and publishing. I met one of my favorite authors!
Let me set the scene: My friend Julie and I were waiting for a panel to start. I am a people watcher and an ease-dropper by nature. I was looking around the room to see if anything interesting was going on. I glanced behind me and there sat Emily Wing Smith (author of The Way He Lived and Back When You Were Easier to Love. If you know what's good for you, read The Way He Lived.). She doesn't write sci-fi or fantasy so I didn't expected to see her there. She smiled at me and I smiled back. After the panel ended I wanted to meet her but I'm really shy. I don't know what to say to normal strangers, let alone strangers I know in a peripheral way that I deeply admire.
Emily Wing Smith crossed to the other side of the room. I said something to Julie about wanting to meet. Julie told me I should go introduce myself because it would make her feel good that someone in this room recognized her and read her books. So I got up from my chair and accosted Emily Wing Smith and blurted, "I love your books!" Not, "Hi, I'm Sarah. I read your books and really enjoyed them." But I seriously practically yelled, "I love your books!" And I was shaking and red-faced and smiling way too big. Emily Wing Smith smiled back and read my name tag and said that It's Nice To Meet You Sarah. And I told her again that I love her books. She asked me about my writing and I gave her a very lame one sentence plot synopsis. Then someone bumped into her or me and so I told her it was nice to meet her and that I love her books.
I don't want to be a stalker but she's doing Writing for Charity next month and I might try to get into her workshop.
In a recent critique session with a long-time friend we both lamented that the revision process seemed never ending for our respective novels. I jokingly suggested we should just give up. She then replied, “I wish I could. But I can't imagine doing anything else with my life.” So there we are, each of us on that long, sour path, to writing novels and hopefully get published.
I've been thinking a lot about why I want to publish and I don't really have any extremely good reasons. It's not to make lots of money or to become famous (those two things rarely happen). I do have a number of rather sad reasons. One reason, an embarrassingly powerful reason, is so I can justify being such a dripping nerd in high school. At least those years of studying too much and reading too many books and being too shy and self-conscious will pay off. I'll show those people (who were never ever mean to me) that while I might have been very quiet, I had a lot going on upstairs and, well, here it is: I've written a book.
But the reason I am more inclined to share with others is that I have stories I think are worth telling and I want a lot of people to hear them.
Hi, I'm Sarah! I write young adult fiction and LDS romance. I live in Salt Lake City, UT with my skinny husband and tiny son. I also am very small.