Monday, November 14, 2011

Schlubs like me?


Last summer, two days after I announced my humble book deal, someone asked me for the name of my agent.  That's how I knew something bigger had changed, at least temporarily.  I had arrived.

            But arrived where?  It's my first book, and I'm excited--but the publishing contract certainly isn't lucrative (I've been paid more for some of my smallest articles).  And there's no indication this venture will prove successful. 

            So why should anybody think I'm a useful contact?

            I mean, I got the concept.  I'd done it myself, scrounged for referrals to agents.  But when I did that, I'd hit up, you know, big popular best-selling authors.  Not schlubs like me.

            Looking back, though, I remember the desperation and isolation I'd felt when getting an agent was the goal.  It was like screaming and wondering if anybody would ever hear you.  After a few years someone signed on to represent my project.  Hooray!  Yet still there was work to be done.

            Under her tutelage, I had to put together a proper book proposal--including writing a sort of marketing plan and a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline.  For me, the outline was the hardest part.  I've never used outlines.  My agent called it a Table of Contents, but that didn't help much.

            Once the book proposal was done, of course, the goal became finding a publisher.  No, it's not an automatic next-step when you have an agent.  At least not a hard-working agent like mine; no doubt there are some highfalutin agents who are so well known and well respected they can practically snap their fingers and publishers line up, guaranteed.  Maybe.  If you can get one of those agents, you must be pretty highfalutin yourself—in which case you hardly need an agent except to negotiate terms.

            That's a very different job from hustling your baby--er, your book proposal or manuscript--around to publishers, trying to generate interest much less a contract.

            Anyway, there I was with an agent    and eventually a proper book proposal.  It took another few years to find a publisher.  And in all humble honesty, I can't say my agent exactly found me a publisher.  She tried, to be sure.  But I had to work a few connections myself to make the thing a reality.

            Funny, but the publishing deal I'd mentioned--which brought someone to ask for a referral to my agent--fell through.  Fortunately, I hustled a bit, called in some favors I didn't know I had coming to me, and quickly lined up an alternative deal.  (It came so quickly, in fact, that I never bothered to announce the change.)

            Fast forward three or four months to today: the manuscript is finished.  It went faster even than my most optimistic projections.  That's either because it's a story I was burning to tell or because I did a slapdash job.  The verdict is still out.

            It's not due in to the publisher for another month, so I still have time to revise.

            Writing it was, at times, more painful than I'd supposed.  Conjuring up past pain, stupidity and peril makes your heart quicken and sour.  I hope that means I got in touch with some true feelings.  (Otherwise, it was a helluva sucky ride for nothing!)

            I decided that because the book is not meant to be an expos√©, and I'm not trying to settle old scores or have the last word about anything, I'd show the manuscript to my family--or at least those members who have large supporting roles in my story.  This was partly an exercise in fact checking.  Also, I wanted to protect them from any nasty surprises.

            Overall, the family reviews are good.  Not exactly unbiased, but mine tends to be a judgment clan.  Predictably there are a few nits to pick.  There are things that seem important to one person and are all but forgotten by another.  I find myself arguing--at least in my head--that this is MY story.  If you want it different, write your own!  Nasty stuff like that.  I get defensive.  I know I shouldn't.  If someone were writing about me, I don't think I'd exactly love the attention either … unless it was all praise, which it wouldn't be.

            So here I am, book complete, a month before deadline.  Will I truly read it over again and consider revisions?  In all honesty, I don't want to.  I'm still digging myself out of the dingy well of memory and in no hurry to return.

            If I left out something important, I'll just use it in my next book!

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