Thursday, March 13, 2008

I can't make you love me, if you don't.

I woke a few mornings ago, way too early, and immediately the worry/depression train began. It started with the, once again, crashing/crushing reality that I don’t have a book deal. That three Maddie books and one short story collection are collecting dust on my desktop. That Gina still has not landed us a contract, and I say that not to blame her but more to point out that you can have the best person, the most qualified, the one who believes in you the most, by your side and still, and still it can be a long, long upward climb.

A little side bar: I don’t wake up thinking about this daily any more. It seems to go in cycles. Every few months I just, out of the blue, feel like shit about not having a book deal yet.

I think my penultimate, my brass ring in life, my EVERYTHING is this friggin' book deal that seems to be floating out in the universe unattached to anything like a soul waiting to be recycled and reincarnated.

As I lay in bed, on my side, of course– as Vivian (my baby girl inside my belly) plays kick-the-Mommy really hard– in the wee hours of each and every morning, as I lay there and feel the swift jabs and kicks of my little boxer, I think, “Hey, why can’t this baby– throwing myself into this baby– why can’t that be enough for me to feel totally happy and fulfilled? Why do I have to go back to this totally depressing, crushing reality, a reality I have absolutely no, no control over.” I mean, I know, in a sense I have some control over the process of getting a book deal, by submitting my work, etc, but you know that song by Bonnie Raitt? I Can’t Make You Love Me? Well, it’s a bit like that, you know? I can’t make the publishing world love me. I can show myself to them, I can submit, I can go to workshops and meet with editors, I can do that until I have blisters all over, but I can’t make someone love me if they don’t.

So, in the wee hours of sharp baby kicks, I turn to the Universe, as I always do when I have these crushing, crashing bouts of depression in the wee hours of the morning, and I say, as I always do, please, please show me a sign that I am on the right course here with everything. Meaning, tell me that I am doing the right thing, right now, by having my agent deal with submissions, by taking a break from pushing my self-published books, by sitting back and seeing what happens in the “regular” publishing world. Sitting back is not something I do well. But I am doing it because it is the one thing I have not tried in all these years of trying to get published. I spent my pre-Gina years, pushing, pushing, pushing. Submitting over and over and over. Even during the first two Gina years I attended every single workshop and conference possible and pushed myself up to the front to speak with editors and agents, handing out manuscripts and copies of my book. None of this resulted in a book deal. SO, I thought to myself at the time, hey, banging your head against this proverbial wall is not doing anything. Maybe you should try not banging. So, as of last summer, I stopped. No more conferences, etc. I’ve also stopped pounding the pavement about my self-published books. No more emails and calls to schools and books stores, begging to get booked for events, etc. If something lands on my doorstep, fine. If not, I am done.

So, here I am in bed needing a sign, an affirmation that I am on the right course. I need some affirmation.

I got it. Two-fold.

Later in the morning, the real morning, not the dark, wee hours of terribleness that I will soon will be experiencing with my lovely Vivian. Once the real sunlight morning came and I was sitting at the table while my daughter played on the computer for WAY too long. Once I was upright and somewhat functioning and having my regular morning chat with my mother, on the phone, over a cup of coffee (decaf of course), the terribleness of the morning was all but forgotten. Until my mom said to me, “Guess what I found this morning? I found that story Rachel’s House. And I wanted to just call you and tell you that first, I am so sorry the divorce caused you so much pain, but I also wanted to tell you that I think the writing was incredible, and I don’t understand why you don’t have a publisher! Damnit!”

A little side bar: She had me crying from the moment she mentioned my novella, Rachel’s House, which is about a thirtish woman and the devastation of the estrangement between her father and sister and the continual pain she feels about the divorce between her parents. Yeah, semi-autobiographical…Okay, very autobiographical! My mother had a copy because when I wrote it over a year ago, I wanted to convey to her that I understood the reasons for her anger at my father and even the estrangement between my sister and father but also, at the same time, felt my own unique pain. It totally worked. The first thing she said to me after she read it the first time was, “You totally nailed me.” Amen.

Anyway, my tears got a little heavier as I held the phone to my ear, when she made the comment about the publishers not picking me up. Yes, it was my mother and yes, she is supposed to say stuff like this, but her timing today was impeccable, and, really, I took it. I took it, her comment, because I will take whatever I can get. I took it as the sign from the universe that I should and can and will go on. That my process and path towards publication is real and possible. That there’s a glimmer of hope.

By the way, if you want to read Rachel’s House, email me, and I will gladly send it to you because now I am at a point with my writing that the unpublished stuff feels so suffocated, and it just wants to be read, that any willing person who wants to read my stuff, please please do!

Then, another thing happened. I got an email from a former student. Turns out she works at a Tea Bar now and is in charge of booking writers and teachers and performers for events.

You know where this is going. The last time I did an event was last May. And that was a total solicitation. Nothing I pushed. I was at the beginning of my I-let-go thing with the books. So, to hear an invitation to come and do a reading and signing was, in a word, awesome.

We are working out the particulars, but she is a great person, very supportive of my endeavors, and I feel like even if three people show up to the event, it will be wonderful and a great way to keep myself going.

So, all this brought me back to a familiar place. Self-publishing. Should I again or shouldn’t I? It’s a bit like another area of my life that has not yet been resolved, should I or shouldn’t I join a temple. Both self-publishing and joining a temple have HUGE barriers to them, namely money, so I constantly focus on that as the reason. With the temple, I feel like it’s the right thing to do for my daughter. I want her to have the whole Jewish thing and the only way to really do that is through Sunday school and all that. But I put barriers up, and I blame it on money, but I have always been a “where there’s a will there’s the money” type of gal. I think there are deeper reasons why I don’t belong to a temple. But that’s for another blog entry. The self publishing thing…it’s money but, like the temple, it’s also other things…Namely, that I am a little self conscious of doing that right now…I feel like I need to give Gina more time without me interfering. Actually that’s not the entire reason. The truth is that self-publishing is exhausting. If I want to sell anything at all, and if I want to get some reviews and awards, I have to do it all on my own without any support when I self-publish. It’s HARD. I have been there and done that and I am TIRED. I know that even with a regular book deal, I will have to pound the pavement but at least I will have the backing of a publisher, not that that is a guarantee financial support for marketing but it’s something, if not just psychological! I also feel like I shouldn’t have to self-publish any more. I have proven to myself that I have books that people want to read. So, why doesn’t a publisher see that and WANT me? I don’t know. The publishing world isn’t always logical. Another reason why I don’t think I am inclined to self-publish again is…I guess I am not desperate enough like I was with the first two books. I am not sure why I’m not desperate. I certainly feel desperate, especially in the wee hours of the morning when it hits me that I still don’t have a deal. Also, I am desperate to give birth to these other books. ‘Cause that’s why I did it the first time and the second time. I wanted to just simply share my work. I was desperate to do so.

I worry that my readers of this blog might think I am disparaging self-publishing by saying that I did it because I was desperate, but I think self-publishing is a very personal thing and there’s no wrong reason. Everyone who self-publishes does so for different reasons and that was mine. I venture to say that if I do it again, and I will if nothing happens within the next few years, if I do it again, it will be from a desperate need to share my books with the world and a desperate need to see the books in their published form. I still think self-publishing is the mark of a courageous writer and sometimes it is the mark of a desperate, talented, overlooked-by-the-industry author as well. I think I am both. I have said this before: I only chose to self-publish because I had not had any success the other way, and for me, at the time, time was running out. I wanted to hold my books and smell them and share them and sell them, and it wasn’t happening the old fashion way and like a woman desperate to have a child but unable to, I took matters into my own hands and found another way to “give birth” to my book. But two things that are seemingly contradictory can be true at the same time: I can choose to self-publish but still want that genuine real book deal.

But, I can’t make you love me if you don’t! I understand exactly what it means to be rejected over and over by many, many, publishers of all kinds. Independents and big ones. It means a lot of things but mostly that I do not fit into the vision these publishers have of what is good YA literature. It really doesn’t matter to me any more that most of the time we are rejected, it’s after careful, careful ruminating on the part of the publisher. That many of them have kept my work on their desks for months, reading and reading talking with their colleagues and saying she is a damn good writer but what do we do with her? This no longer matters to me. The bottom line is what matters to me, and the bottom line is that they may like me and think I am talented, but it’s not enough. They don’t love me and I cannot make them.

So I am not sure what I will do in the future with self-publishing, but for now, I am waiting for that publisher that does love me, in that effortless way that people fall in love, and I know that publisher is out there, somewhere.

9 comments:

Margaret W. Jones said...

Like Hannah I want to share my writing with others but I don't have the same burning desire to be picked up by a big publisher. Even if they made me an offer I am not sure I would accept it. I am not sure what they would do for me that I couln't do for myself. Prestige? Maybe. But I have never done anything just to gain the status that goes with it.
The book market is changing. Small, independent publishers (I prefer that term to self publishers) are publishing more and more of the books. Computers and the internet have leveled the playing field. I think that is a good thing. It has given me a chance to get my book, Not of My Making, out.
However, publishing does mean becoming savvy about selling and promotion. From what I can see Hannah has more of those skills than I do. Perhaps she doesn't enjoy that part of writing but even if she got a "real book deal" she would have to promote herself. So I wish Hannah would worry less about who publishes her book. She is a very talented teacher, writer and editor. Wouldn't it be better to put energy into promotion and writing?

Writerwomyn said...

MAggie brings up a good question, one that I don't think I really answered in my blog so here it goes: Why do I want a regular publisher? It's not prestige, although that's not a terrible bonus, if you want to call it that. The reason why I want a regular publisher is that there's still benefits that a regular publisher has that a self-publisher does not, and that is connections. Connections to marketing, reviewing, and publicity that I do not have on my own. I can more readily get reviewed and honored by different media outlets and organizations with the backing of a regular publishing house. I have more opportunity for distribution and marketing as well. If I have all of that, on top of my own efforts, more and more people have access to my books and I also can have the opportunity to make more money off of my books instead of putting more money into the publication of the books. I can redirect my money and energy more into writing. I am now 4 years into being a self-publisher author and I see the major drawback is that a self-publisher is one person, with one set of resources while a regular publisher, coupled with an author, is many resources and many people behind the work.

So, that's why I would love a book deal from a major publisher!

Margaret W. Jones said...

Will a big publisher get you the connections to marketing, reviewing and publicity? Although they have those resources they usually only use them for big name authors or famous people. I've known a couple of authors whose books were published by a big publisher and they were no further along than Hannah is right now. It is easier to get into book stores if you have a big publisher but most books are no longer sold there. Special sales and the internet is where most customers buy their books. I only buy a book from a bookstore when I am in a rush to get a gift for someone. I get all my books either directly from the author or from Amazon.
YA is one of the most difficult markets. Have you considered marketing your books to an adult audience? I vaguely remember reading somewhere of another author successfully doing that. Unfortunately I don't remember the particulars.

Writerwomyn said...

Again, Maggie you bring up great points and things to consider. I have thought about the whole YA verses adult market as well as the pros and cons of distribution in book stores compared to online.

First, I find the whole YA thing to be interesting because my work is really labeled that more by other people verses me. I have readership of ALL ages, not just teens. I don't just target teens when I market but the adult market usually directs me towards the teen. For example, in libraries when I donate books, they put them in the teen section, on their own. Same with bookstores and even online books stores label my novels YA. You can't avoid it.

As for the online verses live bookstore thing. Well, for me, I sell roughly the same amount of books, at this point, online as I do live, whether the live is just me peddling or me in the bookstores (currently I am only in a few but all RI bookstores will order my book if someone requests it.) I actually tend to buy both online and in bookstores–nothing replaces wandering around a bookstore for hours and believe it or not, a lot of people do still do that.

Again, great points and thoughts to consider!

Joanne Carnevale said...

As with all things, everyone thinks, acts, and feels very individually about each question, each step in their process. Some authors may never want a traditional publisher. When Hannah couldn't find a publisher out of the gate, she self-published, and then did it again. Both books enjoy favorable reviews, as well as numerous awards and honors. Indeed, I believe they've won or placed in every competition in which they were entered. Hannah has proven that she is willing to walk the talk by tirelessly promoting via multiple avenues. She and the books have a track record that should have publishers pursuing her. Not to mention, the books are good; the awards and praise are well deserved. When you consider that some mediocre stuff is offered via traditional publishing, it boggles the mind to try to make sense of why these publishers are letting Hannah's books slip through their fingers. Before long some publisher is bound to be thinking clearly and jump on these books, if for no other reason than to enjoy the sales boost every time one of them is turned into a movie. Yes, the two I've read are also movie-worthy. All the other publishers will be left feeling like the music executives who rejected the Beatles.

Writerwomyn said...

Joanne's comments give me that boost to perservere the course of publishing. I think my work is good and maybe even better than a lot of the YA literature out there. I don't know about the Beatles analogy but I'll take it!

That being said, I am realistic and know that the road ahead is going to be filled with more rejection and frustration. I also know that there's another avenue that I haven't pursued yet, that I kind of dismissed. The course of MFA. I applied and got into the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor college and am excited about working with other writers and industry people. A lot of well-established writers began with their MFA, so who knows...this may bring me closer to my goal!

Joanne Carnevale said...

Perhaps the Beatles comment was a tad hyperbolic, but you get the point. Mazel tov on the MFA program. It's another example that you are not passively waiting for success to find you. When - note I say when - success arrives it will be be long overdue, richly deserved, and justification for all your hard work and effort. You go, writer!

Writerwomyn said...

I like the Beatles comment! It makes me feel POSSIBLE!! Thanks, Joanne, hyperbole or not!

Writerwomyn said...

I like the Beatles comment! It makes me feel POSSIBLE!! Thanks, Joanne, hyperbole or not!