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Monday, November 08, 2010

FEAR of FAILING

In just 62 days (not that I'm counting or anything) I will graduate from THE SOLSTICE PROGRAM at PINE MANOR COLLEGE with an MFA in WRITING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. As I prepare my thesis and graduate lecture, I reflect on the past 10 years of trying to launch myself as a published author...and come to a conclusion about my next move. 

I have been quiet lately, cyber-speaking wise. Part of it is being really busy with writing for school and my day job has been more demanding (it’s college application season). Also... drum roll…I’m trying again. Officially. No. Not for another baby. For an agent. Yep. I’m prepping to get back out there, honing my query and synopsis and compiling a list of possible agents for my new work (my creative thesis for school).

For those who have followed my journey on this blog, you can imagine (just scroll back to previous entries) how painful this is for me. In the not so distant past, I really took my lack of success breaking into the mainstream publishing world very hard. Dare I say, I developed not just a chip or block on my shoulder but a whole God damn house was erected on my back, this house of resentment, jealousy (especially when attending author events), and anger. When I look back at the path behind me, which began way before I self-published, I see how I arrived at a place of struggle, but I also see where I began, which was with a simple desire to share my writing with the people in my world.

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PART I

In 1999, I finish the manuscript for My Sister’s Wedding, just one month before my wedding and at the end of the first year of my first teaching job. I’m 24. Aside from a few fellow teachers who read early chapters, no one else reads it. I compile a list of publishers and agents and then write a query letter, all based on reading The Writer’s Market cover to cover and scouring my back issues of Writer’s Digest. I send out probably fifty of them and wait. Eventually I’m rejected or ignored by all…except Brock Gannon, an agency that requires its writers to PAY THEM. I am naive and eager. So I sign the contract.

Not quite a year later, I shit-can the so-called “agency”, which obviously did nothing for me, and I become fearful of ALL agents. So, this time I send the manuscript out directly to editors at pub houses (based on my research in The Writer’s Market) and receive (rather quickly) several replies. They all say similar things like, the voice of the pov character is spot on, the plot has some holes, but your characters are really authentic. Two editors work with me for a couple years revising the manuscript.  Both change pub houses in this time and bring me with them, and I even make it to an acquisition meeting for both.

But alas, no book deal happens. All the while, I enter the Delacorte Press First YA book contest, and while I’m not the winner, I get notes from an editor who says, “Send me more stuff.” I do. She rejects me, but says I love your character’s voice. Keep trying and send me something else.

While I don’t send her anything else because I really want to make MY SISTER’S WEDDING work, I’m encouraged by what I perceived as these tiny “successes” with all the editors.  I decide to deepen my research. I go online and see a lot of information about book doctors. I find one with substantial credits in YA literature and have the manuscript professionally critiqued. She does a tremendous job. Looking back, it was like being in school. She was my teacher and she helped me hone the plot for MY SISTER’S WEDDING. The process of revising it was like getting extractions during a facial–painfully necessary to get rid of the bacteria and shit that clogs up the pores, but when you look in the mirror afterword, you are glowing.

After we finish, I send it back out again to both agents and publishers…and still receive rejections. It’s now the end of the summer of 2003, and I’m pregnant with my first child and 27 years old. I’ve switched jobs to teach high school now, and my students become my audience for my work. They ask me why I haven’t gotten the book published, why do they have to pass around a manuscript in order to read my book? Their enthusiasm makes me write more and more but… also I start to feel impatient. This impatience is so intense, it makes me act without careful thought. But this is the period of my journey that my impulsiveness is a benefit and not a hindrance.

One Saturday morning I’m settling into the couch to correct essays, when I turn on the radio, I hear this voice…that sounds like one of my Jewish camp friends from Long Island, NY.  I turn it up and hear the voice say something about books and reading. I listen some more and realize this is a show about books and authors!  I google the show’s name and get the host’s contact information. That Monday I send my manuscript out, with a cover letter that says something like: Please read my book and tell me what you think. I love your show!  Thanks, Hannah. I hear back from her…she actually reads it and invites me on her show and becomes my personal cheerleader over the next several months. She offers suggestions to help me figure out the path to publication. One of them is to attend a book signing with her on the cape with an author she knows personally from interviewing her. That author is Jennifer Weiner.

I read Jennifer Weiner’s book Good In Bed in one night, print out a copy of my manuscript and don’t sleep. I’m convinced that Jennifer and I are going to hit it off like me and my radio host new pal, and Jennifer is going to love me so much, she will take my manuscript and read it then pass it along to her agent.  Plus the name Jennifer has been good to me, right?

Ah–ignorance is bliss!

So I don’t need to tell you the humiliating conclusion to The Cape Cod road trip. Not only does Jennifer smile nervously like I am a stalker when I introduce myself, coo at her baby girl, rub my own not-yet-swollen belly, and ask her to read my book (“A YA version of the stuff you write!”), but she actually says with a sigh, people are always asking me to read their stuff, and I just can’t do it.  Something about being afraid of being accused of stealing that writer’s ideas. Suffice it to say, my radio host friend and I ride back home with the copy of my manuscript strapped into the back seat like petulant child.

Oh and we ran out of gas. : (

But yet…I’m not jaded or deterred. Radio Host Friend introduces me to some other local authors…all of which are something called Self Published.

Hmmmmm….Impatience increases to a dangerous boil and my brain starts ticking and tocking. I begin to feel this pressure of Time. Time before my whole life gets a major renovation. As Chelsea grows in my belly, so does this burning need to see my book in print. The sensation is so vivid and visceral that when I dream of Chelsea in my belly, espresso bean brown eyes and straight black hair (creepy huh, those of you who know her) but I also dream of a hazy image of a book cover that is a blur of dark colors. I can smell the skin of Chelsea in my dreams, and I can smell the scent of the pages of my not yet born book.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, part 2, when my whole life changes...

2 comments:

Cindy Zelman said...

Your blog entry is fascinating, Hannah, and I can't wait to read Part II.

I don't know how to publish, but I've read all three of your books. They all deserve traditional publication without all this crap you've experienced.

The last one, Fear of Falling, is so well-written, so relevant, and so important that any publisher of YA who understands current events should be jumping to put it into print.

Just my humble opinion.

kathryn said...

Hannah, finally took the time to read your blog. Please give me something to take to my fa in law who will give it to his publisher to read.See you later today.