Be sure to have read part one and two before proceeding.
I feel that impatience again. All the while this stuff is happening, I’m writing books 3, 4, and 5 of the Maddie series. I start to wonder why my first book hadn't sold to a publisher (it had been four years). Book sales of the first and second book are stalled also. My agent and I have long discussions on the phone about it. She doesn’t seem concerned, really. How long before you drop me, I ask her. I’m not dropping you, she tells me. I believe we will sell this.
Unfortunately I don’t believe it. So, I’m 32 and my bio clock is ticking for a baby again.
As all of you who have followed this blog recall, that pregnancy is hell. I’m sick, on an IV sick, hospitalized a few times sick. And yet, through it all, the burning impatience continues, and as I vomit and schlep around that god forsaken IV, I decide it is time to do what I wished I had done years before: I apply to an MFA program. Only one. Hand selected by a trusted author friend who has been after me for a few years to give up the game and go back to school. She promised me this is where I could forget the game of publishing and really spend time on my craft. As I give birth to Vivian, I receive my acceptance letter to The Solstice Program at Pine Manor College. Yippee! I have to wait to recover from birth, and then when Viv was six months old, I attend my first residency.
Book three was already in shape for self-publication during the year time period before I started school. My editor again said, “Wait. Why not submit?” She even had the name of an agent she had told about me. This time I took her advice and submitted a query and first chapter…and got rejected. I’m depressed and now in school, having a first semester that really is horrific. I feel like I can’t write. I think of dropping out of school, even.
So what do I do? What I always do, that used to work but at that point stops working. I act on impulse and self pub that third book.
This particular move on my part was out of desperation and fear, unlike when I had self-published previously. I had no expectation of My Sister’s Wedding. All I wanted was for people I know to have the opportunity to read it, and so when it sold well, I was thrilled, but it was a bonus. But the third book was self published because I didn't want to face any more rejection. Submitting to just one agent was not enough, but my self esteem was so easily affected by ANY rejection that the thought of trying again seemed like some kind of emotional suicide. But I loved what this book could offer YA literature. So, I figured, I’ll just do what I know, what's comfortable. Self publishing this time was really hard, too. I lost steam quickly because I was in school, focusing on craft and self publishing requires you to focus on marketing...It felt contradictory to where I was in my writing life. I wanted to turn inward and just write. This time it also felt a little applying to college...like only applying to your safety school and none of your “maybes” or “reaches”. But what else do you do when you don’t get in anywhere? You settle. This time around with self-publishing I felt like I was settling. And if any book of mine deserves to NOT “settle” it’s Fear of Falling. I learned that despite my initial success into self publishing, what I needed and what I wanted (and always wanted) was a book deal with a publisher.
So, now, 60 something days till graduation, I begin to think about life after my MFA... Originally, I thought I would tuck myself away quietly, save all my manuscripts for Chelsea and Viv and forget trying to get any of my books published. I thought that maybe I could just blog and write the occasional article or column and let go of the book deal fantasy. If I wanted to, I could self publish the other Maddie books, but only for friends and family. I’m not saying this in a “poor me” way but in a realistic way. It’s not the end of the world. I still can write. I can do it just for me. That’s ultimately what JD Salinger did anyway.
But there are people in my MFA program who aren't really letting me do that. They fill my head with a lot of positive affirmations like you are good enough, you can do it, you are funny, your voice is just as important as (fill in the blank of a YA author). Now I don’t really believe anyone who says that. Not that I think they are bs-ing me. It's just that as much of a dreamer as I am, I’m also a realist. If it ain’t quacking like a book deal, then it ain’t a book deal, you know what I mean? I’ve been at it for a decade almost, and I’m no closer to a book deal than I was on day one...Or am I?
So…for reasons that are connected to the faith my classmates and mentors have in me, I’m ready to go back out there again. I’m not giving up. No matter what I “believe” or don’t “believe” about myself, I have to leap and trust that someone out there will fall in love with my work.
Life after the MFA... a topic every student of a Fine Arts program ponders (blogs about, writes articles on, etc). I think the support I have from Solstice will continue both online and live (reunions!), but ultimately my success or failure into publishing will be on me alone. And this time, there's no fear of failure.
I really liked this 3-part post. It was honest, revealing and heartfelt. Even though it is all entirely true, it was a good story. No idea if you will ever get a book deal. To me, though it seems that the only way to produce a good story is to do just what you did in these posts. It doesn't really matter if it's fact or fiction, fantasy or military history. When it comes down to it, it's the "you" in the story that may one day get you that book deal.
I agree Bill. The willingness to bare your soul was refressing and extremely readable. Thanks for writing it Hannah. Joseph A. Caulfield
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