Exactly ten years ago I forced my best friend into my car and we drove to Fate, TX. Riding between us was a stack of query letters for my first novel, Turquoise. Nine had been my lucky number for as long as I could remember, so it made perfect sense that I should mail off my hopes and dreams on 9-9-09. I mean, I’d even accidentally stumbled across stamps with a Navajo (Dine) turquoise squash blossom necklace on them and my book was based on…wait for it…Navajo legends. Holy Oxford Comma!! It was a sign and I wanted all the good juju the Universe could hurl my way.
And it worked–sort of. I started receiving rejections via snail mail (we used it much more back in those olden times). Some were form letters saying my story wasn’t a good fit. Some were more personal letters that said that my writing was definitely good enough but that they didn’t think they could sell my story. One letter even informed me that the agent had passed away (there was no website for their agency and I’d apparently found them through an outdated trade mag…oops). But then something magical happened that proved I didn’t need no fancy stamps or dusty town post offices to get what I wanted.
Out of the very few agents you could find on line back then, I’d come across a junior agent at a huge agency and I LOVED her bio. She and one other agent made my top two “dream agents” list, but I only sent a query to Miss Sassy-Pants (the name I shall call her for this). And–AND I got a request for the first 3 chapters. GASP!! Then I got the request for the full MS *sound of my fainting body hitting the ground*
And here’s where my own ignorance and stupidity grabs the microphone and jumps in for some really bad karaoke: My MS wasn’t really, really finished. This is a GIGANTIC no-no in the writing biz. It should not only be finished but be as tight as humanly possible before you even think about typing out a query letter. Even Homer Simpson probably knows this–DOH! But it didn’t stop me so I had no choice but to produce some sort of ending and ship it out.
During the time I waited on the response, I traveled to a writer’s convention where Miss Sassy-Pants was a guest (so was my other “Dream Agent”). I got there and was surprised that people running the convention already knew who I was and that I was with MSP. I was on muthafreakin cloud 9 (see–more 9’s). I felt like I was stalking her when I purchased extra time to sit face to face and pitch her 3 more books. I hung on her every word like it was Gospel and my confidence was up. It was up so much that I forced my shy ass to walk up to my other Dream Agent just to tell her I really admired her and she was who I considered my number 1 (but I was already with another agent). And she was my #1. I’d started with 2nd place Sassy-Pants because I didn’t believe I could get #1. She gave me her card and told me to keep in touch.
When I got home I waited and waited to hear back, damn sure I was on my way to making myself Twilight-famous. Then I got a macro-letter back. This letter tells you all the “big picture” things they want you to fix. They wouldn’t offer representation before the changes were made and wouldn’t guarantee they would if I did. And that letter was really insightful in many ways and out-n-out mean in others (exact quote: This scene made me vomit in my mouth). I was use to harsh rejection because of years of acting and modeling, but this stung a little more. It’s what kicked off my demise.
The criticism made what little self esteem I had pack a bag full of depressants, grab some self-flagellating torture devices, and head into a cave even Gollum would find too dark to dwell in. I didn’t stop moving forward on the changes, but I worked at a snail’s pace because I was weighted down with fear.I was afraid I was wasting my time. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be perfect. I was afraid people would judge me. I was afraid I would make someone unhappy. I was afraid someone would figure out I was a fraud (and not in a “I’m going to be the first Ponzi scheme utilizing YA paranormal literature” kind of way). It was a fraud in the sense that everyone was going to confirm exactly what I already believed- my talents weren’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.
And after a longer-than-I-can-bring-myself-to-type-out revision that included condensing a story paced for a three-book series down into a one-and-done novel AND hacking 15k words from my original submission–I sent it off.
And it got rejected.
With a nice note confessing that she had been so new as an agent that she actually didn’t know what she was doing or she would have known from the beginning it wasn’t good enough. I was pissed. I was hurt. My fears were confirmed.
But pure defiance made me contact Dream Agent #1 and she quickly asked to read the MS. She had her response to me within days. It was still a “no” but, to her credit, with a lot of constructive criticism and a request for a full MS on a steampunk novel of mine she’d read the first 10 pages of. Through her I became friends with some of her other authors. Through them I was offered opportunities to write short stories (that would be published with a MAJOR publisher). But I only splashed around in the puddle of opportunity and let fear wrap its tentacles around my ankles and drag me off to Gollum’s beach cave. Fear won and opportunity looked for greener pastures.
While I snorkeled around in the murk, my first book was essentially published by another author with a few key changes (it was a 7 figure deal), a children’s book Sassy-Pants rejected was published with only 1 change (a dino in exchange of my dragon), and the plot line of Turquoise was turned into an independent film with the only real change being a character being switched from a girl to boy.
And I was told I could sue because there were parts that were word for word, but I discovered lawyers aren’t free unless they make really loud commercials. So Gollum and I got to be really good chums (I still get the occasional Christmas card from him) while I piddled with writing until I came up with such a ridiculous idea that I knew any judgement couldn’t be taken to heart because it was a parody and they’re supposed to be ridiculous. And so was born Fifty Shades of Puddin’.
And it did pretty well. I’ve even experienced a moment with a somewhat star-struck fan (the fact that she was giving me a bikini wax at that moment is a blog within itself). It made me write some short stories. I won some contests. I wrote some more. I revisited Turquoise. I worked on the steampunk novel. I even wrote a huge romance novel, but all the progress was shoved away when my husband suddenly lost his job and I lost my mom and grandmother all within a few months of each other. Throw onto the pile that I was also diagnosed with an incurable disease (two, actually), and it became quite the raging kegger for me and Ol’ Gollum.
Fear won on all levels of life.
So here I am a decade after starting this blog/writing journey and I’ve made some pretty big realizations that have blossomed into seeds of wisdom. First, fear is an absolute bastard. It will whisper lies in your ear just like Gollum whispered in Smeagol’s ear. And when you believe the lies it will twist you into a hunched, ugly, decaying version of yourself. Do NOT invite fear (or Gollum) into your head. He’s just going to flip some tables and make a damn mess of things. Trust me.
The other things I’ve learned by reflecting back, is that I’m a pretty damn decent writer. I have good ideas or they wouldn’t get published by other people. I wouldn’t win contests or sell books or have people create Twitter accounts of my characters or have a lady squeal when she finds out who I am (even while ripping hair off my nether regions) if I couldn’t tell a story. I wouldn’t have gotten the attention of two agents (even one claiming to have been bamboozled by her own moronic newbie-ness) if I didn’t have some talent. I’m NOT perfect and I NEVER will be. I’m good with that.
The last realization I made is really what has shifted my entire attitude on writing. I realized that by going to convention after convention and taking class after class, I was only feeding my need for perfectionism. I have a well-defined writing voice and that can’t be taught. I’ve learned over the last ten years the important parts of structure (and this blog is not an example of that). I also learned that you can hire these amazing people called editors who can take care of the shit you ain’t good at (like punctuation). And while enduring critique after critique and reading best seller after best seller, the biggest lightbulb of all lit up in my noggin’. I was being micro-critiqued as if I was aiming for a Pulitzer Prize. That’s not my goal. My goal is to sell stories to a bunch of people who just want to be entertained, and I’ve lost track of how many mistakes I’ve found in NYTBS books.
And the big wrap up of this decade long blog (I didn’t edit this for the sole purpose of being imperfect) is that I took one hell of a detour (do not give Gollum the map no matter how much he begs) but I’m back at my desk writing. Excellence is a value I hold, but perfectionism is an insecurity I’m releasing.
I hope I see you at my next book release.