Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Conversation with My First Novel

I was sitting at my desk typing out a scene in my new novel about an encounter between the main character and a wicked heiress. Suddenly, I heard a whisper coming from the closet in my office. I stopped typing and looked at the closed door. The voice spoke again. It said, "What about us?"

I chuckled. It was the characters from my first novel calling me from a high shelf. You guys are history. It didn't work out, I thought, not wanting to actually talk out loud to those fictional people. I returned to my typing.

They wouldn't leave me alone--kept begging me to give them one last chance.

"Oh, okay," I said softly. My husband, Keith, knows I'm passionate about fiction writing, but I didn't want him to hear me talking to a book. He might think I'm starting to live in fantasy land. Which...?

I stood up, opened the closet door, seized my manuscript and gazed at it. I really did love it--a story from my heart about a married couple who are trapped in the modern American dream and can't figure out how to escape. I plopped onto the couch and started reading it. After chapter four, I stopped. At the risk of sounding boastful, it wasn't half bad. Of course, I wrote it, so my review may be a bit subjective. You may be wondering, Did you try to get it published?

Yes, I did. I must have queried over 100 literary agents. And for anyone who doesn't know, it's almost essential to have an agent in order to get a publisher. I received replies like: "No thank you." "Not for me." "Keep trying." I actually did get several requests from agents to read my full manuscript, but in the end no takers. The basic reason--they didn't feel they could find a home for it in today's struggling industry. I took that to mean it wasn't good enough, which is fine. Many first novels aren't good enough.

With fresh eyes perusing this novel, I re-assessed that conclusion. It's rumored that publishing houses are extremely reluctant to take risks on new authors today, especially in my genre (upmarket commercial), but is it true? I did a little research. First, I went to QueryTracker.com, a site many writers use, as the title indicates, to track the query letters they send out. Here's a stat for you:

Out of the 51,199 members who are trying to find agents, there are currently 744 success stories. For those of you who don't feel like pulling out your calculator, that's less than one per cent. The top three accepting genres are : 1) Young Adult, 2) Fantasy, 3) Literary Fiction. My novel genre came in at number 9.  

This wasn't enough to convince me that my first novel was worth bringing back to life. Wanting to be objective, I did some more research. Here's an example of what I found:

Statistics from Kristen Nelson Literary Agency: 36,000 queries received in 2010; 839 requests for partials, 98 requests for full manuscripts. That means that if you queried this agency, you had a 2.3%  chance of having them ask for a partial, but only a 0.27% of them wanting to see the rest of your manuscript. This agency made 28 deals, which means, you had a .09%  chance of being offered representation.

Conclusion:  Chances of breaking into the traditional publishing world are slim. The other side of the argument: if you decide to become an independent author, you're not viewed by those in the "club" as being good enough. I've read that if you self-publish, you're killing your chances of ever finding an agent or publisher. I didn't like that idea, so looked up self-published authors who ended up being incredibly successful. A few include: James Joyce, Mark Twain, Louise Hay, Amanda Hocking and James Redfield. Do you think an agent or publishing house would slam the door in these peoples' faces or roll out the red carpet?

And then, there's the story of 50 Shades of Grey, the bestseller that's been hovering around number one on most bestseller lists over the past couple of weeks. Here's an excerpt from an article written on Book Busters:  "Every so often a manuscript, like an impudent toddler, rises on unsteady feet and toddles onto the bestseller list without so much as a by-your-leave to that ignorant publishing foursome. Such a work is E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which, out of a teeny e-publishing community in Australia, managed the neat trick of vaulting to the top of The New York Times e-book and print bestseller lists, garnering a seven-figure deal from Vintage, and leaving readers clamoring for the as-yet-unpublished rest of the trilogy, all without ever being in print in the United States at all." 

Enough! The bottom line is there are successes in both traditional publishing and independent publishing. I'm not going to begin to speculate what the key to that success is (at least not here).

What I did do was smile down at the 95,000 words I wrote in my first novel, A Stop in the Park. I needed to see it in a book, not collecting dust at the top of my closet. Like a chef who wants eaters for his culinary creations, I want readers for my story. In that instant, I made a decision to self-publish. It didn't matter if I sold a million copies or ten. After all my favorite quote is:

"Don't die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. Listen to that inner voice, and don't get to the end of your life and say, "What if my whole life has been wrong?"
Dr. Wayne Dyer

I had written my music and it was time to share it. With that, I dropped the new novel I was writing safely into a Word file then also saved it onto my flash drive. It was time to go through my first novel one more time to find any pesky mistakes. After that, I'd call CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing division, and put my novel in the hands of one of their professional editors. My story has been written and soon it will be told.

KICK BACK SONG OF THE WEEK:

This scene from Funny Girl where Barbara Streisand tells the naysayers not to rain on her parade, is how I feel about becoming an independent author. I love to write and and don't want to play the waiting game any longer, hoping to become part of the approximately 0.05% who get a contract with a traditional publisher (And my sincere "Congratulations!" for those of you who do).




KICK BACK BOOK OF THE WEEK:

The Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien. Of course, this is a current successful self-published romantic comedy about a sex researcher, Leigh Fromme, who falls in love with Prince Roman Habsburg Von Lorraine of Austria. Most reviews on Goodreads report that it's, "Laugh out loud funny." Here's the opening:

"Everyone agrees that my Great Aunt Tina looks fabulous dead. Great Uncle Morris has picked her favorite violet pantsuit for her, the one with gold buttons."



A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA:

 



20 comments:

  1. tell your husband writes out of necessity NEED to live in a fantasy land. That's how we stay sane. Just some wiferly advice from one writer to another :o)

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    1. Hi Sandra ~ It's funny. Sometimes, my husband is taking to me, suddenly stops, and says, "Where are you Peggy? Thinking about your book again." I'm sure you know the feeling. I do, however, try and leave the fiction world occasionally as I have a great real life. Honestly, I couldn't ask for a more supportive husband and I try and return the support for his many interests. It works! ~ Peggy

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  2. Thanks for a doing the research and sharing your journey. Can you talk a bit more about CreateSpace editorial services ? I am very interested in hearing your experience.
    The part about your novel sparking to you reminded me about when I was finishing my first novel and had started creating character bibles for my second novel. Some days the new characters would fight for space in my head. It was like they were saying, "it is our turn now, put the first one away and let us out."
    Not sure someone who does not write can appreciate how real those voices sound.

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    1. Hi Carol ~ I had one informal conversation with a consultant from CreateSpace and have a formal appointment, with about 30 questions, with the same person tomorrow. The whole package is costing me $3,000 plus change. That includes a professional edit from someone who specializes in upmarket women's fiction; an express Kirkus review (pricey at $525.00 but I want to keep it real); exterior and interior cover design; ISBN #, etc. THE BIG PLUS...I'll be able to buy copies of my book for approx. $4.25 (95,000 words) if a go with 5.3x8 (or close to that) and $3.50 if I go with 6x9 format. That is so much cheaper than any other self-publishing package I've checked. Great for selling on consignment in book stores, book fairs, etc. The drawback is I don't think I can sell the novel online at Barnes and Noble, but I can format it as an e-book anywhere I want. I'll probably blog about my phone conversation with CreateSpace next weekend, so stay tuned. AND...we writers are a bit kooky with our characters hanging out in our heads, aren't we? All part of the fun!!!

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  3. Hi Peggy,
    Thanks for your encouraging blog! I'm not even at "books" yet, I write articles. I've had good success getting them published. But, the last two rejections have made me gun shy about re-submitting. Your analogy about getting your music out there struck a cord.
    Thanks, Peggi

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    1. Hi Peggi ~ I think rejections are part of the game. Having success getting many articles published says a lot about your talent. Keep going! ~ Peggy

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  4. Hi Carol. Good luck with the book. Publishing is a tough old world, but you've got to keep believing. It sounds like a great read!Will it be available soon?

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    1. Hi Ute ~ Publishing is a lot like all of the arts--a musician trying to get a record contract, an actor auditioning to get a part on Broadway, etc.--difficult. The bottom line is we write because we love it and want to share that love with others--that means publication. Fortunately, there are many ways to accomplish that today. My novel (still not 100% sure of the name...the one I wanted is already taken)should be out in July (depending on how much editing I have to do). I'll keep you posted (for sure). ~ Peggy

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  5. Peggy, you have discovered some interesting data. Thanks for sharing your research. If we writers weren't so dedicated to our work we would probably give up before another hour passed after reading those figures. But we are a determined lot, aren't we? We have stories to tell and we want to tell them and we need someone to 'hear' them. So places like CreateSpace and SmashWords have come along to accommodate our needs.

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    1. We are an interesting lot aren't we, Diane. The figures are discouraging. I'm not sure if you need to have the talent of John Steinbach or just be super lucky to break through in traditional publishing. I've read it's becoming harder and harder because publishing houses are struggling financially. Times are changing and like you say, places like Smashwords and CreateSpace are helping us adjust. Take care! Peggy

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  6. Congratulations on your decision - especially the one to do it professionally. By that I mean getting it properly edited and a good cover etc. With that you stand as much chance as any other author. Now you just need to look at the marketing. From what I have been able to glean, blog tours and book and author's reviews are an excellent way to go, and you don't have to pay a fortune for it either. Most bloggers are looking for material to keep up the relentless grind of posts their readers expect. Book Blogs is a good place to find them. Way to go characters for speaking to your mother!
    And PS, I've swiped your alphabet picture - expect to see it on my blog!

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    1. I agree with you Gwynneth about self-publishing professionally. I want my novel to be the best it can be no matter how many readers it attracts. It really is an extension of me. Your advice about marketing is excellent. Thank you. We writers really are a one (wo)man band. I'm glad you liked the alphabet picture. It's one of my favorites. Looking forward to seeing how you use it on your blog. Take care! ~ Peggy

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  7. I use CreateSpace, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. I have not used any of their chargeable services but have done it on my own. Maybe I should have, but the price was a little high for me. It's the marketing that kills you, but then even when traditionally published, they expect you do do your own marketing. I'd be interested to read your novel, so will be looking for it when it comes out. Souneds like my kind of read!

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  8. Hi Lynn ~ Good to know that you were pleased with CreateSpace. I am going with some pricey services, but don't trust myself with the book design, editing, etc. I also really want that Kirkus review--see how I do in the big leagues. I'm sure I'll blog about reading that review, although it really won't be a "kick back moment," more like an "ultra-anxiety moment." ~ Peggy

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  9. Congratulations on making the decision. Sometimes time is not on our side and we need to take the initiative to not wait on others and do it ourselves. That's the same reasoning I used when I published my first book, In Between Goodbyes, and I haven't looked back through the next two. While I think it is still a goal of mine to have a publisher "discover" me, I don't want to be old and grey (wait a minute, I am old and grey) and unpublished.

    As far as the editing and book design do whatever you feel comfortable with. I've had my days when I wanted to kill editors, designers and the like and I'm sure they had days when they wanted to commit mahem on me but it all works out in the end. To me CreateSpace has been a great space. I hope this continues.

    Above all: Have fun.

    Oh and by the way. Either my friends accept that my characters talk to me or they aren't my friends. I can't coddle those who don't understand that writers live in an alternate world when the novel is fomenting. Of course when it is your husband...

    Chris

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  10. Hi Christina ~ I too would love to find a publisher to help support my projects, but I want to share my stories while I'm alive. It will be interesting to see what direction the industry takes. Right now change is occurring, for sure. I look forward to reading your book(s) and am going to make more of an effort to feel free to talk to my characters, openly. After all, they are such interesting little creations. ~ Peggy

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  11. Hi there,

    Since I like your blog so much, I've "tagged" you in a little game on mine:

    http://raaniyork.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/eleven-questions-whos-in/

    Hope you're having a wonderful week!

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  12. Peggy,

    If you want someone to review it and post it up check out my blog for what i normally do as part of my reviews. I am reading a lot of independant authors right now.
    http://sutleress.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks. Right know an editor from CreateSpace is reviewing it then to press. I figure it will be ready in July. I would love for you to review it.

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