All of us have a book inside, just screaming to get out. Of course we do. I knew that when I started. It couldn’t be that difficult. Two years later, after hours spent staring at a blank page, followed by extended sessions of relentless padding to get the word count up, numerous plot changes and the creation of characters that came out of nowhere, I had it. Five hundred and ten pages of insightful dialogue, my own creation. All my friends and family loved it. Getting published was inevitable.
Not quite. That was eighteen months ago, all spent enduring the dichotomy of never-ending evaluations combined with constantly hearing the lecture regarding the need for “shameless self promotion”. Of course you must have a website, a blog and prepare an endless stream of submissions and query letters almost all of which will never be acknowledged. This masochistic practice of silent appraisal without feedback, leads to the inevitable conclusion that you have to self publish but under no circumstances use a ‘vanity publisher’ because that will seal your fate as a hopeless amateur. At this point confusion rules the day. You have no opinion that is remotely close to being objective, alternating between the fear that what you have produced is rubbish and the daydream of accepting the academy award for best original screenplay. Quiet evenings spent fanaticizing with your spouse about which of your favourite actors can play the key roles in your story. Weekends searching out potential publishers and agents, attending “how to” seminars on getting published, inevitably emphasizing that you are really on your own in a context totally unfamiliar, highlighting the adjective ‘self’ in that recurring, persistent theme of “shameless self promotion”.
Perhaps my favourite low point was a presentation by one of Canada’s most successful literary agents. She was quite blunt setting out the rules including:”Don’t ever send me anything other than an e-mail query letter. I get at least seventy five inquires a day. If I don’t like what I read in the first two lines I simply hit delete.” Then for emphasis, she stated with obvious pride: “Incidentally I would have rejected The Da Vinci Code”. Now that’s encouragement. I still send her regular e-mails if for no other reason to keep her count up. So far my most brilliant prose, my most humourous anecdote, my most insightful analysis and my most heartfelt criticism of her methods, have all met the same fate she would have dealt Dan Brown – Delete! Delete! Delete!
Did you know that in this age of computerization there are far more books being generated than ever before? With total logic, in the face of this new flood of creativity, publishers have abandoned any attempt to assess unsolicited manuscripts. No longer are junior staffers assigned to look at unknowns. This is left to the few reputable literary agents in Canada and we all know how well that is working out.
Back to the drawing board, time to turn to the world of freelance professionals and get a frank assessment of the product. First was an evaluation by a professional editor with a $600 price tag, premised by the statement “75% of what I evaluate is garbage”. Now waiting for that was tough. No-one wants to be classified as ‘garbage’ even if everyone else is – passed that one somehow. By the way, did I mention that the conventional wisdom is that a first novel should be 80,000 words and 300 pages, not 160,000 words and 510 pages like mine? Remember all those nights padding the word count? Time to take those babies back out. Remember all those brilliant explanations included to save your less attentive readers from making incorrect assumptions- they have to go. “Remember ‘show’ the reader don’t ‘tell’ them. Let the reader discover for himself and also get serious: pick up the pace! Other than that you have something. Your characters don’t suck. Your plot is kind of interesting.” My freelance editor became my link to the industry, my literary personal trainer, part drill instructor, part sister confessor, she has kicked and coddled me down the road to self respect as an author and given me the will to put myself out there.
So now I was freshly inspired. With a little more effort, I might have something. Five rewrites and numerous query letters later, I am there, ready to self publish. So what does this really mean? Well it means instead of having 20 photocopies of my manuscript I have spent a few thousand dollars to acquire 500 paperback copies that look and feel like a ‘real’ book. This is certainly not ‘vanity’ publishing. Have I mentioned that after rewriting the book five times I now hate it with newfound passion? Not really. It’s somewhat like the way you feel about your first born after three days of the runs and fifty diaper changes. You still love them but the ‘poop’ has got to stop.
So finally I get to shamelessly promote my book; 99,000 words of blood, sweat and tears. I have learned so much and I want to do more. Like many others out there I am but a few reads away from reaching my goal. Look for me and my book at the VBA Arts and Craft Show and Sale November 5th