When we last chatted (or, um, I posted, you read), I was headed off to a glorious month of writing in Paso Robles. Yeah, um…not so fast.
Turns out, I’m not a writer. Sure, right, I’ve been a really crappy blog writer. But recently I’ve hit a hard, painful, wall with respect to my writing in general. And, I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time recovering. A hard time knowing what to do next. So allow me to share, which is a more acceptable way of saying “whine and vent” isn’t it? And speaking of wine—see what I did there—I’m writing this on the patio at Graveyard vineyards (yes, yes, I get the parallel—the graveyard of my writerly dreams; I can’t say it wasn’t intentional), while sipping wine and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. As a writer, I mean.
The two of you who still check this blog occasionally may recall that several months ago (like 6, but who is counting), I turned in to my agent a proposal for a third book. Another memoir. [Let’s pause here so I can explain the process of getting a book published, because that’s important. If you already know the process, go ahead and skip this paragraph.] So, I’m a bit ahead in the publishing game because I already have an agent (see “#1 NYT bestseller; my sole claim to fame). But agents don’t have to love or represent everything you do. Not by a long shot. And my agent (Sarah Jane Freymann) is excellent, has been in the biz a long time, and is the one who told me “The Dog Lived (and So Will I)” needed the love story angle (me and Chris, in addition to me and Seamus), and she was right. So I trust her. Anyway, non-fiction books are sold on the basis of a proposal—think “business plan” for the book: summary, chapter outline, discussion of the market, why your book is different, why you’re the perfect one to write it, sample chapters and a marketing plan. That’s right—a marketing plan, because you the author are expected to market it. Never mind the marketing and public relations departments of the publishing houses, what are you going to do for them? I worked on the proposal for the third memoir for many (so many) months. I turned it in to my agent in February. And then…nothing. For awhile. And yes, I’m human, I expected instant adoration, acclaim, cheers, or, you know, a response email. Finally I got a response that there needed to be some tweaking. So I tweaked. (Totally different than twerking, so please don’t be getting a visual.) Then waited. Slightly more tweaking. More waiting. Needed a photo (if you follow on Facebook, you may recall I enlisted help in selecting the photo).
Then, finally, in June, my agent agreed to represent the book and take it out on what is known as “submission.” Which is to say, she sent it to a variety of editors at a variety of publishers and said “here’s this fabulous book I’m representing, do you want to buy it and publish it and be the lucky one to next work with Teresa?” Or something like that. Basically, it’s the beginning of the author being submissive to publishers (as opposed to just to the agent), which is a good thing to get used to when you’re an author. If an editor is interested in the proposal she goes through a long process with her publishing house to eventually, one hopes, be able to make an offer to buy the rights to publish the book. If you are not a writer you are thinking “this is where they offer you hundreds of thousands of dollars and you get rich!” If you are an author you are thinking “this is where you hope they offer you enough for groceries for a few months.”[Okay folks who knew all about how to get a book published, you can join us again.] So, there I was—on submission. Another major step accomplished. And then there was more silence. And then there were some very lovely rejections. “Great writing,” “Love her voice,” “so funny,” but… and the reasons varied, but they ended in polite “I have to pass” remarks. I hung in there, hopeful, because the reasons didn’t match up, thus there was no pattern. That happened initially with The Dog Lived as well. (The Dogs Were Rescued was bought by the same publisher without being out on submission). So optimistic was I that I scheduled a month off to write. A month! Okay, I also just needed a month off from my law practice (this year marks 30 years since I graduated law school. Thirty. Thir-ty. No wonder I’m so tired) and we have a lovely townhome in Paso Robles that we’ve leased for a year, so that was also calling to me, but the main idea was to be writing this third book. My writer friends—Jane and Lori—who I met 15 years ago at the Maui Writers Conference and with whom I’d been doing writer retreats for nearly a decade were set to join me for two weeks of the month. It was going to be heaven.
And then I heard from my agent. A week before I was to leave on my one month of writing bliss vacation. She lowered the boom.
The publisher of my first two books (see #1 New York Times freakin’ bestseller!), had declined to publish the third. Clunk. Thud. Ouch. That’s like getting rejected from your safety school when you apply for college. They have the most to gain (more sales of the first two books) from publishing my third, they know I work my proverbial (and not insubstantial) ass off to promote my books, they know I can finish a book, and, and, and….it didn’t matter. They didn’t want me. Or they didn’t want my third book, but it’s hard not to take that personally. (Really, really hard as it turns out).
I was floored. And distraught. And my writing life was over. And Lori had a work emergency come up and wouldn’t be able to join Jane and I for part of the writing retreat. But what difference did it make…I had nothing to write!
But I had scheduled this month off, and Chris assured me I should still go. I should still write. Jane was still going to join me. And the proposal was still on submission to other editors/publishing houses (sure, but it had been 2 months at that time and that’s not a good sign..we’re not at 3 months). And, I was booked to spend 6 days at the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference during the month off. (And that should give you some idea what the third memoir is about…or was supposed to be about…or something). So, I tried to pick myself up and carry on. I talked more with Chris and with my agent, and I decided to go on with my plans. To think about what I was being told and where I could go with this book, which I thought I loved but maybe nobody else did. This is probably a good time to stop and tell you about that third book.
I had given it the title “It’s Not Like I Fit In: Tales of An Awkward Traveler.” It was (is?) to be a lifetime of (awkward) travel stories and what traveling has taught me and what I learned about myself through travel. Naturally, because these are my travels, stupid stuff happens, hilarious shit goes on, and I bumble my way through. Entertaining, and, as the rejections said “funny” with a “great voice.” So what’s the problem? Well… there are no dogs. Or minimum scenes with dogs (I hope this isn’t too shocking, but I don’t’ take my dogs with me when I travel to Ireland, India, France, or Fiji). So would my fans follow? (Do I have fans anymore? It’s been a few years since I put out a book…nearly as long since I blogged. 😉 ) And also, there was some feeling that there is no giant overriding arc to the story. (Right—I don’t survive cancer again; I don’t turn vegan; I simply grow up and learn who I really am and how I really like to travel). My agent then tells me she actually had the same concern about the arc, but the “younger” readers in her office loved it and found it totally relatable, so she let them override her concerns. One editor, from the “kind rejections” pile, said she could see these as great stand alone travel essays, but perhaps not a book. Huh. My agent said I should think about that. And she’s a very smart agent. Okay, fine. I’ll think about it. I’ll go on with my month off—perhaps with more thinking than writing—and I’ll go on to the Travel Writers conference and I’ll see what I can learn about whether a travel memoir needs such a big arc or whether I should consider doing these as stand-alone essays (and if so—who buys those? Who publishes those?). I could learn. I could grow. There could be an arc to my story as a writier.
And then I went to the Travel Writers conference. There’s an expression about out of the frying pan, right? Well, hello fire.
To be continued….