May 22, 2011

Voodoo dolls, backyard bonfires, & daisy petals

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:59 pm

I know, I had trouble figuring out the name for this post myself.

I hope I came up with three iconic things that will make sense once I start typing.

It took me about as long to find a publisher as it did to find my soul mate. A little longer, but not much.

I’m dating the soul mate search from one day in eighth grade when I spun a long fantasy about my social studies teacher, who greeted me and the guy I was crushing on and said something like, “I always knew you two were meant for each other.”

OK, sure, it was the teen romances I gobbled by the dozens–Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams, Silhouette, does anyone besides me remember these?–and the model of my mom and dad, each other’s one and onlies, and married almost 49 years now, but I always thought the first guy I really dated would wind up being my husband.

And he was. It just took me 9 years more to find him.

What’s the relevance, you’re wondering, to this blog?

Well, here’s the thing. Even though I was only a college senior when we met and a recent grad when we got engaged that July, I *felt* as if I’d been looking forever. There were lots of letdowns and bitter disappointments and feeling lost and lonely along the way.

And I vowed that once it happened, and I became someone I could hardly imagine myself being–or even really relate to–that I would never forget what it was like to be single and hurting.

And I haven’t. I can still feel those times, I can still go out with my single or newly divorced or struggling in marriage friends and genuinely commiserate.

So is it with that other great divide–publication.

As most of you know from other posts, I’ve found a publisher now. An editor who believes in my work. I just sent her a card, and writing it didn’t feel *much* less meaningful to me than saying my marriage vows. When I found it, a piece of art with the word ‘begin‘ practically carved into the layers of color, and lace, and sparkle, I began to cry right there in the aisle.

It’s easy right now to say I haven’t forgotten anything, especially that feeling of not knowing if your work will ever find a home–but I promise the same thing will be true when as many years have passed published as not.

And after that.

I will always remember. I will always be able to empathize enough to offer support and hopefully concrete help to anyone else on this crazy road.

But just to make sure, I thought I’d jot down a few memories of my lowest points trying to get published over the past 11 years.

Like the games of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, bonfires of photos and mementos with the girls, or dudes we make small copies of so we can stick a pin into their nether regions (sorry, guys…not *you*) some of these times may be recognizable to other writers.

So, low points on the road to publication…

  • There was the time I was sure, absolutely positive, despite the monumental odds against me, that my novel was destined to win ABNA. That’s why I’d never gotten published all these years! It was because I was due to take the rose-strewn walk across that Seattle stage (*is* there a stage in Seattle?) to accept my award. And then it seemed that my husband had messed up my entry–included my name, grounds for automatic disqualification. And I howled, a bleat of pure, sheer despair, loud enough to wake (and scare) my children. Well, my husband hadn’t actually messed anything up. And I didn’t win anyway, or even come close.
  • My second agent decided she had come to the end of our road one morning when my husband was pulling out of the driveway to go to work. My kids, then not even 2 and 4, awaited. A whole day of reading stories, and fixing snack, and dancing till we got dizzy, and I knew that I. just. couldn’t. do. it. Couldn’t do anything at all. Couldn’t keep an agent. Couldn’t run my day. “Come back,” I mouthed against the window as my husband started the car. And he did.
  • One night I sat in the bath and my agent called and I spoke to her from in the tub. She was actually calling to give me good news–an editor at William Morrow was interested in my first novel, which my agent had submitted second. But this was still a low point because when I said words to the effect of, “Finally. Thank goodness. Because I can’t go through [another failed sub] again,” my agent replied kindly, “Well, Jenny, there are no guarantees.” And there weren’t. That novel, too, failed ultimately to sell.
  • The agent who rejected me after asking for one page, one chapter, three chapters, then more, all drawn out over the course of months approaching a year–before rejecting the whole manuscript. She was right to. But that didn’t make it any easier when I saw that whole period slipping like sand back into the sea I was facing.
  • The stack, twenty high or higher, of beautiful, snail mail queries, on 100% cotton bond, with clear address labels, and stamps that featured great writers–can you say OCD??–and Every Single One came back no.
  • The novel–a whole novel–I couldn’t interest a single agent in even though the great Jackie Mitchard herself called to say it was terrific. “Won’t sell,” she said. “But it’s terrific.” She too was right, though it took me a year + and over eighty queries to accept it.

There are other lower than low points, I am sure. I’m sure they will come to me, and I promise I will never forget.

But since the only thing that really gets us through–the only thing that worked for me anyway–was communing with other people who know–for now, what are yours?


  1. Now you have to write a post about high points!!! :)

    Comment by Judy — May 22, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  2. Hi Jenny it’s a rough road, but you made it.


    Comment by Arthur Levine — May 22, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  3. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this story but I’ll repeat it here, in the spirit of commiseration. An agent read my latest, a thriller, and wrote back that it was terrific, she really liked it–and wasn’t taking me on. Why not? Because she didn’t ‘do’ paranormal thrillers, which is the way she typed the book. I said “Good–tell editors you don’t like paranormal thrillers but you like this.” I prefer not be pigeon-holed anyway. But she said “That’s not how it’s done.”
    Then there’s the one about…boy, don’t we all have a litany of these? The only way to treat publication stories is the same way writers learn to treat bad dates–‘it’s material.’
    But you’re scary–a good agent and a good publisher and your soulmate. You’re unbearably fortunate. Enjoy it.

    Comment by ted krever — May 22, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  4. You are so brave to write this post. I don’t think I have it in me to share all my low points….but maybe, someday.

    What keeps me going is the basic stuff. My family, friends and the knowledge that whether or not anyone ever reads my book–life is good. I’m lucky, more than lucky, I’m blessed. I also tell myself repeatedly that it’s just a book. There are a million of them out there. In the grand scope of things it’s not that important. I mean, I try to tell myself that but I don’t always have the ability to believe what I’m telling myself :)

    Comment by Johanna — May 22, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  5. Not yet, Judy, but hopefully some day. And actually, Arthur, thank you for your vote of confidence, but I think I have to say what I just said to Judy: Not yet.

    It’s a hurdle I am incredibly grateful to have leapt. But I don’t think I’ll feel I’ve made it till people can hold my book in their hands/read it on their digital devices.

    Ted–all I can say is I hope I can give enough back to justify it. I am so grateful for the three you mention. I really hope that either some agent gets a lot smarter than that one–or you do it better than any of ‘em independently. I can’t wait to read your work. (Same to you, Arthur).

    Johanna, I know, you have so much, and it’s great to be grateful–but I’ve read part of your book and it deserves to be big. I want you to find readers, and hope I can do some small thing to help.

    Thanks for commenting, everyone–

    Comment by jenny — May 22, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  6. Thank you for sharing that, Jenny. And, to start with ABNA – I remember the day as if it were this past January (which indeed it was) when my book didn’t make it past the pitch phase.

    I knew I wouldn’t win – I just wanted to get past pitch, and to have a human read 5000 words of what I wrote. It was not to be, however.

    When you said that you will always empathize, Jenny, I completely believe – you have been so supportive on this journey – this SHARED journey that we are going through as writers.

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — May 22, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  7. There is a new wind blowing out there. The old guard dog is fearful. The game is changing and the way things were once done will become a thing of the past. New writers will be heard without agents and publishers. We’ve all heard the stories of famous authors reject piles. Publishers welcome books by Snookie and Paris. Their sales are down. Never let them win. Keep writing. Promote yourself. You will sell. Love what you do.

    Comment by Richard — May 22, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  8. I think it’s admirable of you to make a point of remembering how hard it was. I’ve met authors whose egos–when they get their first contracts–blow through the roof. Suddenly, it’s not about hard work, patience, and luck, but their innate talent and writing ability. Kudos for keeping it real. (Remember that when I beg you for a blurb someday.)

    Comment by Sara — May 22, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  9. Your posts always make me smile and grin–and tear up, too!! <3

    Comment by Savvy — May 22, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  10. Yup, Alison, we went through a lot of that together, right?? ABNA can be a rush and a soul crusher. But the way I feel about it is, it’s one door. Knock. If it doesn’t open, there’s another door. There’s even another ABNA.

    Anyway, I have to break from all this remembrance of the soul crushers to say that Alison’s book THE NIGHT WATCHMAN EXPRESS is nearing #1 on the Amazon bestseller list for Children’s Literature!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to ring it from the rooftops–WHAT an amazing accomplishment. Alison wrote a Made It Moment a few weeks ago–but, boy! What an update in a few short weeks, huh?? Her publisher, Fantasy Island Book Publishing, is headed by another ABNArian, J Darroll Hall, and he is getting this brave new world so. right.–which brings me to Richard’s comment.

    First of all, welcome to the blog, Richard. I’m glad you’re here. And I think you’re right–the indie possibilities in publishing are a game changer. Do you see a role still for traditional publishing?

    Savvy, thank you. I cry a lot when I write ‘em ;)

    Sara, I think you’re in the offer-me-a-blurb-camp (I don’t even have a book out yet) but if it comes to it, you can be sure I will!!

    Comment by jenny — May 22, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

  11. I have many similar, Jenny, and probably will have more. But you’ve said this so well! I’m so happy you finally got there! May your future low points be mere blips.

    Comment by Kaye George — May 22, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  12. Thank you, Kaye :) It seems like writers get their 10 years somewhere, you know? Some write that first book for 10 years, some query for 10 years, or sub, before things start to jell. I have to admit I’m hoping I got mine in!

    Comment by jenny — May 22, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

  13. Jenny, except for the big publishing contract, your story mirrors mine. Are you sure someone didn’t sneak my diary to you?


    Comment by Joyce DeBacco — May 22, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  14. I remember having a nervous breakdown, but, for me, it came AFTER I’d published two young adults novels and then stalled for years. I think a bathtub featured in the breakdown, and a lot of time in bed, and telling my husband I was utterly falling apart. Ended up seeing a shrink, of course, and it did help. So did finally getting the next novel published (MONDAY’S CHILD with Harper).

    Hard career choice, that’s all I can say.

    I am so, so, so head-over-heels THRILLED at your joy, Jenny.

    Comment by Jody — May 22, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  15. Thank you, Jody :) And see? 10 years somewhere. I am upset because my copy of MONDAY’S CHILD keeps getting delayed. But it will hopefully arrive soon–from the premise along I know I am going to love it.

    Joyce, it’s very nice to meet you on the blog. I don’t think I ever saw your diary ;) But I would love to hear more of your story…I hope there is a happy ending either already or coming. Maybe we can figure some things out together??

    Comment by jenny — May 22, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

  16. My life, itself, has generated enough soul-crushing stories to choke a shark. So, I’m doing okay with the disappointments inherent to this profession.
    I’m pretty surprised that I can just keep on believing in my work, regardless that nobody backs their praise with anything tangible.

    I’m so glad for you that you have so much, besides your writing, to have gotten you through your eleven years. You’re a good soul, and they aren’t really as common as we might hope. You deserve the good things that are happening to you.

    Comment by Rosemarie — May 23, 2011 @ 7:22 am

  17. Thank you Summertime–believe me, I learn a lot from your wisdom, and willingness to look thru a lot of the smokes and mirrors and call a (sometimes bad) thing what it really is. Yet still believe in life and yourself. I hope you encounter that someone with something tangible soon. You know if I ever have it, I will offer it freely. For that matter, I’ve never read your book, the one you entered! I have 3 mss to read right now, but as soon as I am done, I would like to see yours, if you wouldn’t mind sharing…

    Comment by jenny — May 23, 2011 @ 8:33 am

  18. Still celebrating your success.

    What I have to remember is to keep in the game, and that’s what your blog reminds me. When my son didn’t make the varsity soccer team this year and his other friends who didn’t make it quit the JV team, I asked him, “Do you love playing soccer?” The answer was yes, so I asked him, “Isn’t it better to play, no matter the team?” So he played JV and served as captain and put his energy and heart into the season.

    My agent still believes and we’ve had some editors who love my book, but with each rejection, it gets harder to work on the next one. And with all the postive comments, the negative ones needle at me and punch holes in my confidence. But I guess I better take my own advice to my son, sit down, and put all my energy and heart into the next book because I really do love writing.

    Comment by Marjorie — May 23, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  19. Marjorie, you said it best, I can hardly add a word to your comment, certainly nothing wiser than what you told your son (and yourself). So let me just say that I understand. I understand that each book gets harder when we haven’t quite crossed that final hurdle. I remember saying when I wrote my very first novel, “I don’t want to be one of those writers with a stack of mss in the attic.” Guess I had a hunch what was coming–not in my attic, but on my hard drive–because at this point I have finished eight. I consider two saleable–including the one that sold.

    Keep writing because you love it. The only way not to get published is if you give up.

    One other thing–if any earlier work still has a spark for you, but failed to sell, you might want to give it another look. Sometimes there’s a germ there that just needed a year or two or more until you knew what the story was really supposed to be.

    Hang in there, and write anytime so I can repeat your own words back to you :)

    Comment by jenny — May 23, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  20. Jenny, thank you so much for sharing the ups and downs of your road to publication. Sometimes I think the lows can mire an aspiring author into thinking “It’s just me stuck here, just me who’s deluding myself over whether I can really write well or not, or if maybe fate is against me, or [insert negative thought here].” You went through a lot of downs before reaching this amazing breakthrough, but you KEPT ON GOING. Even though I’m sure there were times you questioned your own capability, you felt those moments and then moved past them and kept trying.

    Being able to share those feelings here is a very brave, wonderful thing to do, because you’re telling the rest of us that we’re not alone, and that there is hope if we keep trying. Thank you for the honesty, and I think I can speak for everyone here that we’re all so excited to get our hands on your book! ^_^

    Comment by Becca — May 24, 2011 @ 12:32 am

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