Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Changing Face of Publishing


I was 33 years old in 1993 when I decided to finally pursue my dream of becoming a published writer. My life was already full then, with a husband, a full-time secretarial job, one son who was nine and the other a little guy of six. But since this was something I wanted with all my heart, something I’d wanted since I first began writing around the age of 9, I was going to make the time to do it, one way or another.

My mind was made up: I was going to become published.

Fifteen years have passed since I bought my first copy of The Writer's Market. I don’t recall the exact price of the book, us old chicks don’t have the best of memory; something like $20 or so. What I do remember was that I considered it an invaluable investment in my own career. For me, someone who had no idea what she was doing initially, who was literally going about it on a wing and a prayer, The Writer’s Market was like a roadmap. Sandwiched between the pages of that writer’s bible were how-to articles; sound advice on how to prepare a query letter, and other really useful tips that I, like many prospective writers, would end up putting to good use.

But the best part of the book was, obviously, all…those…markets! Not only did you have the names and addresses for tons of magazine and book publishers, you also had the name of their current editors as well. The listings included information on how to submit, what each individual publisher looked for in terms of word count, and—this was sometimes upsetting—which editors wouldn’t even look at your work without having an agent to represent you. The Writer’s Market continues to be published and I still advise brand-new writers to get themselves a copy, along with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

This was a huge, bigger-than-life, sometimes heartbreaking, often exciting new world for me. Like everybody else, I learned what a SASE and guidelines were. For $300, I bought my first computer equipped with MultiMate (ha! Remember that one?) and banged away on that keyboard once the hubby and the boys were asleep. In the first two years, I wrote one full novel that never saw publication called Crystal Waves. Then there was an unsold middle grade series entitled The Ladies (which almost sold to Simon and Schuster’s Archway line. It was shot down, much to my disappointment, because it couldn’t have stood a chance against the current middle-grade heavyweight at the time, The Baby-Sitters Club.).

Oh, yes—and then I wrote some YA novels. Two of which were favorite projects of mine. One was a mystery called The Ghost of Little Bay and the other a romantic comedy called Suburban Vampires. Though both books generated interest and near-hits, neither was published. Well…until later. We’ll get to that.

Anyway, I was running out of publishers. That happened in the Stone Age, aka B.I. (Before Internet). I was also running out of faith in my own work and my own abilities as a writer.
Before I go on, I’d like to note that that’s one thing that has never changed, and that is the importance of having faith in your work. Once you lose that, and many writers do, the journey is over. That’s something that’s taken me, personally, almost two decades to learn, and it may sound like a cliché but it isn’t: Becoming a published author isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. And besides that self-belief, what is required of any writer who is determined to fight the good fight is lots and lots of patience; recognizing the mentors who are right for us as individuals; a healthy dose of self-discipline, without which no craft is honed; and an almost child-like excitement, rather than resistance, when that journey suddenly changes course.

In writing, as is true in many professions, persistence does have a way of paying off. Eventually, about two years after I first began submitting, I was published by True Confessions magazine. True Love followed only a month afterward, and that began a long relationship with what is affectionately known by confessions writers as “the Trues,” who published roughly 100 of my short stories. In addition, I also worked for three years as the associate editor of True Romance.

And about four years after first setting out on my journey, I finally saw the publication of my first romance novel, Rumor Has It, which was released by Avalon Books in 1997. Other print books followed—but it was The Ghost of Little Bay and Suburban Vampires which became the first of my works to be published as ebooks, a medium that was very young at the time and that, despite earlier predictions that it would disappear, has not only continued but it has had an impact on the face of publishing.

(Part II of this entry to follow…)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Three-Day Weekend

It's 7:33 in the morning. My husband is still asleep. Very first thing, I let Jessie and Chi-Chi out into the yard because last night was the Fourth of July and there were these spectacular thunderstorms in the area. Between the fireworks and the booms of thunder, Bill and I had a Chihuahua and a German shepherd who thought they were in a war zone instead of a peaceful North Carolina suburb. They didn't have to be prompted and cajoled and pleaded with now, they just trotted out onto the deck with an attitude that said, "Okay, NOW we'll go out there--the backyard looks pretty safe."

This is the second day of a three-day weekend. An extra day, basically, but psychologically you tend to think it's even more time off. It's an embarrassment of riches. I'm not the type to spend it in bed, either. While I fix my breakfast of coffee and Special K with Berries and milk, like most women, I'm planning out the day in my head. Maybe I should clean the house? Naaaaaaaa. Did that last week. Besides, who cleans the house on a three-day weekend???

Do I head to the mall where Teavana is? The last of my tea blends, Key Lime and Blueberry, I used to make a kicked-up-a-notch (as Emeril would say) iced tea. Usually I get my nails done on every-other-Saturday morning, but I got that out of the way yesterday. There's food shopping, and not a lot of it, but it's summer and we may have company coming. That means making sure we have some fresh veggies for salad and knickey-knacks like those air fresheners to scent the house nice on hand.

Right after I blog, do I sneak in a walk in the park? Even better, will the summer heat ease up and we can head for one of the hiking trails? How about a couple hours with Bill at the community pool? Could we use some of those neat little handsoaps from Bath & Body Works? We haven't been to Black Mountain or Blowing Rock in a while, either. I miss my mountains.

And how about an extra hour of writing? My book is going reeeeeeeeeeally slow, not because I'm not enjoying working on it (it's an adventure because it's a bit different from other stuff I've worked on, but time has been limited lately), so I'm itching to write a romantic novella in between the longer work. I'm making time for writing this week because it's been a rough couple of weeks at work, and writing works as well as walking and hiking and a LOT better than binging on ice cream and chips when it comes to relieving stress.

Writers love these three-day weekends. If we don't let the manicurist, the farmer's market, shopping and window-shopping, and housecleaning whittle down the time. I know I'm not the only writer in the world who has learned to grit her teeth and smile when someone says, "Oh, I'd love to write--if I had the time." I don't know many writers who don't have "civilian" jobs, who don't have family or friends, who Real Life doesn't make 8 hours a day seem like 2. For me, writing time is a lot harder to find than non-writers would imagine, because I'm not willing to spend days on end using all my free time to do it. First comes life, which includes time for worship and time for my husband, my family and my friends, and then comes writing.

I've found that makes time spent with the Muse more of a pleasure for me, if I know I've given time FIRST to the relationships that are precious to me. I feel more of a connection with my characters, those fictional folks who people my stories, who become so real to me during the course of writing their stories, if I have put first those flesh-and-blood folks who people my life.

I'd probably have more writing credits if I put writing above all. But that's a sacrifice I'm not willing to make. Besides, my characters know I'll go to bed at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning when their story's heating up and we're having too much fun to stop.

That's why One More Day on the weekend, to us, is like winning a few bucks from Lotto. Not a lot, you know. You get four numbers out of the six, but you say, "Yes!!! I'll take it!!!"

Now it's 7:56. I'm getting some writing done this weekend, more than I usually do.

But I REALLY need to get to Teavana, too.