And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Generally, I like to choose moments that have a sort of blanket connection – something that pretty much everyone can relate to. But this week – well, I can’t ignore what happened this week. Writers will understand my joy and excitement, but I hope others will too.
I’ve really been a writer for my whole life. Before I could physically write, I told stories. As soon as I could hold a pencil, I was off and running, or, more accurately, writing. I traced the stories out of my picture books and rewrote the stories the way I felt they should be written. When I ordered books from those wonderful Scholastic orders given to kids in elementary school, I often chose the books more for the pictures than the storyline because of the story that erupted in my own head when I saw the sample illustrations. My fifth grade teacher told me I was a writer after the first story I wrote for her, and I agreed, and that was all she wrote (I crack myself up sometimes).
Except it wasn’t all she wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I still do. Everything is a story.
While I published for the first time when I was fifteen (I rewrote the story of Christ in 70’s slang and it was published as a serial in the Catholic Herald Citizen – really!) and I was well-known as a short story writer by the time I was in my early thirties, my first book, a novel, wasn’t published until the year I turned fifty. Since then, I’ve published four more novels, two short story collections, an essay collection, two poetry chapbooks, a full-length poetry collection – and the book I’ll talk about in just a minute. My work has always been traditionally published, meaning that I go through the process of submitting to publishing companies and the publisher chooses me and then creates and markets the book. I’ve never considered self-publishing because – and be prepared for ego here – anyone can self-publish. I’ve never wanted to be just anyone. In the exact opposite of ego, I always wanted someone else to tell me that my work was worthy of publication, that they believed in me enough that they would put their weight behind my words. It was never enough for just me to say, “This is good enough.” I went through four agents and finally sold my first book by myself.
I’ve been with small presses and I love them. Their work is personal, they get to know who you are and I get to know who they are. While there might not be an advance with the contract, while the distribution might be smaller, while there might not be much in the way of promotion, small presses still back you with everything they’ve got. My books are out there because of small presses.
And now there’s the newest book. A novel called All Told. It is very different, very experimental in terms of its format. I was nervous when I turned it in to the publisher who published my last three books. I became more nervous when he didn’t respond as quickly as he did in the past. Worried that he was going to say no, and not receiving any reassurance when I asked for an update, I decided to submit the book elsewhere, as a fallback.
And then there was more quiet.
Honestly, that opposite of ego I talked about up above began to hit me in full force. No one will like this book. You’re done. It’s over. This book was a stupid idea. You should have stayed with something more traditional. Your previous eleven books? All a fluke. Now the truth will come out. You’re a failure.
Man, my inner voice is a naysayer.
And then…and then…
Last week Thursday, a contract from a publisher floated into my email box. By Friday, there were two more. And when I told my previous publisher, the one who hadn’t answered me yet, he told me he’d had a contract made ready for me two weeks before, and he just hadn’t sent it out yet. So suddenly…four possible contracts.
I was floored. And overwhelmed. And out of my head delighted.
I spent the weekend poring over the contracts, comparing, contrasting…and really, there was one that stood out. It was fully traditional, not hybrid (in hybrid, the author pays a portion of the publishing and promotion costs). It offered the opportunity for my book to be in hardcover, softcover, and ebook. I’ve never had a hardcover before! There would be international distribution. And there was that word, that word so rarely seen now – an advance.
An advance means something beyond the monetary. It means the publisher has enough faith in you that they’re going to give you an advance on your royalties – a payment before your book is even published.
And THAT was all she wrote. After talking with the acquisitions editor on Monday, I signed the contract. All Told will be published in late 2021.
There will be champagne this weekend.
But I want to stress that this would never have been possible without:
all of the editors from the literary magazines that have showcased my stories and poems
the publishers who published the first eleven books.
And that fifth grade teacher who told me I was a writer. And all the other teachers.
The year 2020. What a strange time.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.