I have been writing in some form or other all of my life, primarily personal journals, but my biggest adventures and life lessons came from stumbling into the world of novel-writing. And I do mean stumble.
I am an Accidental Novelist. (See previous post here.)
I wish I could say I went on to great fame. But I didn’t. (No yet, anyway. <g>) I have had a lot of crazy, disillusioning experiences. Promises made and broken by literary agents and publishing house editors. My style of writing does not fit perfectly into the marketing niches of romance, sci-fi, women’s fiction, mystery, you-name-it. Agents pressured me to “write funny” because that’s what sells. Editors said my writing was wonderful if only . . . If only it was shorter. If only it was longer. If only it was a family saga. If only it wasn’t a family saga. If only it didn’t have paranormal elements. If only it had a vampire. I managed to sell a couple of time-travels before my editor asked me to submit ghost stories. Every time I wrote a proposal to fit an editor’s specific request, I failed miserably.
I walked away from the business many times but I didn’t stop writing. I continued to attend conferences all over the United States. Travel has been one of the highlights of being a writer. So many times I have said, “If I never sell another book, I will always be grateful how writing has taken me places and expanded my life beyond anything I imagined.” Even though I dreamed of publishing again someday, I was not eager to deal with the New York houses. I couldn’t jump through the hoops. Many writer-friends managed to play the game successfully. Sometimes a slot would open in the publishing schedule that needed to be filled ASAP. Their editors would ask them to shorten their deadlines by weeks or months to satisfy the publishing machine. They missed family trips, celebrations and graduations because they needed to turn in their manuscripts early. And how many times have I heard of manuscripts being turned in by the deadline but the editor was too busy to read it to approve release of the acceptance check? Too many. (In all fairness, editors are overworked and underpaid!)
As years passed, I watched some of the best romance writers in the business hit difficult times—a family crisis, divorce, cancer, caring for an elderly/dying parent—resulting in a slowed writing schedule. Or completely stopped. Their dedication and loyalty to their publisher meant nothing. If they missed a deadline or their latest book didn’t sell enough, they were penalized in one way or another. Payments delayed. Contract negotiations stalled. Sometimes the author was unceremoniously dropped. Coincidence? I don’t think so. After all, publishing is a business. But all those tightened deadlines to fill an empty slot meant nothing in the end. Many of the authors were so disheartened they quit.
But I kept writing.
When digital books came on the scene, I balked. Not that I looked down my nose at self-publishing! No, the real deterrent was the mind-boggling amount to learn, not to mention production money and hours of PR that were required to self-pub. No, that wasn’t for me. I’d rather spend my time writing.
I continued to submit book proposals and enter contests. I thought my dry spell had broken when I won a contest and landed a reputable New York agent. But he sat on my book for two years, making excuses every time I asked for updates. When I decided to sever ties, he said it was just as well because he no longer represented category romance or unpublished authors. (My book was mainstream women’s fiction and I am a published author.)
Unable to sell my own work to a New York publisher, I accepted an invitation from a friend to help her write true crime stories about her experiences as a private investigator. Not an easy transition. But it was writing. I learned so much along the way. However, as with my own novels, I could not find an agent to represent the narrative non-fiction.
Then, two years ago, a prolific writer and long-time friend was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away within a few short months. Charlotte Lobb wrote romances and mysteries as Charlotte Maclay and Charlotte Carter. Long ago, I mentored her for two years before she sold her first romance to Harlequin. She also had some ups and downs in the business. And yet she authored over fifty novels. As her books sales far surpassed mine, she expressed her exasperation about my own career. She kept telling me I was the better writer, which was very kind of her. But, deep down, I didn’t have her fierce determination to damn the rejections and forge ahead. I let a few deceptive agents and editors undermine my faith in myself.
Charlotte’s death was my wake-up call. At that time, I realized I was the same age she was when she sold her first book! She would say, “I write faster than you because I don’t have time to waste. I only have so many years left and I have to make the most of them!” And she did! She loved nothing more than to be home at her computer writing those books. If we were at a writing workshop that was not meeting her expectations, she would not waste time waiting until the end. She would quietly slip out the back door and go home to write. After her husband, Chuck, retired, the two of them took “research trips” to Europe and South America that she would turn into another book.
At her memorial service, I was ashamed of myself for wasting so much precious time. Char was one of my biggest cheerleaders and she was gone. It was too late for me to be able to call her on the phone to tell her I finally sold another book.
That day I felt as if she was whispering in my ear, “I don’t give a damn how you do it, get back out there and publish again.”
I started with online classes covering the basics of self-publishing. Daunting? Oh, hell-yes. I also hired a professional editor. I hired a cover artist. I hired a web designer. I learned how to format manuscripts for eBooks and print-on-demand. I took more classes on social media.
I formed Sweetbriar Creek Publishing Company, published two of the narrative nonfiction true crime novels and re-issued some of my back-list books. I have new manuscripts to polish and send to the freelance editor. With luck and a few more hours in every day, I will see the new books published within the coming year.
How the hell I got here is anyone’s guess. It’s a miracle I’m still writing. I am, as I said, an Accidental Novelist. Now I am also an Accidental Publisher. But the places I have been and people I have met along the way have been the biggest, most positive influence on who I am today.
And I owe it all to writing.