You can want something too much.
This is something I’ve learned over the years and I think it’s true. I believe people can smell the desperation. In acting auditions, I was always way better off when I went in not giving a shit: not thinking about how much money I’d be making, not focusing on how perfect the role would be for me. The less I cared, the better I performed. I think maybe publishing is the same. If I barely cared whether or not a magazine bought an article idea, the editor would respond to my query immediately. If I wanted it to happen really badly, I never heard from them.
So, how do you stop caring? How do you stop the fucks from spewing from you like the jets at the Bellagio water show, an unrelenting beautiful fountain of fucks?
I don’t know the answer to that but I do believe in the whole Oprah “being in flow with the universe” thing. I think if something is extra hard, if you feel like you’re running into roadblocks constantly, then maybe you’re on the wrong path. You’re on the 405 during rush hour, man. Maybe you should get off and take Sepulveda. Maybe you should stop and get some candy at the gas station on the way. Maybe you should get me some too.
I spent over a year querying fiction agents. I researched good YA agents and systematically hit them up, a few at a time. I used all of my contacts, Twitter and otherwise. I queried friends’ agents and agents who followed me. I made some mistakes along the way. (The version of the book that now exists is waaaaaay better than the one I first started querying. I guess I was too impatient. I should’ve waited until I knew it was as good as it could get before I started.) It was a crazy process. Well, the process itself was fine. It is what it is. But, it made me crazy.
Some agents responded right away, with form letters or personally written rejections. I appreciated those. Some agents never responded. Still, totally fine. They’re busy. I get it. Some asked to see a few chapters. Some asked to see the whole thing, all three-hundred pages. A few asked to see it exclusively and then ghosted me. (Yes, this happened more than once, more than twice. Once, even, by a Twitter acquaintance. To be clear about this, it means I was sitting around for months waiting to hear from them so that I could query someone else but THEY NEVER GOT BACK TO ME.) The ghosting ones are dead to me; pun intended. The nice feedback was very nice but, ultimately, the consensus was that I wasn’t worth the great risk they’d be taking. They didn’t want to go to bat for me. And, that’s fine. It really is. But, I knew the book was good. I knew it was worth somebody picking up that bat.
The experience was worlds different from what I’d been through with non-fiction agents. It seems to me that non-fiction agents are on Twitter to get new clients. They want to find you. They care what publications you’ve written for. They’ll actually read your Huffington Post piece about dogs. Fiction agents don’t give a damn about your follower count, your bylines, or who you know. I seriously doubt they make it through half of their queries. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to get their attention. Which makes them sort-of cool and elusive. I like to picture them covered in tattoos of typewriters and ampersands and Hemingway quotes. They’re super tough, straddling motorcycles they named “The Sound and the Fury” or “Hagrid,” staring off into the middle-distance ignoring you so so hard.
Anyway, they were too cool for me. All of them. The nice comments about the book sustained me for a while. Kept me going. But, for how long? How long could I continue to query and get rejected? Years? Decades? As long as it takes? What state would my self-confidence be in by the time it got published? Was it worth it? I got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked myself two big questions:
WHY AM I DOING THIS?
And, WHAT DO I WANT OUT OF THIS?
As I pondered these questions, something started happening. A great book series was recommended to me and after I read it, I found out it was originally self-published. Not one but TWO super dope ladies I know casually mentioned without any prompting from me that they had female friends who’d self-published and had really great experiences. I was open to it but scared of it. I wasn’t sure why.
In retrospect, it was a combination of things. A lot of it goes back to the judgment thing. I didn’t want to do it “wrong” for fear I’d be exposing myself to criticism. Also, I’d grown up in libraries and bookstores. I was always surrounded by books at the home where I grew up and at my grandparents’ house. I coveted them and thought of them as these magical, perfect things. You had to respect the process. You couldn’t just “do it yourself.” I mean, that would be crazy. That would be cheating! Right?
Well, no. That’s what I ultimately figured out. The world is changing and people get their entertainment all sorts of ways now. My nephews don’t watch TV, only YouTube. I listen to my music on either record or Spotify, no in between. Self-published books are a whole new amazing frontier. Why would I shun an opportunity to do exactly what I want to do just so I can be “right?” I’ll never ever stop buying traditional paper books from brick and mortar stores. But that doesn’t mean that my book has to be one.
It made good logical sense as well. I’d keep a ton more of the money by self-publishing. No agent’s percentage would be coming out, plus, the cents on the dollar is just drastically better if you do it yourself. (The catch is you have to, you know, do it yourself.) And, I’d have total control. Of everything. I’d maintain all rights to my IP (intellectual property) should I for some reason need them in the future. No one would be able to tell me what to do, which was and is appealing.
Also, anyone who has ever known me irl knows I’ve never been a rule follower in my personal life. Why should my professional life be any different? Taking control of my own work and my own destiny feels good and what’s more, it feels right. I think it was meant to happen this way. To, you know, teach me life lessons and stuff. For me, this is being in flow.
It came down to this. The answer to WHY AM I DOING THIS? was: I’m doing it because I love it. The answer to WHAT DO I WANT OUT OF THIS? was: to make my voice heard through my own creativity, for others to read and enjoy my work, and to make at least as much money as I made writing listicles.
So, why the fuck not? I mean, Oprah and the universe clearly want me to! Who am I to go against Oprah and the universe?
(TO BE CONTINUED AND CONCLUDED…)
*Third dumb selfie. I better finish these soon since there’s only one bathroom selfie left in my phone. (No, I can’t take more!)