8th grade. Miss Bolander. She wrote on my paper, “Christy, you have a GIFT for writing. Please don’t forget me when you write a book!” (Miss Bolander, by the way, I can’t find you! You got married and I don’t know your new name, so…)
In college, I had to read this book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book that supposedly a million people love and it drove me totally crazy. Just like The Goldfinch, a book that won 800 awards, even thought I hated every.single.character in it.
But then, I decided I was going to be a teacher. I don’t even really know why. Kids liked me, so I thought that’d be pretty cool. I know, everyone tells you, “Teaching is my calling and I knew since I was 2 that I would be spending my life with our country’s future!” but I really kinda just went with it. Of course, I’m glad I did, and I absolutely know that I have one of the best jobs anyone could ever have. However, I lost writing along the way. I stopped writing almost completely, and focused on my love for French and traveling and being a teacher.
Then, my life flipped upside down. Suddenly, my father-in-law was dying of cancer. And 3 weeks after he died, I found out I was pregnant with twins after 2 years of trying…and then, well, then they died. They died and I was at a total stand-still.
Words found their way back to me. It was like going home again, pouring out my soul into the keyboard and suddenly I was making, to quote Hamilton, “palaces out of paragraphs.” Ok, I”m kidding, I was rambling on, spilling my grief survivor tales, probably not making much sense and definitely not using proper grammar or punctuation, but it still felt like home to me.
I have a friend, her name is Peg, and she’s one of those people of whom you are just completely in awe. She’s the friend you have that is so full of love and wisdom and kindness, and I truly, truly care about her opinion of me. Disappointing her is like my worst nightmare. A compliment from her can last me for weeks. In my house, if Peg thinks it, then it is true.
Anyway, she made a few offhand comments about how I should write a book. Looking back, I’m guessing she was saying like this I say, “Hey, you guys, let’s ditch work tomorrow and go to Las Vegas!” As in, I probably took it a lot more seriously than she meant it. But, I googled it, and there are all these statistics about how something like 80% of the population want to write a book, but hardly anyone actually follows through.
Well, I decided I was going to do it. I was going to write a REAL book. An honest and raw book where I could tell the TRUTH about having your babies die. That it wasn’t a tiny ripple in a little sea of water, it was a freaking tsunami that wreaks havoc all over your life. I wanted to write a book where people could see that losing a child has the ability to make you crazy, but you’re not crazy if you feel like this, this, and this.
And … well, I did it. You guys. I did it. I’m so proud right now I can hardly stand it! But, I would like to chronicle my journey to get here, to being an actual, real life “Author.” *Note I did not say NYTimes best-selling author…but I am an author. 🙂
I always start with research, so I went to Barnes and Noble first. I picked up a book called Your First Novel, and after I read 2 chapters I knew I wanted to write non-fiction. I wanted to write a memoir. I read a BUNCH of advice about how no one wants to read memoir and it only gets published if you’re famous, but I didn’t care. I knew I was probably the only person going to see it, anyway, so I was writing it for me.
Next I ordered a book called Your Life is a Book (How to craft & publish your memoir). Anddddd it was about that time that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this by what I could find in a book. I needed to first get my story out.
This was the first story that I wrote out. And, oh, it felt so good. I was giving life to this moment that had stuck with me after all these years. I read it and re-read it and completely worked it over, and I was amazed that it had all come out that way.
Then, I discovered something called NaNoWriMo. It was a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This mean 1,667 words a day. Let me tell you, I did NOT accomplish this. BUT I wrote ALL the time. In every spare moment. I wrote in the car, on my lunch break, while my kids took their baths. And I had about 30,000 words of totally mashed up stories, the ones that came first for me.
In the last almost two years, I have read SO much about getting a book published. I have done everything I’m supposed to do:
*Actually finish the book
*Go to writer’s conferences
*Find a writing critique group
*Give your work to beta readers (waving! Thanks friends!)
*Get your work edited (hi, Alyssa!)
*Begin a social media presence (hello, you!)
*Make a non-fiction book proposal (hello, 70 pages of proposing!)
*Write a query letter that should excite a literary agent (For a NYC big publishing company, you can’t talk to the publisher themselves, you need an agent to take you on to sell your book)
So, I sent my query letters, and I waited, and no one replied. I kinda knew they wouldn’t, but I had a little, tiny bit of hope. I felt so confident about my manuscript, you know? I did get 3 rejection letters, which was exciting.
In the meantime, I’ve messed up. I have explored self-publishing, hybrid publishing (a mixture of self and traditional) and traditional NYC publishing/traditional small press publishing.
The biggest thing I want to warn you about are Vanity Presses. Right off the bat, you should know that there are ALL different kinds of these. All of them will get you a book published, but some of them will cost you SO MUCH MONEY and you will get a good book, some will cost SO MUCH MONEY and they will get you a terrible book, and then you have the same options for less money.
I almost signed a contract with a company that I would have LOVED to work with. LOVED. I felt a strong connection with the owner, she talked about strategy meetings and marketing and book launch parties and the covers of their books were gorgeous and everyone I knew was excited for me. They were the first people outside of my friends that told me, “Wow, this is amazing.” I couldn’t afford it, though, you guys. It was my dream, but it’s what I wanted a publishing company to do FOR me, I didn’t want to pay for it. One thing that kept nagging at me was, if they didn’t make anything off the books I sell, why would they care how many I sell once they’re done with their part? Now, these people were legit, and I know they care. I still couldn’t afford it. This would be an example of a good and decent hybrid company, but still not for me.
Then there are the bad.
A few weeks ago, I did this Twitter campaign with a Facebook group I belong to. You had to tweet your book pitch once an hour and if a publisher/agent “hearted” your tweet, then you should send your query to them. I got one heart and I was SO PUMPED. I mean, like running around, yelling.
I sent my query and my first few pages as requested, and I got a response very quickly. I got done reading the response and I was FURIOUS. I couldn’t sleep that whole night because I was SO MAD. I just HATE when people take advantage of others.
So their response started with, “I, too, have had a miscarriage, so I do think this topic is very important.”
UM. If you READ any of what I sent you, you would know I did not have a miscarriage. Also, I think everyone should know this, even if they haven’t experienced it themselves. I read TONS of books, and I’m telling you I’m never going to fall run through stones and end up back in time, but I still pull something from it.
The next line was about how my writing was good, but “needing some polishing before it hits the prime time.” And, OH, GUESS WHAT? This lady normally has others edit it, but she really wanted to be the one to do it and she would lower her price for me so that it would only be about $3,000 instead of $4,000.
Steam. Coming from my ears.
Then. AND THEN. The last paragraph said, “To give you an example of what I would change, I would maybe jump back in time after the first chapter when the romance with Geppetto is just beginning.”
Do you guess that my memoir about surviving the loss of infant twins involves any kind of ROMANCE WITH A PUPPET?
Yeah, NOT SO MUCH.
I was most angry, because people pay that money. They pay money to companies who know you are vulnerable, and you have dreams of selling a book that’ll be turned into a movie. I’ve heard horror stories about paying SO much money and getting a book that’s not formatted right, with typos, inconsistencies, a cover you could have made yourself using the software.
Tomorrow, I will be getting a contract in the mail from a local publisher (SQUEEEEE!!!!!), here in Wisconsin. I am SO excited, but I’m so nervous about the contract itself. It is a legit publishing deal. I didn’t meet my dreams of securing a literary agent and getting published by, say, Simon and Schuster, but I am SO proud. I’m proud of the blood, sweat and tears that I poured into this. And soon, I will have a cover, and a title, and a way to pre-order, and my very own launch party and book signings. More than that, though, I’ve finally built my palaces out of paragraphs and if my words help even ONE person, it will have been worth it.
I wrote a book. I think you totally should, too! Just be careful.