Chapter 1: How I Screwed Up
I suppose this is as good a place as any to start, considering I screwed up at the very beginning.
I began writing my first novel when I was sixteen. This pièce de résistance, of course, consisted of spiral-bound notebooks filled with idea sketches, chapter excerpts, and page upon page of character outlines, most of which whose names were composed of those of my best friends’ spelled backward and then tweaked to blend in with the prose.
Oh yeah, I was on fire. My prologue was a prophetic dream, and chapter one began with my MC waking up from said dream. Hoo, boy… Can’t hold me back.
Anyways, I was lucky enough to have a poor enough attention span that nothing permanent came of this disaster until about five years later when I was a grown and seasoned adult with far more refined tastes.
Ah, yes. 21. A year to remember.
Determined to keep my eventual and inevitable success a secret until I could surprise my family with gifts of shiny hardcovers, I spent several days—maybe even a couple of weeks—editing my masterpiece in silence until my excitement on the matter drove me to start seeking publication.
But I didn’t want to involve an agent. All an agent would do is pitch my story to a publisher and then take a cut of my advance. And with so many publishers open to unsolicited manuscripts, why should I seek representation? I could easily pitch my own story.
So, I drafted an epic cover letter that no publishing house would be able to refuse. And why should they? They wanted to know my target audience? Well, I told them, my story easily appealed to all audiences. They wanted to know what genre it was? So, I told them—it really went beyond labels. Sure, epic fantasy had a genre “type,” but my book also had adventure, and romance, and humor.
How could any of them say no?
I received my first “form” rejection letter about a week later. I rallied quickly, though; even Harry Potter got a couple of rejections before scholastic picked it up. The first was quickly followed by a second, and I took the news a little harder.
But my third… Why, the third response gracing my inbox read as follows:
We have taken particular interest in your manuscript, [title redacted due to risk of mortification], and we would like to discuss further options with you. (or something to that effect)
Editorial team at [redacted] publishing
**Cue the ironically cheesy triumphant fanfare**
I got accepted!?
I was going to get a publishing deal!?
THEY LIKE ME! THEY REALLY LIKE ME!
…So began my first experience with a vanity press…
About $1000 later (after opting OUT of paying for copy editing, line editing, content editing, marketing packages, filing with the US Copyright office and Library of Congress, etc, etc, etc…) I received a box of forty cheaply-made paperbacks with my photo on the back.
Well, my family members each received one, but I balked at sending out any more. Good thing, in retrospect. I’d hate to think there were too many of those little beasties floating about in the world unsupervised. As it is, I can forgive the ones currently taking up space on my parent’s bookshelves; they still have my preschool finger paintings, after all, and I think it’s written somewhere that it’s the province of parents to keep their children’s otherwise too-embarrassing-for-the-public-eye creations.
Glossing over the intervening fifteen years, in which I realized how badly I’d been taken advantage of because of my ignorance, and after several desperate and poorly-written query letters to publishers and agents alike, I finally gave up. Entirely. I deleted my [redacted 😊] folder and packed away my box of paperbacks. I got on with my life, got married, changed careers, had kids, and all in all—grew up.
Fast forward to circa 2018. My sister—randomly, especially for her—mentioned my book and what a shame it was I had stopped writing it.
Suppressing the urge to laugh like a lunatic while wiping my daughter’s soiled bottom, I nevertheless ended up with the seed firmly replanted in my brain. I remembered the rush of a good writing day, the high of replaying your newest favorite scene over in your head, the accomplishment of a finished chapter, and even the strange camaraderie and kinship you hold for your characters.
Well, the seed took root, and I began to think. Then I began to plan. And then, one day, I picked up my tablet and began to type—determined to do it right this time.