Lessons From the Giants
Published In The Kiss of Death, March/April 2002,
The Desert Rose, April, 2002, Vol. 21, No. 4
Also appeared in RWA Newsletters in Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Canada, and Australia
I started writing when my son was eleven months old. He graduates from Junior High this coming May. I wrote my first book in under a year, at least I count it as my first book, because the other two before it weren't fit to be coasters for the coffee table. So I wrote this book, met with a popular rock band for the research and secured an agent within three months of sending it out.
I got a call from her one day telling me that a publisher in England had heard about this book through the grapevine and called my agent asking for it. They called her! This was unheard of I was told. A month later a producer asked to see it. He wanted to make a it into a movie of the week.
Through this experience, I learned that there are two types of people in the writing industry.
I belong to an online writing loop where pubbed and unpubbed work side by side answering each others questions. There was one women who was indeed, just one of us. She had participated in our discussions and been there just like the rest of us.
And then she sold her first book. A few months later I wrote her and asked her a question just like I had done with her a dozen times before, and she with me. This time the curt reply came with an ending sentence telling me that there were other people on the loop I could have gone to without bothering her. I never bought her book. Neither did anyone else in our critique group.
So what happened to my career? I mailed off the revisions my agent had asked for in January. When I hadn't heard back by June, I finally called.
I was told that my agent had died that previous February and nobody had thought to notify me. To this day, I still do not know the specifics. My book was returned with a no thank you. I was released from the contract. No one ever knew what happened to the English publisher and the movie producer disappeared without a trace.
In one phone call I went from the cutting edge, being told that my book was so damn unusual that it would create a new sub-genre, back to square one. That was seven years ago.
And that is where the lessons began.
Not how to put a sentence together or how to submit in proper format. All that was in books. What I learned came from people.
The kind of person who glances down at your names tag at a conference, sees that there is no marking designating your masterpiece and their eyes wonder the second before they excuse themselves to go sit at the agent/editor table. I attended a conference with an someone I knew. We weren't best friends, but we had spent some time together. When I hadn't seen her the whole three days and finally ran into her, I asked her about it. "I don't come here to socialize," I was told. "I'm here to meet the people that will get my book on the shelf and that's it." I wasn't one of the important people, not worth the time. At least not to her.
I met a particular multi-published author who shall remain nameless who was so important to herself she dismissed me with the wave of her hand while I was standing at her signing table.
And then I met the real people. The true giants.
I met Sue Grafton at a book signing. When I mentioned I was a newbie writer, she stopped the line for two minutes, crossed her arms over her chest with the most sincere smile and asked me how it was going.
Dean Koontz. When I didn't feel as if I could go on with all the rejection letters, he sent me a personal note telling me "For fifteen years most of my friends and virtually all of my relatives thought I was a bum ... hang in there." He even spelt my name right.
And Clive Cussler? I had been reading him since I was fifteen years old. He was the reason I got into writing in the first place. It's why I write action romance. So what did he tell me when I finally, after eighteen years, met him at a book signing? "Send me a copy of your manuscript. I would like to take a look at it."
These are my teachers.
These are the people that are not so impressed with themselves or their work that they will turn their backs on the person with the plain badge. They care. They remember.
I had a drink with an editor from a publishing house recently and we were talking about how hard it is break in to the business. When I recounted my history, she smiled sadly and said she was sorry.
And that's when it hit me.
I almost had the instant success. I was almost one of the rare that sold their first book. And if that had happened, where would my ego had ended up? What table would I have been sitting at and with whom would I talk to at the conference?
My lack of success in the writing industry, at least by some standards, put in the right places at the right time and showed me the people I want to mimic. The real giants. Not because they have sold more books or make more money or put their books in the top ten of the New York Best Seller List. They are giants because they cared enough to look back and see where they used to be.
It appears that my big break is a hair breath away. I have people who want to read my work. People with the clout to make the difference. We'll see. I've been close before and have learned not to get too excited.
What goes around comes around. Karma. Ying and Yang. Two sides to every coin. With every action there is an opposite action. It doesn't matter how you say it, it all means the same thing.
What we put out in the world will be what we get back. In my writing, as well as in my life, I want my second side to reflect my first. And it's not going to be determined by how many books I have on the shelf or who I sat next to at that luncheon. It's going to come from how I treated the person who has just finished her first draft of her first book and the person who just opened his forty-seventh rejection.
So whether or not my book sells and the deals start pouring in, don't look for me at that front table by the podium. Look for me in the back with the real people, the people with the plain badges who realize the struggle and the reward go hand in hand.