Thursday, August 22, 2013

Winners, Miss Snark and Me and Kirkus, too

Before I start, I am obliged, due to this being my blog, to mention good news about REALITY BOY that came in yesterday: A starred review from Kirkus.
"Heart-pounding and heartbreaking...This is no fairy-tale romance, but a compulsively readable portrait of two imperfect teens learning to trust each other."--Kirkus Reviews
Cocktails and tacos for everyone!

Now, the contest...

Wow. What a lot of contest entries you gave to me. Thank you! Thank you for your participation, your entries, your tweeting and facebooking and blogging. There was stiff competition and there can only be one winner, so if it's not you, console yourself by knowing 90 or so other people are in the same boat.

Kudos for the Jaws mention and for the many mentions of Janet Reid, who is a smashing woman, a great literary agent, and a game-changer. Also, applause for the mention of Miss Snark.

I want to tell you about Miss Snark and me. I am starting this blog before 9AM and nostalgia tends to grab me this early in the day. So here's a story.

If you know anything about my path to publication, you know that it took me 8 novels and 15 years to get published. You might know I got over 400 rejection letters. You might know that I started writing novels at age 24 and saw my first novel on a bookstore shelf when I was nearly 40.

If you've ever heard me talk about this journey, then you may have heard me say that there were very good reasons for my work not being accepted by an agent during those first 12 years and 7 novels. Here are some of those reasons:
  1. I didn't know what I was doing when it came to querying. (Much of this was before the Internet, so I had Writer's Market books and a few magazines only.)
  2. I wrote really shitty query letters. Sometimes overly friendly, sometimes overly snarky. Sometimes just really really weird query letters.
  3. My books were not good enough. (This is more important than reasons 1 & 2.)
  4. I was in the wrong country and was querying the wrong agents. (I wrote American stories and since I was living in Ireland, I was querying UK agents. Ireland had only one or two at the time.)
  5. I didn't know what genre my work fit into. It turns out it didn't fit into any one genre, but more importantly, I didn't think that this classification was useful. It is useful. How else will an agent sell it?
  6. I didn't really know what I was doing. It is hard to run a race thinking only of the finish line, but not really researching or understanding the course. 
  7. My books were not good enough. (Worth mentioning twice. Still more important than reasons 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6.)
I have met writers who are quick to tell me that literary agents are only available if a writer is "connected." That's bullshit. You don't need to know anyone special to get a literary agent. In fact, literary agents want nothing more than to find the best writing they ever read...from a complete unknown. That's some Holy Grail shit right there.

I have met writers who are eager to tell me that there is no way to get into traditional publishing now. No Way. And while I respect the growth of the self-publishing market and the many authors I know who are in it, I believe they made a conscious, intelligent decision to go that route. At least the authors I know who are kicking ass in self-publishing are doing so because they are educated and driven and they know how to do what they do.

I made that same conscious choice. After 300 of those 400 rejection letters, I stopped and asked myself what I was doing wrong. I knew my work was good enough--not the first six novels, mind you, but the ones after that. I knew I was ready to give my agent search more than a half-assed try. I had the Internet by then. And I stumbled upon Miss Snark.

I read every post on that blog in a 7-hour binge. I stayed up until 3 in the morning. I even remember the date. It was January 31st, 2006.

Up until that day, I didn't realize how not-serious I was. I was a serious writer, yes. I was a serious reader, sure. But I hadn't realized just how serious getting into this business is and how that package I first sent--a query and whatever sample an agent wanted to see--was an introduction to me. Up until that day, I didn't realize that my work had cliches in it, was sometimes too out-there, was hard to categorize (even just a little), was sometimes lazily written, was simply...unpublishable. Up until that day, I whined about how different agents want different things. I complained that writing synopses is hard. Miss Snark's archives made me see just what it would take to get here. Sounds crazy, but it's true. February 1st, 2006 I became deadly serious about what I had been trying to do for 12 years.

I got an agent a few months later.

I don't care how you publish or why or when or any of that. I think writers are born communicators and I urge you to hone your voice and get your work out there once it's good enough. I urge you, though, to be wary of anyone who tells you that literary agents are like a secret society or tells you that getting into traditional publishing requires knowledge of a secret handshake. It does not. It requires hard work, dedication and knowing the rules of the game. In self-publishing, be prepared to do what those successful self-published authors do--and be wary of anyone who suggests the journey is all about tossing out a book and waiting for it to sell. It doesn't work that way. As a self-published author, you have many jobs. The most important is to know the rules of the game before you start.

Rules. I know. They suck. I dig it. I ran off with the circus once, right? I hate rules too.

For me, the #1 rule has always been: always be writing the next book. If you want to be a writer, then this is the most important way to show that you actually know what the business is about. More books.
Write more books.

Miss Snark taught me that this is serious serious serious shit. If you feel you need some tough love and guidance, I urge you to Google "Miss Snark's archives" and read read read. (See how I didn't link that? It's because laziness is more common than hair in shower drains.)
Plural, yes. There are two.
Because it was hard. You guys nearly killed my cosmic spider.

The 100 word story--especially with the first and last sentences already written for you--is a tough gig. I think the hardest part is making the last sentence work. The next-hardest part is economy of words--telling me a whole story and not wasting one word on an unnecessary detail. Many of you managed to do these things. And so, my cosmic spider covered her many eyes and my magic 8 ball gave up. But my judges finally picked these two entries:

Amy Schaefer--You get no demerits for that entry. Win!
Lisa Aldin--You went to the edge and pulled it off. Win!

I've emailed both of you to get mailing info and I offer a serious thank you to all other entrants. There were some killer lines in there, guys. (Bill Scott: Your line about the waiter's cologne--fantastic.) And some really great entries. But we can't all win, right?

Other Stuff:

I will be posting fall tour dates soon. But for right now, I am going to write another book between revisions. This is the secret project that keeps me up at night.

Don't you love those?


Lisa Aldin said...

WOO HOO! This made my week!! No e-mail in my inbox yet though, but I'll keep an eye out for it.


A.S. King said...

Yay! And how strange, Lisa. I sent it before I posted. I'll try again now and if you don't get that one, just go to the contact page on my website and send me your mailing details from there. Sound good?


Bill Scott said...

Great contest. I'm anxious to read your book. Reading your road to publication was both helpful and inspiring. It's easy to get discouraged. Little things like knowing you liked a line keep me going. Tuesday I read a short story for the NPR show Tales From The South (posted on my blog) afterwards a little old woman came up and asked to take my picture — great feeling — I was all smiles.

Congrats to the winners. Well deserved.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I love Miss Snark and also went on a reading binge when I found her. You stuck with it through writing and writing and writing until you figured it out. RESPECT.
I've written a lot of bad stuff and then some better stuff and now stuff I get paid to write. Soon I think I can finally finish writing that book I've been working on for years.

Lisa Aldin said...

Hmm. My Gmail must be eating your e-mail. Boo.

I've sent my info through your contact page!!

Matthew MacNish said...

Wait. You ACTUALLY ran off with the circus? Or are you channeling the Crapper?

Seriously though? This makes me feel so good. If someone as amazing and talented as you can struggle for that long, then what I've been going through isn't nearly as bad as it feels.

I've been at it for about four years, so even if it takes another 8, I'm not giving up.

And I love Miss Snark, whoever she is.

A.S. King said...

Matthew--Dude, do you not read author bios?

And yes, Miss Snark rocked. I'm glad she retired to Italy or wherever she is. I once promised to send her gin for her gin pail but never got around to it. I do owe her some gin, though.

Unknown said...

Thanks A.S. King for the opportunity. Congratulations to the winners. I wish you the best success in your future writings Mrs. King. :-)

Lance said...

Congratulations to Amy and Lisa! Great contest. Thank you for sharing and for the rules. Amazing inspiration for sticking with it. She retired to Italy?

LynnRodz said...

Thank you for sharing your journey! So inspirational for many of us and congratulations to the winners. Great job, Lisa and Amy!

Amy Schaefer said...

Thanks, A.S.! Your email was a great surprise. I am really looking forward to reading Reality Boy. :)

french sojourn said...

Great post, thank you for sharing and congratulations on being published after all your hard work.

Enjoyed the contest, thanks for hosting.

Cheers Hank