In the beginning…
When I was a kid, I loved to tell stories. Mostly these took the form of of weekly Dungeons and Dragons games, short fiction I only ever shared with Mom, and video game plots I dreamed up when I should have been studying. Back then, magic and wonder defined my world, and teachers praised the rareness of my “talent.”
Now, I put the word talent in quotes, because I have since come to realize that there is no such thing as the unique God-gift that I was raised to believe in. Talent is an illusion. What we as creative people have is dedication to a craft. I really wish they would have evangelized dedication instead of talent.
I grew up and marched into my early adulthood thinking that I had what it took to be a great author, just because I had a “talent” for “storytelling.” Sure, I wasn’t a big reader, and I’d not gone to college to study Lit and Writing, but I felt positive that the quality of my stories would earn me an extra little bit of attention from agents and editors. I was to be discovered.
People in the know don’t talk about talent and vision any more. These days, their message is all about work, experience, and expenses. “Buy memberships to renowned critique groups,” they say. “Hire qualified freelance editors.” “Join unions and alliances.”
At last weekend’s Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop, during Kay Ellington’s and Barbara Brannon’s lecture entitled, “Your Manuscript on the Flip Side: What Your Editor’s Looking For, and Not,” we were given this rule of thumb regarding the cost of preparing your manuscript for publication: “Expect to spend as much money as you would on a used car.” That’s… a lot of money.
I’ll tell you: it’s discouraging. A soul can write a novel, and then spend more money getting it publishable than they can ever expect to earn from it after publication. How could it possibly be worth the cost and effort? But, I’m beyond all that, right? I’m a bad-ass, amazing storyteller, right?
So, changing gears…
In all things outside creativity, I was raised to look at the concrete facts in the world around me. What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. The proof, as the cliché goes, is in the pudding.
I spent a few years working as a paranormal investigator, which really taught me to be objective. I learned to test every tiny way to disprove hopeful assumptions. Orbs are most commonly dust, water, and bugs. Vortexes are usually camera straps, motion artifacts, and breath-fog. There is usually a mundane explanation for everything we interpret as supernatural.
As a supervisor in an office setting, I learned to look at peoples’ self-proclaimed credentials with some skepticism. A computer programmer who has authored exactly zero useful computer programs, is not a computer programmer. A sales guru whose numbers lag behind the rest of the team, is clearly no sales guru. A bad-ass, amazing storyteller who has not, by the time he is forty years old, published several acclaimed novels is not, in fact, a bad-ass, amazing storyteller.
To borrow from Fight Club, “[I am] not special. [I’m] not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” Man, this hurt to figure out. And, it’s scary too! How the hell am I supposed to get there? I’m forty, and I might as well have never written a word in my whole life! What have I been doing all this time?!
Well, that’s all my fixed mindset crumbling down. If you’re not familiar with Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset, then you need to check out the book: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, PH.D.
I, like most other cis male white people in my generation, was raised on a diet of “You can do it!” “You can be anything you put your mind to!” and “You are unique and talented with gifts from God!” They told me I could be anything I wanted to; they just never told me how.
This brings me to the now.
I have finished Saundra’s manuscript. It has gone through at least 7 revisions–two complete rewrites, countless edits. I have busted my ass to make this novel publish ready. I printed draft copies for test readers; I submitted first chapters for critiques at expensive conventions. I’ve done a lot!
For the past few months, I have been hunting for agents. I stalked my favorites on Twitter, Facebook, and their personal blogs. I read their wish lists, their advice posts. I learned what they read, what TV they watch. Armed with this knowledge, I sent out a batch of well-researched, carefully-crafted queries, and have heard a lot of nothing for it.
No worries, it only takes one acceptance! I will keep working, keep learning, and keep attending workshops like last weekend’s. I learned a ton about query crafting from Seth Fishman’s class, “How to Write a Query Letter and Find an Agent.” Sunday afternoon, I sat down to apply a new coat of polish to my query letter, only to find the original clunky and ugly to read. Yikes! Embarrassing! But, I fixed it–made it better.
Then, I set to converting Saundra’s manuscript into a more easily modified format. I imported her into Scrivener, and that’s when I saw it. Page one, paragraph three, word one—uncapitalized.
Holy. Crap. Nick. How did you miss that?
Well, I missed it because I only had two pairs of eyes on the manuscript for the past several edits. We just overlooked it—an honest oops. Sure, I felt like a complete moron for a while, but I know I’m not an idiot; I was just excited. I jumped the gun.
This brings me back to the Used Car analogy. After two conventions, one conference, and six text copies of my novel, I have spent over $900.00 getting Saundra ready to publish. That’s a pretty crappy used car, to be sure. I’m positive a professional editor would do me a world of good, but the fact of the matter is, I just can’t afford one at the moment: something to save my day-job monies for.
I’ll keep trying, of course. Every batch of query letters I send out will be better than the previous. With every class I take and critique I receive, I will reevaluate my manuscript to see where I can tighten it up. I’ll keep trying, and eventually, Saundra will get out there.