This past November, my RWA chapter meeting featured a presentation by Rita-nominated historical author *Anthea Lawson, titled Top Ten Essentials on the Path to Publication.
(*Actually just the Anthea half. Anthea Lawson, for those who don’t know, is really a husband-and-wife team, first names Anthea and Lawson, who collaborate on spicy Victorian-set historical romance. And if there’s anything cooler in romance than a husband-and-wife writing team, I really don’t know what it could be.)
Essential #7 was Keep Perspective, that is, never mind Author X’s meteoric rise; just “take a deep breath and remember the only journey you can take is the one you’re on.” Anthea used the image of jogging along on the sidewalk, working steadily to get somewhere, and then seeing someone go shooting by you on a skateboard. But there’s really nothing you can do about that, so you have to just keep jogging.
I remember chuckling at this image, and thinking of several authors who seemed to have taken the short route to publication and/or success; books sold at auction; blockbuster debuts, etc. etc. etc. Definitely whizzing by on skateboards, while at this point I felt like I was barely walking, let alone moving at a jog.
Two days after this meeting, I got an offer of representation from the awesome woman who is now my agent. Within a month, she’d gotten me a two-book deal with a major house.
I’ve never been in doubt of having “paid my dues.” Statistically, it may look like I’ve had an easy road. I’ve entered five contests, and finaled in three (and went on to win one). I had accumulated only five rejections/non-responses before getting the “yes” from my agent. I know those numbers are modest, compared to people who log dozens of rejections and persevere nonetheless.
But behind my statistics are years of writing, and years of not sending anything out because I knew it wasn’t good enough yet. Let me just say that I originally envisioned being published with a purple Signet cover featuring a woman smirking behind a fan while a couple of hot-and-bothered Regency bucks looked on. That’s how long ago I started writing.
So the hotshot on a skateboard, she is not me. I’ve been pretty sure of that.
But a week or so ago, my editor e-mailed to say she and my agent were discussing which authors to go after for cover quotes. I had sort of assumed I would have to do some legwork here, maybe approaching some of the authors in my own chapter, or stalking certain people at the National conference until they agreed to read my book if I would just stop stalking them.
But no. My editor knows people. She knows people with very big names. And she is prepared to approach other people with big names, even though she doesn’t know them quite as well as she knows the first group of big names.
To type any of these names here feels hubristic and like tempting fate: if I did it, I fear I’d guarantee them saying, “I’m sorry; I can’t provide a cover quote because I read this book and I can’t think of a single complimentary thing to say about it.” Suffice to say reading the e-mail made my knees buckle, a little. These are authors whose endorsements I always assumed you had to work your way up to. You don’t get them on your debut.
And for the first time, I had to entertain the possibility that I may be that schmuck on a skateboard. Because up until now, I’ve felt pretty sure I’d earned every small victory. But the idea of a quote by [name withheld to avoid jinx] on the cover of my book… there is simply no way I have earned that.
There’s a line in George Eliot’s Middlemarch that springs to mind (and I’ve read Middlemarch often enough that a line can spring to mind for almost any occasion): the vicar Mr. Farebrother’s mother is congratulating him on having gotten a good post, which she says is well deserved. Farebrother says, “When a man gets a good berth, mother, half the deserving must come after.”
That’s how I feel. Except about ninety-two percent instead of half. I write now, in part, with the goal of deserving the incredible good fortune that’s come my way.
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