Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Life Cycle of a Novel

One day about 6.5 years ago I decided I was going to write a novel. It was easy. It was a spontaneous decision and I just went for it. I sat down at my computer and just began to type and the damn thing wrote itself. Then I made a couple phone calls, got an agent, and because the novel was really good and I was really talented, the agent found me a publisher overnight. That publisher offered me a half million dollar advance which I then used to pay off my house, all my debt, and buy the most expensive bikes possible and we all lived happily ever after travelling to California every spring to climb hills and wander along the ocean.

Yeah, I'm totally shitting you.

I was thinking the other day about the concept of talent. If you are talented at sports, everyone wants you on their team. If you are talented at a really popular sport like hockey or football or golf, scouts seek you out, everyone recognizes your talent, and you are invited to a team training camp or you are drafted (which has nothing to do with sitting behind the fastest guy in the peloton) or if it's golf you go to qualifying school. If you've worked hard and you are driven you are rewarded for your talents with a big contract and a lot of money.

But if your talent is something artistic, it isn't that simple. With artistic talent, you get classified within some genre or style that might be an acquired taste, and you have to meet a popular need. And with writing, a publisher has to think you meet enough of a popular need to make them money. They aren't interested in breaking even off you, they are interested in you making them rich. There are a lot of really popular authors out there who are shitty writers. No, shitty is too harsh. They can write, they just have some horrible lazy habits or formalistic plot generator writing mentality. Please don't make me name any of these authors. If you read, you can name your own.

There were a handful of truths in the lie of my first paragraph. Six years ago, I did write a novel. It wasn't easy and it didn't write itself but I am sorta talented. Everyone has one talent, and I'm grateful to be able to have identified mine, because I am sure that there are some people that never stumble upon what their talent is and most, spend too much time floundering around putting too much energy into a talent they don't actually have hoping talent will magically materialize. Like bike racing, perhaps. Or, like singing. I can't sing.

My novel I wrote didn't get shoved in a drawer. I finished writing the first draft sometime in November of 2005. I had a four year old and an almost-two year old who went to bed early (lucky me) and that's when I wrote. I ignored my marriage and that would be my contribution to it's demise (or part of it).  It was writing my book that was the gigantic turning point in my life, there was no doubt about it.

I applied for and gained admittance to the Manitoba Writer's Guild Mentorship program and started that in January of 2006. I worked for 4 months with Brandon writer Laurie Block who at the time was a 50-something poet. I went through great angst trying to figure out why the hell, out of the 60-plus applicants that submitted a proposal, he would be interested in me, 30-somthing writer of a girly teen novel.

But I do credit Laurie with saving my life and my lost soul in many ways but I've talked about that elsewhere. Many elsewheres, actually.

When the mentorship program was over, Laurie encouraged me to submit a proposal for a writer's grant from the Manitoba Art's Council. I got the grant.  I used the grant money, not only to live a little, but also to make a big push to get my novel published. I don't remember how many publishers and agents I queried and sent samples to but it was several dozen.

And they were interested. I had two agents request the entire manuscript and two or three that asked for chapter samples. I had two publishers also request the entire manuscript. They all eventually turned me down, (except for the second publisher -- 4 years later and I've never officially received a rejection). Why was it rejected? I was lucky enough to receive more than form letter replies in many cases and the message was always the same: While the writing is really good, we just aren't sure how to market this. It is too old for young adult and too young for adult.

When I sat down to write this book, I wrote the book I would have wanted to read at about 14 or 15 years old when I wanted to transition out of reading teen specific books but wasn't quite ready to read about the lives of 30 and 40 year olds in the traditional adult novels. So I wrote about an 18 year old girl graduating from high school and the the changes and thoughts that come along with that.

But I targeted Canadian publishers and Canada being the small market that it is, young adult means 12 year olds and up.  Twelve year olds shouldn't read my novel. The sexual content is too mature.  I didn't target American publishers because my book is very Canadian -- Winnipeg Canadian. There is a huge St. Boniface cultural effect in the novel and that atmosphere was very important to me. If you grew up in or hung around St. Boniface, Windsor Park, or Southdale in the late 80's or early 90's this book will feel very much like home to you. Large portions of the book take place in very familiar and in some cases, now defunct locations like Le Rendezvous, Le Canot, College du St. Boniface baseball fields and the characters work at the Safeway and Canadian Tire on Vermillion Road.

I gave the book a chance to be published mainstream for about 2 years. In the time I waited for the pile of rejections, I wrote a second novel. I haven't said much about novel number 2 but maybe I will in a future post. But that doesn't explain why I've let 4 more years go by since I gave up on ever holding this book in my hands in printed form or being able to wander into McNally Robinson and stare at it's cover on the store shelves. I always joked that it was going to be my goal to see my author picture up on the wall one day. Now that picture would have to be me on a bike.

In the meantime I've enjoyed spending the last four years beating the crap out of myself on a bike and I will continue to do that. And a lot of things have changed in publishing since I wrote my novel and tried to publish it the old fashioned way. Book stores are struggling due to big box mentalities. And Kindle and iBooks are beginning to take over.

And my first novel deserves better than it's place in the metaphorical bottom of the Tickle Trunk. So as an act of doing something lofty, I'm prepping it to be ePublished.  It's time and I hope I'm ready and I've procrastinated long enough. So for the next little while I'll use this blog to tell you my progress in doing that. I can tell you I am now a Registered Publisher, I can obtain ISBN numbers, I've researched how to upload to Kindle (the information on how a Canadian does that with iBooks has been a bit more difficult to find all in one neat and tidy place), and I've got my favourite designer on the job of bringing the emotional mood of my book to life on a cover image.

I even have some promotional ideas, hence my sudden interest in Twitter which I still don't get. And I hate tooting my own horn and selling myself. It feels like prostitution. Worse, actually, I'm standing on stage naked under the lights. I can't see the audience but it's all people I know, and they could start throwing tomatoes at any moment. But I'll see what I can do. There might be a reason why the time didn't become right, till now, for me to take action on ePublishing.

Most authors will tell you that their first book should never see the light of day. I don't think that's true in this case. I also don't think it was really my first novel.

Stay tuned in future posts. I have more to tell you about how I've been prepping this book.


Kathleen said...

Wonderful Post today Kim.
Follow that dream, I know, it may take a while, but they do come true! (Hugs)
And make sure I know where I can buy your ebook I love my Kindle.

Terri said...

Good luck! Hope this avenue works out. :)

Kim said...

Thanks you guys.... I'm scared and my only goal is to break even on the venture. No expectations.

simple winnipeg real estate said...

Very enjoyable. You get Twitter!! And lastly, still hoping to find my talent. Hoping before i hit 50.
Well done

Carl Seier

Kim said...

You write very well yourself. As you know, I've read. You just never know about that talent ......
Thanks for the comment.

Story Teller said...

Great post, Kim, and fantastic news. I'd just suggest not discounting American publishers entirely. I'd say they're more open to distinctly Canadian books than ever before. And the Brits, even more so.

Can't wait to read it!

Raw Goodness said...

Hello, Jen Pinarski mentioned your name to me as I would love to post my Living Vibrantly with Raw Goodness - Your Guide to Juicing and Blending on Amazon! First of though, love your writing style and your blogs! Entertaining!! And your book is something I would read - so I will sort out how to order it - yes, I'm technically challenged! Anyway, I have your email address so will contact you using that. Have a super day,