About that…

by Rachel on August 19, 2011

This is one of those posts I’ve put off writing because I keep thinking that the situation might change in some way or another, and I wanted to be really sure before I talked about it. But I feel like right now, I’m at least sure that no matter what changes, it’s a good time for an update.

You may recall, I spent a lot of  time in late 2009/early 2010 working on a book based on The Spartanette, that first blog I ever wrote. It was all about my life a sorority girl at MSU. I had never intended to turn that blog into a book; it was more a “Wouldn’t it be cool?” type thought in the back of my mind. But when I realized how much material I had from the Spartanette (400 pages or so!) just sitting around, I decided, Hm…maybe I’ll self-publish. I mean, why not? I had a decent audience for my new blog that I thought would read it and I wanted to get that story out there since it is sort of the beginning of my story and establishes my style and puts everything else I write  in context. Self-publishing is a big thing right now and there were a lot of  attractive things about it. I didn’t realize that anyone can actually get a publisher.

The more I researched, though, it became apparent that I could go the traditional route first and see if there was a traditional publisher interested in the book. Again…why not? It was sort of already written. I’d have to write it if I were going to self-publish. Might as well give it a shot.

So, I gave it a shot. I edited the blogs into a collection of essays, titled it “The Frattiest Sorostitute,” wrote a query letter, and sent that letter to dozens of literary agents who would hopefully represent my book and sell it to a big publisher. After a month of sending out queries, I posted the big news about getting an agent.

In that post, a post that was really dedicated to all the ways I’ve survived rejection over the past few years, I wrote:

And surely, more rejection awaits as they start shopping it to the publishers. But last night when it all fell into place, on the heels of me being so pissed off re: dating, I just realized that when the next round of rejection happens, it will be fine. will be fine. Because, truly, if it weren’t for that shitty college newspaper not taking me on four years ago, none of this would have happened.

Lemons to lemonade blah blah blah. The point is, things work out.

OK so…then what happened?

From there, I got to work right away with my agent and her assistant on the proposal. For non-fiction, which TFS is (technically it is a memoir), you pitch it to agents as fiction — meaning it has to be written already. But you pitch it to editors as non-fiction, meaning you don’t send them a manuscript; you send them a proposal. The proposal is about 50 pages long and has a chapter outline, sample chapters, all about the author, and all about the target audience. My proposal took about a month to complete. I wrote and rewrote, carefully chose sample chapters, and let my agents help shape my very rough idea for a book into a shiny, beautifully packaged proposal that even made me want to read more — and I knew what happened next!

Then they started pitching. (And this was the point when I had to stop talking about the process publicly.) And then the rejections began. A lot of editors gave rejections that sounded very torn. It was frustrating because it felt like we were so close. We actually were close too — a couple editors asked for me to make some changes and they’d re-read it. My agent said that wasn’t typical, so to take that as a very good sign. The biggest change they wanted — and this reflected something other editors were saying — was that it was “too bloggy.” It was a collection of essays, which is, basically, a blog; they said people don’t want to read that, and it needed to read like a novel with characters, dialogue, and a story arc.

That was a challenge for me, because I don’t know exactly how to write like that. But we took their suggestions and re-did the proposal. Throughout this process, my agents were awesome, and I never doubted them for a second (and still don’t). They pushed me and really showed me how much I could do, things I never knew I was capable of because I was so used to being my own editor. Beginning to see myself and my writing as they saw me and the material was amazing. As I did the re-writes, I saw what the editors meant and I thought the changes I made with my agents’ help really worked.

I waited a long time for the editors to get back to us, and it was exhausting, that waiting game. But when they finally did, it was to say that the changes hadn’t worked. They just still weren’t sure. “In this economy…” and blah blah blah.

One recurring theme throughout this whole process was numbers. For them to be sure, to get past that fear that it wasn’t as strong as a novel as it was as a blog, they wanted me to bring a built-in audience. I felt like I imagine the drunken frat boys in my book felt — it’s so awful to want something and just not be able to get it up. No one could tell me what my numbers needed to be, exactly…just that they weren’t high enough.

I felt totally confident in the material and the target audience, and I felt like with more time to blog and freelance (read: an advance that made it possible for me to not work full-time), I could get higher numbers, but at this point I had moved to Texas, so I wasn’t in a position to do that anymore. It sucked to feel like success was a popularity contest, because the entire reason I even have a blog is because I didn’t want to have to deal with that shit. I started avoiding Barnes & Noble because seeing Snooki or Lauren Conrad’s latest book made me want to cry.

Eventually, it became clear that no publishers were going to take the book. And seriously, this wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I wasn’t devastated. I just thought, Eh, didn’t work out. It was a long shot anyway. Moving on…

I immediately went back to the thought of, OK, I’ll just self-publish. I like the idea of self-publishing; it’s totally in line with my whole thing about not waiting for permission to do what you want to do. The problem is that self-publishing, while an awesome option, is still really time-consuming. When we did the proposal, we added a lot of new material to the chapter outline that would make the book stronger. And it will make the book stronger…when I actually sit down and write it. I’ve written a good chunk of it over the past year, but I didn’t bother to write all of it because we were more focused on the proposal. It made more sense to write the new material once I had an editor who actually wanted that material and was paying me to write it.

So right now I have this fabulous outline for a book that seems funny and that I’d really want to read. And I have a book that is semi-finished but is going to take a lot more work to complete. So why not just finish the damn thing? Honestly, for the first time in my life…I haven’t been motivated. Blogging is something I don’t do for the money, something I can’t imagine not doing. But giving up an extra 20 hours a week to write for free — on top of the hours I already spending writing for free — is just something I struggle to make sense of because my time has become more valuable to me. Without knowing if people will actually read it — because with self-publishing, I lose not only the advance, but also the marketing and PR that I need to make up for the fact that my blog hasn’t gone viral  — it’s hard to feel like it’s worth my time.

So I go back and forth. In a perfect world, I’d be independently wealthy or have someone supporting me so I could finish the book and self-publish and jump start my career…but that’s not the world I live in. Currently, I wake up each day feeling excited about writing and like I could sit down and finish the thing in the next 24 hours if I could just work uninterrupted…but then I have to go to work and make money. And by the time I’m home from work and have blogged and dealt with all the other things on my plate, the book has slipped to the back of my mind. I get sad when I think about that, because it makes me feel like if I’m not pursuing it harder, it’s because I don’t really want it. And I think if I’m not willing to work 60 or 80 hours a week to make it happen, I don’t deserve it.

And then I remember that in my journal, right before I met Eric, I had written, “Dear Universe, Just in case you weren’t sure of my priorities, finding great love is more important to me than a career. I don’t want to have an awesome career and be alone. So…love first, please. Book later.” Seriously. So I really don’t deserve it. I got exactly what I asked for! I really don’t feel sorry for myself. All I can hope is that the fact that I got the first thing is a really good sign, and that I will get the the second part later. Maybe not a month later. But eventually.

And so then I kinda get over it. I remember that I didn’t set out with the goal of writing a book and that not having written one — whether I self-publish or get a traditional publisher — doesn’t mean I’ve failed because I was never using that as a measuring stick for success in the first place. It was just something that sort of dawned on me and seemed like a good thing, but it was never the thing. I don’t know what the thing is, honestly. I just want to write. My material. And I want to make enough money for it so that it can be all I do every day. I hope it happens eventually, and I think it will, but it hasn’t yet.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura Georgina August 19, 2011 at 10:46 am

This must have been a really hard post to write–big-ups for taking it on head-first and finding a happy medium (for the time being, at least). I love that you said you’re not using it as the measuring-stick of your success, because it’s easy to make these big things so central that we forget how much we enjoy doing the things that motivate us to do the “big” things in the first place.

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2 Bonnie Bucqueroux August 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

Self publish through Amazon Create. Find the time to complete it somehow. Get it done so that you can get ready for book two. All of us will help you promote it. We promise.

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3 looloolooweez August 19, 2011 at 10:54 am

I admire you so much. Writing is hard, and getting published is even harder… and taking those first steps, putting yourself out there, facing rejections, THAT is possibly the hardest part. Listen, you’re awesome. You have an awesome life and an awesome attitude and that’s more than can be said for 99% of the world. And things will continue to get awesomer for you, I just know it.

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4 Dori August 19, 2011 at 10:56 am

Well I can tell you that as your book’s target audience, I LOVED what I’ve read of it and I would buy it in a second. That said, things have a way of working out and I believe your book will happen when the time is right. Your life is wonderful right now and I am glad you are enjoying what you have.

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5 Jenny August 19, 2011 at 10:57 am

Rachel, boy, do I know how you feel!!! It’s ridiculous trying to write seriously while keeping up a full-time job, a working love relationship, and you trump me by having two puppies in your mix as well! But kudos to you for all you’ve accomplished so far, and I don’t doubt that one day you will be sittin’ pretty in some awesome Manhattan apartment (if that’s where you wanna be) making millions of dollars writing what you love to write about. I hope that happens for both of us! Haha.

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6 nic August 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

I haven’t been reading your blog a super long time so I just read your “Thing About Rejection” post and it. is. beautiful. Please, please, please: If your book is anything like that post, the world needs to read your book. I really respect how you have made your own success by becoming thick-skinned and facing a ton of rejection. I also respect that you have come to terms with the book not being the be-all and end-all of your life right now. You have come really far and that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. At the same time, I think your feelings must be a pretty natural progression in the book writing stage. Rebecca Skloot had Henrietta Lacks rejected a gazillion times until someone finally took it. Same thing with The Help. You could totally be THAT success story, especially since you have a built-in audience with your blog. I am rooting for you!

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7 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. August 19, 2011 at 11:11 am

If and when it happens, I know it’ll be really great & we’ll all be excited to read it. Good for you for being okay if it happens or not. And then you always have the option to self-publish. A friend of mine did that and seemed to like the process.

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8 Rachel's Mom August 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

I just read the other day that “The Help” was rejected by 65 publishers.

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9 Tara August 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Yes, Exactly! Rejection means nothing because the next one could always be the one! You just have to work hard and believe and it will happen for you, if you want it.

But, I do agree, you were clear on your priorities and wow, how amazing, you actually were blessed with a great guy. Be ridiculously, crazily grateful for that! And you have two little puppies that enrich your life and you’re making your home, for the time being. The rest? It’s great if you continue to fight for your book, but it will only be an addition not a necessity.

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10 Beth (Well I'll Be) August 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

I really really love the moral of this post! And I’m so glad you have this perspective, although I’m sure you have many great things to come. Lucky for you, you did get love first!

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11 Liz @ IHeartVegetables August 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

I can totally understand your need for protecting your time, that totally makes sense. But I do think self -publishing would be pretty bad ass ;)

And I will TOTALLY read your book when it comes out :)

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12 Angela August 19, 2011 at 11:42 am

You can’t fully know success until you’ve been rejected. You are a great writer and one of the first blogs that I could really say, “Damn, that girl is funny, I want to read more.” I truly believe that timing is everything and you are soooo right. You got love. Right now, maybe that is what you need more than a book deal and maybe that book deal will start to materialize when you aren’t even expecting it.

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13 Rachel August 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I hope so! I’d always kind of thought that way, but I think my optimism has started to waver. I needed this kinda boost!

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14 Jessica @ Stylish Stealthy and Healthy August 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I really appreciate you sharing this process. Like I’m sure a lot of bloggers, once of my dreams is to write a book, which is actually what made me take the leap into blogging. I just wanted to start writing and never imagined how much I’d fall in love with blogging itself!
So not to get into my whole love affair with blogging, but I feel much more prepared to handle things when I hear other people’s stories :) So thanks. And I look forward to someday reading your book, whatever it ends up being.

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15 Jennifer August 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Know this: If you write it, I will read it. I’ve loved reading your blog for more than a year now, and a book? Hell yes. But it is good that you’re not focusing on that as a measure of your success. I used to be kind of career-obsessed…until I realized that what I really wanted was true love too. And to love myself more. But I do love to write and I do want to continue doing it and hopefully get paid for it (either in my own voice or just in a career of some sort…PR, etc.). I don’t think many people value the difficulty of writing and telling a story…it’s why journalists and PR people (at least in the nonprofit world) are so underpaid. Telling the story of Bank of America? Sure, those people are paid well. But you tell the stories all of us can relate to. I wish that was valued more!

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16 Alexandra August 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I’m a strong believer in the idea that things fall into place when the timing is right. You are so incredibly talented, hilarious and inspirational & I think a book deal is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. I absolutely LOVE reading your blog and will definitely purchase TFS when it comes out!

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17 Angie August 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Love this post. And I will for sure be one of the first to purchase this book when it comes out. Because it will. (I gotta support fellow Michiganders, even if if I’m a wolverine ;))

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18 Emma August 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Oh, boy, I have so many things to say! First of all, I’m *so* glad you posted an update. I was actually wondering about your book recently, because unlike some of the other bloggers who have written books, I’d actually buy yours. I went searching around your blog, wondering if I had missed an update somewhere (which, seemed unlikely, but you never know), so I’m glad to hear where things are at.

And now for a bunch of random thoughts: 1) For the record, I disagree that people won’t read a collection of essays. Think of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs! I *like* collections of essays. But I realize your post is not about that, and that ultimately, that criticism made your book stronger, but I still wanted to mention that. 2) You don’t want to be Snooki or Lauren Conrad. Even if they do have a book published. No. Just no. (And I know you know that.) 3) It’s not like nothing came out of this process -as you said, it made your book stronger, and it sounds like it also made *you* a stronger writer, and forced you out of your “comfort zone,” and that’s all really cool. It’s the journey, not the destination, and all that jazz.

And 4) “I get sad when I think about that, because it makes me feel like if I’m not pursuing it harder, it’s because I don’t really want it. And I think if I’m not willing to work 60 or 80 hours a week to make it happen, I don’t deserve it.” That made me sad. And I don’t even think it’s true. You have a life that you love right now (as far as I can tell from your blog), and you’re not willing to sacrifice parts of it (like hanging out with Eric, or paying your bills) to write the book. That doesn’t meant you don’t really want it, it just means that *right now* you don’t want it as much as you want other things. And that’s okay! As long as you are living a life that you love and doing things that you enjoy, why force yourself to do something that you’re just not feeling right at this moment? Maybe there’s a reason you’re not feeling it now, maybe you’ll feel it later – the point is, it doesn’t mean you don’t want it at all. And it *certainly* doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve it. I read a lot of blogs and a lot of books and a lot of newspaper articles, and while I’m not an authority on the subject, I can say with certainty that you are a really, REALLY talented writer. So yeah. You deserve it.

And finally, to echo everyone else’s thoughts – you’re awesome. This post, and your attitude about the whole thing, is awesome. Besides being a talented writer, you have a maturity and a wisdom that not everyone our age has. You also have the ability to see a bigger picture, which is not something that even everyone older than us has! Maybe in a few months, or a few years, you’ll want to self-publish the book (and when you do, I also think you’ll have a HUGE audience – I can’t believe they don’t realize that every sorority girl in the world would love, or love to hate, your book!). Or maybe something else will come along that you want to do. Or maybe, you’ll figure out what *the* thing is, and it’ll be the right time in your life, and things will fall into place to make it happen. The point is, you’re going places. We’re young, and we don’t have to have it all figured out now. And I, for one, really enjoy watching (listening? reading?) while you take the ride.

You rock!

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19 Erin Kaye August 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I hope you keep trying to get the book published, however you do it.. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Good Luck… and thanks for sharing the journey with us :)

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20 Christie August 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm

You were rejected because you hadn’t found the right one. Same with job hunting. Same with love. Eventually, when it’s all right, you will find it and do it. Whatever it is you want to do with writing.

And yeah, rejection sucks. But seems like you have a good coping strategy

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21 Dana August 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm

So I just read the rejection post and my experience in JRN 200 was a little different. We had Bonnie come in and talk to our class and when she got to me I mentioned I wanted to write for a magazine, and I was recommended to look at your blog because of how great it is. As corny as this sounds your blog made me, and some of the other kids in my class, realize that rejection from that lovely little newspaper doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, it make us stronger, much like it did for you. Even if you’re dealing with rejection now you will be able to make that book happen, and it will be exceptional, no matter if it’s a year from now or eight.

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22 Lauren Roady @ Recipes for a Quarterlife August 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Like you found with Eric, good things are worth the wait:)

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23 Tracy August 20, 2011 at 12:14 am

I’d love for this book to happen at some point if for no other reason than the Spartanette had a lot of quality material. I, to this day, talk about your post on oxytocin and people ‘marking their territory’ on facebook. You’re such a phenomenal writer with amazing ideas and voice and I am sure you will be a published one when the time is right.

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24 Triz August 20, 2011 at 5:22 am

Is there any chance your work might let you do a flex day? My sister does it – she works a little longer every day, then every other week she has a day off that is devoted to NOTHING but writing and she is very fierce about that. I really hope it works out – I want to read your book!

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25 Rachel August 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

Definitely something I plan to negotiate when the time is right!

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26 Sher August 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Rachel!

I have TONS of friends in the Middle East and India! I grew up in both countries :D I will shamelessly promote your book :) Cannot wait to read! I assure you there are TONS of women out there that can relate to your style of thinking! You express yourself so well that sometimes i feel like a best friend is talking to me :) We’re all rooting for you! Keep up the great work!

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27 Phoebe August 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Just the other day I was wondering to myself “I wonder what is happening with Rachel’s book.” Thanks for sharing all this with your readers. It is very brave and honest! You express yourself so clearly about your goals. At least now you have a stronger sense that writing is what you ultimately want to do. Though we all have *some* regrets in life, I have always found it really liberating to realize that something I once held up as “the ultimate” goal is no longer a (current) priority.

I was curious that you said that you have to pitch non-fiction to an agent the same way you would pitch fiction (i.e., that you already have to have a manuscript in hand). I was under the impression that this was not the case for non-fiction. Do you know anything about whether this is true for all non-fiction or just more narrative types of non-fiction such as essays?

I would definitely read any book by you, no matter how it was published!

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28 Emily Susan August 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

J.K. Rowling was rejected for years by publishers, then only by a small one. It took years and years to get published. Now she’s one of the most influential authors in the world (Not to mention one of the richest. That being said, yours is the only blog I read. I stumbled upon you over two years ago, and I have not ever stopped reading. I am waiting for your book!

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29 Brandy @ Let's Grab a Coffee August 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I’m surprised that they wanted to change the book from a collection of essays to more of a narrative. Your essays are so well written! Your ‘Top Posts’ page is something I always browse when I’m feeling down, and I have recommended your “How To Be Wrong About A Guy….” post to just about everybody!

That being said…I really look forward to getting to read the finished product. Thanks for the update!

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30 Erin August 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I would definitely read your book! I hope you find a publisher. I’m normally annoyed by all the blogs that get book deals, because they aren’t that great. But yours would be an exception!

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31 Erin August 22, 2011 at 9:44 am

Your blog is easily one of my favorites. In fact, it’s one that I check each morning. I hope you find a publisher because I would love to read your book.

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32 sara @ the foodie diaries August 23, 2011 at 7:54 am

I’m a huge believer in everything happens for a reason. I also believe that if you want something bad enough, it will come to you when you least expect it :) Just keep working hard and staying true to yourself, your work will pay off :)

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33 Katie P August 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

What a wonderful and honest post. I can tell you I would buy your book in a heartbeat, I adore your writing, you have such a unique voice. It’s a rear ting to be so funny and heartfelt.
You have your head on straight so keep going and your heart and head won’t steer you wrong.

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34 Heidi Nicole August 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Thank you for posting this! I’m currently in a position where we made a huge move away from family and while the move along was fulfilling a dream it has prompted me to think about my other dreams. On of which is writing…and getting published. This post puts everything into perspective and I can only hope that in the near future I at least give it a try like you did!

I’d say keep at it. Work on it when you have time or better yet, set aside time. A little time here and there can help. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You want to enjoy this!

Whatever you do, good luck! And thank you for sharing!

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35 Elina (Healthy and Sane) August 30, 2011 at 10:19 am

Sorry for being a bit behind but I juts want to say that I am SURE that it will happen, whenever you’re truly ready for it on your own terms. It’s OK to prioritize family, love, free time, food, blogging, whatever. We don’t have to go at it at a million times per hour, 24-7. It will all come in time. I see your motivation and your drive with so many things and you can put it all out there in the future. For now, enjoy the things you do have! :)

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