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. I 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.