Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Book-of-the-Month Club

The Book of the Month Club
At the end of 2012, I was sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been working on a writing career since I first moved to Utah in 1988, and although I’ve had some small successes, published two books with niche presses and won several writing awards, the all-elusive benchmarks of having an agent and signing with a big-name publisher had never come to be.

Oh sure, I’d pitched to agents, who requested both partial and full manuscripts, then I never heard from them again. Not even a-thanks-but-no-thanks email, even after I sent them a follow-up. I guess ignoring the writer is the newest trend in giving a rejection. Maybe it’s easier on the agent, or at least less time consuming.

Meanwhile, as an author, and like many others I know, we all sit at home, thinking surely a phone call, a letter, or an email will come sometime soon saying “YES, I’d love to represent you.” But that moment never came.

The editors I met with were a little better, albeit not much. About half of them had the courtesy to respond, even though about half of those were form letters, often poorly photocopied, but a response at least, even if the answer was “No, thank you.”  

“I love your writing, but it’s just not right for my list.”

“We’ve decided to pass.”

“Good luck finding a house for your work.”

Right. Good luck with that. If my book isn’t the next-big-thing then I can forget about finding a traditional publisher.

I don’t write about vampires, dystopian America, or erotica so that throws out the possibility of catching the current wave, which really isn’t current at all since those topics have all been covered and covered again in the last few years.

So what is the next new wave? What should I be writing and submitting?

“We’ll know it when we see it.”

Right again. Finding that one on my own is more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Stand about 500 feet away and throw the dart, hoping you pop the right balloon to win the prize. Oh, and you have to do it before anyone else does, yet be so much like everyone else’s story that the publishers know what to do with it, how to market, where to shove it into a category, and it had better be hot, hot, hot when it comes to sales or you’re right back where you started from.

That’s when I started to look at my writing realistically.

I love to write. I know how to tell a good story. Readers have enjoyed my work enough that the reviews have been good and I’ve won awards from a variety of writing contests. But I’m not getting any younger, and the books I’ve written have been rejected by every agent or editor who has requested them, and everyone else I’ve simply queried. There came a point when I told my critique group—most of you know them and the powerhouse bunch of published authors they are—that I didn’t think I could do this anymore. I was tired of the rejection, tired of spending every evening, weekend or summer vacation writing away and never seeing any acceptance letters as a result.

I was done with writing.

So I came home and took some time off. It was hard. My characters kept calling out to me, begging for their stories to be finished. Those that were already done, complained about how tired they were of sitting on my computer hard drive, constantly being backed up to make sure they didn’t one day disappear altogether. They wanted to be read by people who would love them.

And that’s all I wanted for them as well. I didn’t need a huge contract with a large advance. Of course that would be nice, but I didn’t need it, and if the truth be known, I wasn’t sure I ever even really wanted that. A contract came with its own set of obligations—new books, topics sometimes chosen at the discretion of the editor and publisher, rather than the characters who spoke to me, written on a schedule that allowed a full year to pass from one publication to the next, and promotion that possibly meant travel and time on the road that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with physically, as well as finding a way to travel when I still have a son at home who needs a parent.

What I wanted was to write the books I wanted, at the speed I wanted to write them, to have the way to publish them, and to find the right audience who wanted to read them. I don’t have a single platform—I have many. I write novels for middle grade, young adult and adult audiences. I write for LDS readers, and non-LDS readers. I write non-fiction for both groups as well, and the range of topics is broad—memoir, education, and history so far, with lots of other ideas swirling around in my head.

The email messages started coming in from the members of my group: “You can’t quit.”

And the characters in my head told me they were right.

So in December, I made a decision. If publishers didn’t want to buy my books, then I’d need to move on without them. I had readers who were tired of waiting and I was too.

That’s where my 2013 goal came in. I would publish a book-a-month, even if I had to do it on Kindle. I made a list of all the books I had already written that were sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a home. I added the manuscripts that were nearly done as well, and found, that even with not yet counting the two manuscripts I had out waiting for a response from traditional publishers, that I had enough books close enough to completion to meet my goal. (Since then, both of those books have been formally rejected, so they are now a part of my master list of books that will be lining up on Amazon, ready for an instant download to the readers who want them.)

In January, my goal started to become a reality. Leona & Me, Helen Marie was the first entry out of the gate, just like it was the first novel I ever wrote. Based on the stories my mother told me about her childhood, growing up in southern Indiana, this middle grade novel is near and dear to my heart. It was written shortly after my mother passed away and I am thrilled that the two beautiful girls on the front cover are actually my mom, Helen Marie, and my aunt, Leona Mae.

February was highlighted by the release of A Note Worth Taking, adorned with a new cover that placed it into the Small Town U.S.A. series. Although some readers have tried to read themselves into this novel, when it comes right down to it, it’s a story I made up in my mind. Sure, some of the events are based on truth, but the conflict and resolution, and the characters who play key roles are purely fiction. I’ve taught school for over 30 years, and I’m here to tell you, when it comes to girl drama, there is nothing new under the sun, so you could change the names a million times and people would still wonder, “Is this about ME?”

The digital version of When Hearts Conjoin was available starting in March. As the credited ghostwriter of this family drama/memoir, I was pleased to be the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for Non-Fiction Literary Arts after its original publication, and I was thrilled to work with New York Times Best-selling author Richard Paul Evans throughout the entire publication stage that brought the book to you.  

I celebrated my birthday with the release of Tides Across the Sea, a YA historical with a hint of romance. This book is set to be the first in a series called The Explorers, with novels about Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky already outlined on my computer, waiting their turn at draft. Tides saw its performance debut at Payson Jr. High when I read it to a class of 7th graders, one of whom who decided to act the entire thing out as I read to the group.

Currently I’m doing a final read through and proof of Just Like Elizabeth Taylor, which will be my May release. This YA novel was the winner of the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition for Juvenile Fiction, as well as The League of Utah Writers Juvenile Novel of the Year. Although the topic is darker than most of my books, it is filled with hope, friendship, and a silver-lining at the end.

That brings us to the date of this blog post, but the list won’t stop there.

Not all of my releases will be fiction, although those are coming too. Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith; Living in an Osmond World; Been There, Done That, Bought the T-Shirt; and volume 2 of Books, Books, and More Books: A Parent and Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Literature are all in the running for the summer release spots. Temporary Bridesmaid, Carny, and Ebenezer are on my summer vacation agenda for revision or completion.

And who knows what else I might write or resurrect between now and the end of the year.

Nothing is set in stone as to which one comes next, so if you have a preference shout it out so I can see what I can do to make your request available soon.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and a HUGE thank you to those of you who also take the time to leave reviews at Amazon and GoodReads. Word-of-mouth is the best advertizing when it comes to discovering and sharing books. As a former English teacher and now school librarian, I’ve seen kids pick up books and read them just because someone they respected told them it was good. I hope that some of my readers will feel inclined to do the same thing, and whenever possible, I’ll return the favor for you.

Leave a response on the blog, send me a tweet, or a message on my Facebook wall, and I’d be happy to recommend a book to you.


Michele Holmes said...

Beautiful post, Lu Ann. Your stories are SO worth reading, and I'm glad you're going to share them and keep them coming.

Kate said...

so inspiring....proud of you LuAnn

Whitney Awards Admin said...

You inspired me to do some books through indie publishing as well.

Heather Moore said...

You also inspired me, Lu Ann, to put up some of my own dusty manuscripts on Kindle :-)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Great post, Lu Ann! Glad you're doing this.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Great post, Lu Ann. I'm glad you're doing this!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Thanks everyone. I'm pleased with my books, and I ADORE my cover designer, Jaimey Grant at An Author's Art. I promised to recommend a few books to those of you who posted. Here's the best of what I've read in the past month: Wonder by R. J. Palacio; Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare; Cragbridge Hall: The Inventor's Secret by Chad Morris; Lost Then Found and The Daisy Chain, both by Heather B. Moore. (Hey, Heather, that's YOU!)

Marsha Ward said...

Good for you, Lu Ann!

Diony said...

Cheers to you Lu Ann!!!

Jane Marie said...

That's a really great post, all true, all valid points! But it's also discouraging to think that someone of your experience has gotten all rejections. I went the query/submissions route for a while and then chucked that and have self published 2 on Amazon. I have great reviews and lots of fans. But But as for my experiences so far with authors who have agents and publishers, I'm not impressed. They seem to want Indie authors kept in their place, like they're REAL authors and I'm not. Much of the LDS lit that's out there right now seems to me mediocre at best and blah at worst. They are NOT better than me, they are not better than you. But a lot of them seem to think they are.

Daron D. Fraley said...

Great post, LuAnn. Welcome to the indie market!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Jane Marie, I've seen some of that as well, but I also know that more authors are following BOTH venues today. Look at the success my fellow critique group members Heather B. Moore, Annette Lyon, and Sarah M. Eden are having with their romance anthologies, non-fiction, and novellas. I think there is a place for ALL of us in the world. It's just a matter of finding the right reader base, and feeling proud of the work we are doing, whichever way we publish.

Tristi Pinkston said...

You are amazing, Lu Ann!!

Jennifer Thompson said...

Reading your post, LuAnn, reminded me of my own 137 rejections from agents and publishers for THE SCENT OF A SOUL. In the end, when Travis and I decided it was time to self-publish, I cried. But your comments ring true. It is so important to remember to just keep moving forward. Wonderful things are to come!

Tim Ernst said...

Isn't it interesting how just as in writing so as in many aspects of our lives, at the moment that we are ready to quit, shut doors are silently being prepared to open. If we do give up, then perhaps we never nudge those shut doors open far enough to discover what was beyond them.
This is an excellent blog, reminding us all that our opportunity might just be around the corner waiting for us. Typically, all we need is a little more time, patience and effort.
As LuAnn told me when I expressed my frustration recently, "Ah, you're now ready to move up to the next level." and suggested I read this blog entry. The words of the entry were so reminiscent of what I had been feeling, that I felt like nodding my head at each comment.
Thanks for putting into words your experience. It is a good reminder of why we should never give up!