Publishing Journey: The Contract (aka Why Writers Need Agents)

When my agent told me we made a deal with St. Martin’s Press, I thought the contract would be signed the next day and I’d be on my way. Um, no. Turns out the wheels turn kind of slowly. I got my book deal in early November and I just signed the contract this month. In that waiting time, I was pretty much assuming that everyone had changed their mind. Even now that I’ve signed it, I still don’t believe it’s real.

signed book contract
I had no idea what a contract involved, so I assume many fellow writers don’t either. First of all, the thing is 30 pages. I realized as I read it that *this* is why writers really, really need agents. There is a lot of stuff in there that is confusing lawyer speak. This is an agent’s everyday life though. Agents know what’s standard, what’s negotiable, what’s fair. I would not have felt comfortable signing it without my agent’s input.

Here is what a publishing contract includes:

  • Description of the work in question (duh) and granting of author rights
  • The amount of the advance and how it will be paid (I’ll have to do another post about this)
  • Royalty percentages (for hardcover editions, paperback editions, mass-market paperback editions, electronic editions, audio editions, etc, etc, etc)
  • Additional and subsidiary rights (first serial rights, second serial rights, selection rights, translation rights, etc, etc, etc—I had to ask my agent what all this meant and I’m still fuzzy)
  • Licensing information
  • Intellectual property ownership declaration—writer owns the copyright, basically
  • Rules about “competitive works”—publishing house gets first dibs to things, basically
  • The date the final manuscript is due (mine is March 1 and I haven’t received my final edits yet—gahhh!)
  • “Will publish by” date—within 18 months of acceptance of the manuscript
  • How to submit future works for publication (I’ll have to do another post about this)
  • Who the author’s agent is and the agency’s role in the whole shebang
  • And a bunch of other stuff about how the publishing house can use your bio and photo, how you get a certain number of copies of the book (and your agent does too), how accounting and payments will work, what happens if publication is discontinued, how the author’s estate comes into play (like if I croak), etc, etc, etc

Like I said, I didn’t really know what most of this meant, or if it was industry standard or what. I had to put trust in my agent, 100%. This is why authors should seek out an agent who has been around the block a few (hundred) times and, preferably, is part of a bigger agency that has experience and respect. There were a few rounds of back-and-forth between my agent and the publishing house to finalize some details, most of which were kind of over my head. In the end, the contract is signed and I’m very excited to start the next part of this journey.

Writing for control

Sometimes when I read Poets & Writers magazine, I come across an article that is so good that I must tear it out for safe keeping. I put it in a folder labeled “writing stuff.” In the latest issue, I tore out “Quieting the Mind” by Sarah Herrington. And then I promptly followed her on Twitter.

Yes, I highlight my magazines. I have problems.

Yes, I highlight my magazines. I have problems.

In the article, she writes about how she did a 10-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat and, by day 2, hid in a bathroom stall with her contraband–a pen and paper–because she HAD to write. I know the feeling.

“Halfway through, I saw how ridiculous I must have looked, hiding on that cold tile, gripping a pen like a fiend. I realized that while I meant to check in with myself through journaling, I was actually checking out. Afraid of the intensity of this new experience, I thought I could sort it all into vowels and consonants. Yet instead of helping me gain insight, documenting was acting as an escape. Like an Instagram user snapping constant photos on a trip instead of looking around, enjoying the moment, I was so busy chronicling that I wasn’t being.”

She decides to tear up the paper and ditch the pen, striving to “feel directly rather than shape those sensations into words.” And she’s successful–with the whole “feeling directly” thing. I know I would have had a hard time with it.

From the time I was really young, I used writing to understand myself and my world. There was a lot of navel-gazing going on. My first book was a memoir. Even in fiction stories, I was really just writing about parts of myself. I’d just change the hair color of the main female character as a way to say, “See, it’s not ME!”

In addition to fiction, I journaled ferociously. I was dependent on journals between the ages of 8 and 28 (two decades!). I couldn’t imagine NOT having that place to vent all my emotions. But I was really just controlling my universe with all that scribbling. I was trying to fit experiences into meaningful boxes because I couldn’t just let them exist with all the vagueness that is life.

Sarah writes: “I remember inventing poems at age fifteen, sprawled on shag carpet in my flowered bedroom in upstate New York. Then, writing helped me understand feelings so big I couldn’t make sense of them unless I had a pen. I dismantled them one by one: sadness, anger, even happiness.”

Yes, I get this. It’s no wonder that I journaled so much during years of my life that were particularly difficult. In my late twenties, I came to a much better place and, not so surprisingly, I stopped journaling. It was gradual. I remember finishing a paper journal and just not buying a new one. [Side note: I always wrote in hard copy journals, never online. I saved every single journal, deeply attached to what I wrote, though I never actually went back and read them. When I was a teenager, I asked my parents for fireproof safes for Christmas to store them. I still have them–the safes and the journals. I’m not sure if I should keep them or ditch them.]

Then I started journaling online by typing up thoughts in an email and sending it to myself. It was really just a way to vent. Then, I stopped doing that. I just didn’t feel the same need to make sense of things like I once did. I wasn’t so lost anymore. And I was more okay with surrendering to the world, not trying to make sense of every little event and feeling. I was giving up control.

Around the time I gave up my journaling addiction, my fiction changed, too. My novels evolved to be stories that were nothing like my real life. I even experimented with male narrators. These days, I can say that my fiction is truly fiction. Sometimes, a struggle or scenario from my personal life will weave its way in to a story, but it’s usually subconscious and probably recognizable only to me.

What hasn’t changed is that I still need to write. It’s not so much about myself or my daily life, but I still need it. I mentioned to my mom the other day that I’d started writing a new novel and she said, “That’s ambitious of you.” I don’t see it that way though. Ambition implies some premeditation and an end goal. I really haven’t thought that far ahead. In fact, it doesn’t make much sense for me to write something new when I have to do final edits on my existing book. There’s just this story in my head and I have to write it. I just have to. It’s a compulsion. Giving in to it and starting to eek out the story gives me a happiness I haven’t found with anything else.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
bradbury

On “following your passion” (or not)

This post may sound contradictory to my last “push through rejection and keep writing” post, but I don’t see it that way. It could be a footnote to that post, or a part 2. If part 1 was “keep going,” part 2 is, “but don’t quit your day job.”

When I was in my early twenties, I had fantasies of spending the entirety of my days writing fiction. I wasn’t really mature enough to consider income. I didn’t even know what real life cost at that point. I was tutoring part-time and working on a novel, trying to please my first agent who had signed me based on just hearing the story at a party (I think she was drunk). One day, she was in L.A. for a conference or something and suggested we meet at Jerry’s Deli to chat. I went, feeling very high and mighty as an up-and-coming writer having a meal with her literary agent. And then she proceeded to squash my dreams (or that’s how I saw it at the time).

We discussed my novel and how it was going and then she said I should get a job. Like, a real job. I was offended. And hurt. I thought this was her way of saying she didn’t believe in me. I left in a huff. I hated her for saying what she did. But now I realize it was really good advice, just harshly delivered.

The thing is that the writing business is hard. Even if you get published, the money is modest. I didn’t realize that at the time. When she told me she thought she could get me a $50,000 book deal, I thought that was a fortune that would last me the few years needed to write another book. Again, I had no idea what real life cost. I didn’t know that taxes suck. I didn’t know much at all. She was right–I had to get a job.

Reluctantly, I did take her advice. I went into copywriting, working in marketing at first, then finding a niche in pharmaceutical advertising. I have some financial security now, which frees up my creativity. Basically it’s like this: Because I’m not worried about my next mortgage payment, I have brain space to worry about my next chapter.

I say all this in response to something I read recently. Mike Rowe, the hilarious host of “Dirty Jobs,” gave a speech in which he said “follow your passion” was the worst advice he ever received. Someone wrote in to question this apparent cynicism and discouragement, and here is some of the wisdom Mike shared:

“Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though its wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe

 

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?”

(Read the whole thing here.)

There is a point in my life when I would have scoffed at this. But I don’t now. He is right on. Yes, you should pursue your passion, but don’t let that pursuit prevent you from having a successful, content life. Writing fiction is my passion (though I still struggle with that word; I told a friend recently that it’s less of a passion and more of an outright need). But, honestly, I’m too practical to just write fiction. I’m glad I have a separate career because this novel-writing thing seems to be a crap shoot, even with a lovely agent and a huge publishing house backing me. Am I passionate about my day job? No, not really. I enjoy it. I do it well. But, mostly, it allows me to exercise my left brain (and a little right brain on good days) so I’m ready to write fiction in my off time.

I do a lot of thinking about the “point” of life. What I hear in addition to “Follow your passion” is  “Go after what you really want.” I find similar fault with that advice. Want? If I did that today, for example, I’d still be in bed, cuddling my puppy and watching re-runs of “Shark Tank” (latest obsession). But, no, I’m at work because I have a job and I want to be a productive member of society. I think it’s unrealistic to always follow what we want. And it’s dangerous for society to equate such a pursuit with “happiness.” I’m happy and my days are not spent indulging my every desire. My days are spent balancing things in a practical way. I have to sacrifice wants all the time. I’d love to be working on my new novel right now (yes, I couldn’t help but start something new…more on that in another post), but I have to get ready for a meeting. That’s life. And I’m totally fine with it.

On rejection

If someone told me they wanted to be a writer, I would say, “Ok, I hope you’re good with rejection.” It’s funny how writers are some of the most sensitive people and publishing is such a harsh, brutally blunt industry.

rejection letter

Some fun facts:

  • Robert M. Pirsig received 121 rejections of his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by 12 presses
  • One rejection letter for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby said, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character”
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times, with one letter saying it was “rubbish and dull”

On the way to getting my book deal, I got lots of rejections. Lots. Along these lines: “Kim has great style, but the story just didn’t pull me in.” “I liked the premise, but not her style.” “The structure is interesting, but possibly problematic.” “There is something about the pacing of the story that kept me from falling under its spell.” “I relate to the main character, but the overall story didn’t grab me enough.” “The main character is not likeable.” “It’s just not a right fit for our list.”

It’s hard to make sense of the feedback, honestly. Editors contradict each other. What one person loves, another hates, and vice versa. It’s maddening if you try to change your book in response to rejection letters. In the end, I think you have to stick with your gut. If someone comes along who sees something in you, and they request a revision, consider it, if it feels right. I had to revise my story from its original vision, but ultimately, I knew it was better revised.

As Louise Desalvo, writer and teacher, says in Poets & Writers magazine, “Agents and editors often act as if they can predict the future. Their job is to sell books, not write them. They study the marketplace, and they make judgments, often not about whether the work is good but upon whether it’s marketable.” It’s important to remember those words, to detach a little and not take the feedback too personally. The goal, after all, is to find someone who believes in you. It’s like finding a mate–be yourself and wait for someone who adores that person.

Desalvo goes on: “The problem with rejection letters is that they sound authoritative. And therein lies the challenge for us writers. Writers often lose heart and decide to stop work and abandon their projects. They mistakenly hear ‘The work is no good,’ rather than ‘I don’t want to represent or publish this work.'”

She advises writers to adopt this policy: “Whether a publisher likes this or not, I’m committed to writing this work as best I can.” It’s a good policy, a policy that helps keep things focused and simple so you stay sane. Sanity is good.

Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for Eat, Pray, Love, has said, “Your job is only to write your heart out and let destiny take care of the rest.” I don’t know about the destiny bit. Destiny implies just sitting back passively, thinking fate has all this power. I busted my ass to get a book deal. I think most writers do the same. Still, though, she’s right in that the writer’s job is to complete the work; the agent and editor are tasked with deciding if it’s good enough to be published.

Jo Ann Beard, author of The Boys of My Youth, said, “I first thought of myself as a writer when I got a rejection slip. That was a defining moment–meeting such a worthy adversary.” I kind of felt the same thing. It was a feeling of, “Oh my god, someone read my stuff. They didn’t like it, but they read it.” Of course, that got old really fast. Ha. But, still, EVERY writer faces rejection. When you get a letter, you’re part of a club. Welcome.

One last fun story: Stephen King–STEPHEN KING–started sending out work (and getting rejection letters) when he was just a teenager. He pounded a nail into the wall and stuck his rejection slips on it. He said, “By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled on it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Moral of the story? As cheesy as it sounds, don’t give up.

 

Why I can’t be “a writer”

Earlier this week, I saw this post on McSweeney’s: “27 Reasons Why I Can Never Be a Writer” by Michelle Webster-Hein. It’s hilarious. I highly recommend you click over (and then come back here because I’ll miss you).

Her list inspired me to write my own. I am a fiction writer, for better or worse, but here are my 27 reasons why I might be in the wrong line of work.

1. I don’t like coffee shops.
2. I don’t even like coffee.
3. I have never taken hallucinogenics.
4. I like financial security.
5. I have 20/20 vision.
6. I don’t have any strange piercings or tattoos.
7. I displayed an extreme lack of creativity in naming my cat “Little Kitty.”
8. In a fire, if I had to grab one item, it would be my retainers.
9. I thought Tenth of December was really weird.
10. I have brain space dedicated to knowing the names of Gwyneth Paltrow’s children.
11. I used Cliff’s Notes all throughout high school.
12. I’ve never smoked a cigarette.
13. I have no issues with my parents.
14. I have no real issues, period.
15. There were some years when I was depressed, but I’m not anymore.
16. I’m boring.
17. I haven’t had any interesting experiences in third world countries.
18. Except… no… wait, that was in Spain.
19. I did way better on the math part of the SAT than I did on the reading.
20. I get buzzed on one glass of wine.
21. When I get really excited about something, I shadowbox (ask my husband).
22. Nobody has ever said, “You’re such a trip” to me.
23. I have no interest in reading Anna Karenina.
24. If you asked me my favorite 19th century writer, I’d have to Google “19th century writers.”
25. I don’t own any shoes like these.
26. I keep up with the Kardashians.
27. I’m afraid of Virginia Woolf.

There are certain “writer” stereotypes that do pertain to me. I like cats. And cardigans. And tea. And Bob Dylan. And candlelight. And rain pelting windows. But, yeah, I’m not an emo hipster with a quill pen, that’s for sure. That’s fine with me.

don't be a writer

 

 

 

Resolutions.

Yesterday, I went to a yoga class and the owner of the studio asked if I had any resolutions for 2015. I was stumped. I don’t really do resolutions. I kind of just tackle new goals as they come up. Maybe this relates to me having a hard time seeing the big picture, the proverbial forest for the trees. I have resolutions for each day; for the year? That seems rather overwhelming.

But, let’s face it. Now that I have my book deal and publication of my first book looming (!!!), I should probably start thinking bigger. So, while I still don’t have any resolutions for my life, in general, I do have some writing-related resolutions:

1. Less Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, blah blah blah.
It kind of disgusts me how much time I spend looking at stupid shit. I mean, yes, some of the stuff is not stupid. I follow some great people and organizations. But, I could get all the information I need from them by checking in once or twice a day. So, that’s my goal: 1-2 check-ins on social media per day. It’s a waste of time, and it really interrupts the “flow” of creativity. I used to get writer’s block and just sit with it. Now I wander over to Facebook and, an hour later, I’m looking at photos of dogs and wondering who I’ve become.

2. Read more books than last year. 
Last year, I read 26 books. So, more than that. Some people aim for a book a week, but I really don’t know if I can commit to such a goal. So, let’s try for 27.

3. Finish *final* edits on my novel.
Yes, even though the book deal is official, I’ve been told another round of edits is coming. I can’t wait for the book to be done DONE. My editor says most authors hate the nerve-wracking, waiting-for-pub-date phase, but I will love it. I have so many stories I want to jump into. There are ants in my pants…

which brings me to…

4. Start a new novel.
I have some old books I could revisit and rework… but I also have an idea for a new story that is kind of nagging at me like an annoying toddler. What to do? This Annie Dillard quote makes me think I have to go with the urgency and excitement of the new idea… But does that mean I’ll never come back to the old stories? Maybe…

annie dillard

5. Connect to the writing and reading community.
I recently joined Twitter (@KimHooperWrites) after much hemming and hawing. I used to make fun of Twitter by saying, “that sounds like something kids did at raves in the 90s.” And, sheepishly, there I am, TWEETING. It is really cool to meet so many people who love reading and writing, though. I can’t meet that many people in “real life.”

What are your resolutions (writing and otherwise) for 2015?

On reading (and why the book must not die)

I saw an article in my Facebook feed the other day titled, “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction.” The “surprising” thing is that those readers have better relationships (you can read the article here), but I was more stuck on the title. STILL read fiction? The “still” makes it sound like reading fiction is an absurd notion, like, “I still suck my thumb at night” or “I still run with a Discman” or “I still watch movies on VHS.” The “still” makes it seem like reading fiction is a dying hobby.

Is it?

I sure hope not. I don’t just say that because I’m publishing a freaking novel next year (woohoo!), but because I LOVE to read. We just got one of those cushy leather chairs with an ottoman for our living room and I can’t explain the joy I felt jumping into it and curling up with a book. I read for 3 hours straight one day over the holiday break and I felt amazing. Reading is total comfort to me, like mac-n-cheese or episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I can’t imagine my life without it.  Am I that alone in saying such a thing? Please say no.

ShortList.com humored me with quotes from 40 Famous Authors on Reading to make me feel better. Those of us who love reading better unite (and keep buying books). I fear the “or else.”

Here are some favorites:

Ernest Hemingway: “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

JD Salinger: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

Stephen King: “Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”

Maya Angelou: “When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”

Gustave Flaubert: “The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature.”

Honoré de Balzac: “Reading brings us unknown friends.”

Henry Miller: “We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.”

Kurt Vonnegut: “I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

JK Rowling: “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”

Vladimir Nabokov: “Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.”

And this is my very favorite (from George R.R. Martin):

a reader lives

>> Read all 40 quotes