Itching to hear the story of what happens when a writer works hard, hard, hard and doesn’t give up, up, up? One day, she gets a letter in her Inbox from her agent, Steven Chudney, of Chudney Agency, saying that her novel, THE BURIAL CIRCLE, was accepted to be published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in the Summer of 2015! I can’t write these shout-out letters LARGE enough to express how happy I am.
THE BURIAL CIRCLE follows four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the wonders of life.
That is the novel in one run-on sentence. Doesn’t it sound like a novel you’d like to read?
What I want to share with you today is what I learned about writing and the publishing process:
Don’t give up before the miracle. We just don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s the most important part of this message. Whatever you do, whatever you want to do, do not untie your shoelaces and put on your slippers and a nubby bathrobe and sit down in front of the television, telling yourself it was not going to ever happen. It might happen. I have countless messages all around my office. The one that’s most important to me is the one I wrote to myself: “If you give up, you will never forgive yourself.” So I made a promise to myself not to quit. Not ever.
Keep writing. You are in it for the long haul. For every race you compete in, you have to run a lot of miles. Ernest Hemingway threw out hundreds of pages he’d written to get to the spare, very short The Old Man and the Sea. You have to be willing to write and write a lot and then willing to throw a lot of it away.
Allow yourself to write badly. This maxim freed me. I just wrote. I didn’t pay attention to whether it was good or bad. I saved the editing for later, when I could go back and be ruthless. But the first draft is the fast, creative, no-holding-back draft.
If you don’t get the book contract you want from a traditional publishing house, try something else. I didn’t just sit around singing the blues and kvetching about the state of publishing. Instead of waiting for The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle to be published according to my expectations, I decided to self-publish it. (You can order it here.) And I’m so glad I did. I learned a ton about marketing, social media, self-printing and advertising. (Oh, did I mention you can also buy it at Barnes & Noble here?) I realized that a dream might not happen the way you ordered it, but a dream can happen in an entirely new way. It is up to you to dream your dream in a different way.
Blob, blob, blob, as my mother used to say. Meaning, blog, blog, blog. My blog is my website. I created a platform for myself. I came up with the name, The Best Chapter, for writing and living my best chapter. This has become my motto. This has kept me going.
Get a platform. Publishing houses want that. They don’t have the money or the marketing teams to devote to every book. I am happy to promote my novel using the skills I learned promoting The Mom Who Took Off.
Have a concept. Maybe it’s trendy but it’s the truth. Editors say, “it’s important to have a good concept, and one that’s as unique as possible.” William Morrow’s big success now is Christina Baker Kline‘s Orphan Train. It is based on history: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children. Often, people want to read a novel and learn something at the same time.
Stick with your dreams. A long time ago, I decided that even if I would never be published, I would keep writing. I realized I wasn’t writing for the recognition but for the joy of it. In The Burial Circle, I created four women characters along with a host of other characters out of my imagination. Instead of focusing on the destination, I really, really enjoyed the journey. The act of writing. Whatever you do, do with your full heart and stay in the moment.
Be professional. Take yourself seriously. Make time for your work, even if the people around you think it’s wasted time. Even if you secretly think you’re just wasting your time. Creating any kind of art is never a waste of time.
Stick with the winners. Stick with people who support and encourage you. Drop the “friends” who begin sentences with, “I hate to be the one to tell you this but…” Avoid them like carriers of the Bubonic Plague. They are the kiss of death. They want to pull you down into their boat of misery, keep you their captives and sail away. Stick with the people who tell you, as one of my friends did, “Keep the faith about your writing, and when you feel it waning, lean on my belief in you.”
In the upcoming blog posts, I will share the query letter I wrote to my agent, to help you write your own query for the book you are still writing. I will also share some writing exercises I did, the debate on self-publishing versus traditional publishing houses, and my schedule until The Burial Circle comes out in 2015. Stay tuned and now get back to your own work!
Finally, I hope this post gives you encouragement. If it happened to me, it can happen to you. Let this push you on. Never feel you’re too old, too dumb, too untalented. Life is too short not to take a chance. Life is too short not to climb a tree.
Today’s reminder: Make this day a page in the best chapter of your life by doing one small thing you’ve always wanted to do.
Here’s the announcement about THE BURIAL CIRCLE that appeared in The Publisher’s Marketplace.
Michener Center for Writers fellow Karim Dimechkie’s LIFTED BY THE GREAT NOTHING, about a Lebanese-American young man coming of age under a loving roof and a devastating lie, to Lea Beresford at Bloomsbury, at auction, by Ryan Harbage at Fischer-Harbage Agency (World English).
Michigan MFA, Hopwood Award winner, and playwright Mo Daviau’s EVERY ANXIOUS WAVE, a love story interweaving time travel and rock music that spans from 980 AD Mannahatta to a waterlogged Seattle in 2031, to Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s, in a pre-empt, by Jenni Ferrari-Adler at Union Literary (World English)
Operator of the blog Military Spouse Book Reviews, a resource and online book club for military spouses across the country, Andria Williams’ THE FALLS, set against the backdrop of America’s early nuclear ambitions and based on a little-known incident in American history: the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in the nation, which happened in 1961; where a young California woman is forced to move with her officer husband and struggles to assimilate to the claustrophobic culture of suburban military wives, realizing she is falling in love with another man at the same time her husband is trying to save both his family and the town from potential disaster, to Andrea Walker at Random House, in a pre-empt, by Sylvie Greenberg at Fletcher & Company (NA).
National Jewish Book Award finalist Diana Bletter’s debut THE BURIAL CIRCLE, about the lives of four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the sorrows and wonders of life. The author herself is a member of the burial society in her village in Israel, to Rachel Kahan at William Morrow, by Steven Chudney from The Chudney Agency.
Operator of the blog Military Spouse Book Reviews, a resource and online book club for military spouses across the country, Andria Williams’ THE FALLS, set against the backdrop of America’s early nuclear ambitions and based on a little-known incident in American history: the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in the nation, which happened in 1961.
My original title was, The Women’s Burial Circle. Steven asked, “Are you wedded to the title?” I wrote, “I’m not wedded to anything except my husband, Jonny.” So, the tentative title is, The Burial Circle. What do you think? Will that attract more readers? Less women? More men?