Doubt, Work, Struggle, Success: My Road to Publication

The joke between me and a close friend is that it took a relocation to a tiny town, a blown knee, and a national economic collapse to bring me back to writing, so I had better get serious and back to it. I am one of those people who turned away from creative writing as a career because it wasn’t practical enough, and my parents are nothing if not dedicated to middle class pragmatism.

My exile from writing began with excuses—I needed to experience the world and grow as a person, I was busy working, I wasn’t any good at making words happen—and then blossomed into a series of non-starter short stories, some of which I finished poorly and most of which I left to rot on a 3.5-inch floppy disk. By the time I turned 30, I felt miserable about how I’d treated my writing life and I turned, once again, to my journal. I wrote a series of new stories that decade but not for a moment did I presume I was an authentic writer anymore.

And then the cross-country trip, torn ACL—blown out to the melodic stylings of Michael Jackson at my own wedding reception—and the credit market crash left me staring at my laptop screen with no other options for my days. Finally, I heard a little voice tell me to put the last 5 years into a book, a memoir. Oh, who wants to read an autobiography about having a sex change? Let’s get real. Do it, prodded my wife. Give yourself a chance, she said. My friend, who is also my life coach, explained that the universe had gone to great pains to set me up with a ton of writing time. No more 90-minute commutes, no more stressful government job, friendly keyboard waiting for my thoughts; I would never be better situated than this, she explained.

I started writing, a trickle at first, then a healthy stream, and as the snow fell on Walla Walla, cutting us off from even a simple car trip to the local grocery store, a wild storm of words crash landed into the manuscript. Bottled up for so long, so many layers of consternation accumulated, my story burst out of me and I was relieved. The lessons from my writing workshop training reemerged, and I picked at word choice, listened for quality comedic pacing, rewrote, cut scenes, tailored, overwrote, stripped paragraphs, identified themes and hashed out relationship arcs.

I froze at the prospect of publishing. Talking to people who made books happen was a leap from the sidewalk to the penthouse apartment. I’m more inclined toward elevators. Slow and steady is okay, but what about an industry that leaves its participants in long swaths of silence? If I send out a query, will I even get the benefit of a form rejection? With so many people offering contradictory advice for writers, could I get anywhere?

Two years ago on the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association web site, I signed up for their literary contest and their conference, hoping I could find better traction than just combing through agent blogs and submission forms. I took the suggestion of building a web presence and an audience seriously, and started blogging about my process, my memoir, and my interests. I wrote for other people’s blogs for free, gave away short stories, made podcasts of a couple chapters from my book, and kept querying. One rejection turned into a few, and then a dozen. I joked when I hit rejection number 15 that hey, I’ve been rejected more times than JK Rowling! Take that, JK!

One day I opened my email inbox to see a note from the literary contest chairwoman. I braced myself for bad news. When I read the first word, “Congratulations,” I found a way to make it negative. She must mean congratulations are in order for the finalists, who aren’t me. This tactic became moot, at the next word, which was “you.” I was a finalist. I must have read the short note a dozen times. That success, and all of the personal responses I got from agents, even though they were rejections, carried me along to my next attempt at getting published.

Several agents requested partial or full manuscripts, only to tell me later that they didn’t think they were the right agent for me. Always the same language, like I was looking for a love connection. But I did understand that I needed someone else to feel at least my level of excitement for my project. I wrote and revised and updated a book proposal. I researched other books that hit similar markets. I groaned in frustration that it was damned near impossible to get accurate sales figures for them. With one agent we went back and forth, and though I’d gotten further than 99 percent of writers with her process, in the end she took a pass. Maybe if I’d cut 20,000 words, she would consider it again. I learned later that her assistant editor sweated over the wording of the rejection for half an hour.

But that editor became a solid contact, and she talked about my book to a publisher who is working off of a different business model for getting books to market. At this year’s PNWA conference, we talked about my project, now one of three books I’ve written. He guffawed his way through our conversation, a little while after I’d bombed out on my agent appointment. Send me the whole thing, he said.

Two months later I’d nearly given up on hearing back from him. Maybe I’ll self-publish it so I don’t have to think about it anymore. It had been four years since I’d begun writing it, and two published short stories, hundreds of blog articles, dozens of queries, one young adult novel, and a small baby later, he called me on my phone. We want to publish this, he said.

I’m sorry, were “want” and “publish” in the same sentence? In relation to my book?

For someone who tries to describe life in an accessible way, words fail me when I think about articulating my emotions in that moment. I’ll attempt to get away with saying I felt vindicated. Not because another person values my work, not because what I cover in the book was difficult to write, what with the whole sex change angst and all, but because I’ve believed for so long that there is more than a market for this book, there is a need. For the parallels in my story to be seen by others, for people beating themselves up for staying in terrible relationships, or realizing that they’ve got a strange and challenging journey ahead of them, for queer youth who so rarely get a dose of positive role models, and most certainly for folks who get through painful or confusing moments with belly laughs.

I am a klutz. I have chronic neuroses that make strange bedfellows with an overactive imagination. I tread carefully until I see the humor in front of me, and then I forget every protection.

And I know there are millions more of me out there. Some of you are writers. I’m here to say, as trite as it may sound, don’t give up.

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9 Comments on “Doubt, Work, Struggle, Success: My Road to Publication”

  1. November 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Congratulations! I am so excited for you, and I have to say, I’ve been excited to read this book since the first time I came across your blog. I’m so glad I’ll get a chance to read it, and I’m very happy for you.

    • evmaroon
      November 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

      Thanks so much, Laura! You stop by the patisserie when it’s out and I’ll be happy to sign one for you! I appreciate your support!

  2. November 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    How very exciting for you! Congratulations!!

    • evmaroon
      November 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

      Thanks! I can’t wait to hit the pavement publicizing it…in a non-annoying, productive, and fun way, of course.

  3. November 16, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Congratulations, ex-coworker! Miss you but are happy for your success!
    karen Mc at the old cubicle farm

  4. November 16, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I’ve been lurking on your site for a while, enjoying all your wonderful posts. You really deserve this; you’ve worked for it. Maybe there’s hope for traditional publishers after all.
    Congratulations!

    • evmaroon
      November 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks so much, Kirsten and Karen! It has been a long time coming, and I’m more than excited to get the memoir to market and talk to folks about this project. It’s near and dear to my heart.

  5. Jen
    November 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Facebook has me too well-trained. All I want to do is hit “like” to a great number of these posts and there’s no button for it. Sigh! So instead I have to resort to using my own words — and all I have is CONGRATULATIONS! Well-deserved! And please, could I bring a copy by and get it signed too? 😀

    • evmaroon
      November 18, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      I appreciate your continued support and cheer leading, Jen! But do let me point out that there is a “like” button for every WordPress article I post. Feel free to click it at the bottom of the posts you really like! Of course I’ll sign a copy for you, silly. Nothing would please me more!

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