Friday, April 24, 2009

The Self Saboteur

I don't think I ever wrote in here how I sabotaged my own book so let me tell this miserable tale now.

I wrote my book, Seven Sisters, a kind of funny and tragic memoir about growing up one of seven sisters with Holocaust Survivor parents in Skokie, Illinois, and then I sent out query letters to literary agents. Four ended up interested in reading the manuscript, which was unbelievable. One of them was a big agent and very reputable, and, little did I know, the top agent for 6-figure deals on Publisher's Weekly.

After she became my agent - she did not require a written contract - I forwarded the revision she wanted, but then she appeared to cool off and I got very worried. She had seemed very excited about the book, calling and emailing all the time, and suddenly I wasn't getting responses to my emails and no call back to the one phone call I had made. Still, to be professional, I withdrew the manuscript from consideration with the other agents. Suddenly one of those other agents, with a very big agency, solicited me in response to my withdrawal email, saying that she had just finished reading the manuscript and was very disappointed that I was represented and if my situation changed I should contact her. 1st agent appeared to be cooling off, the next agent was interested, but for how long? And I didn't have a formal, written contract. I thought it'd be my last chance. So I jumped. Big mistake.

1st agent was livid. She had been working on revisions with her staff on her end. Second agent had me sign a written contact and ended up so cold, so frigidly professional, and kept so many walls up that I never knew what was going on. Outcome: 25 turn downs from 25 publishers.

I'm not proud to admit that I showed a lot of character flaws when things went so well so quickly. I thought I was going to be instantly famous and rich, certainly super rich. I thought to myself, hmmm - do I look for a house that costs two million dollars, or more? I thought about talk shows and that husband would have to get used to someone else bringing in an income around here, that I'd finally have some monetary value - a big deal for a person who quit her job in insurance 5 years ago, is part-time administrator for our store, and taught one college English class at a Community College, which paid $2200, once I got my Master's degree. Needless to say, the fame and wealth never materialized. All that materialized for me was something that turns out to have been more valuable: a badly needed lesson in humility.

It's quite a struggle to feel that sure, I'm a pretty good mom, and yes, thank goodness I've got a great marriage, and yes, I'm thankful for everything - my best friend, my sisters, my home, our business, my mother. But, without diminishing any of that, what I really am is a writer and I was put on this earth to write that book. And the darn thing is written. It's not like I have writer's block! Here it sits in my computer, unpublished.

After I severed the contract with the second agent, I felt like I'd been in a war and a tank had driven over me. I've written every day for years, but for awhile there the well was so dry, I was so forlorn, that I could only write one haiku a day, 17 syllables. And I'm very verbose. But then I decided to go at it a different way. They can't sell a book by an unknown writer? Fine, I'll become a known writer. I'll take first a Nonfiction writing class to learn how to write feature articles, and then a Freelancing class and I'll make a name for myself.

It's okay that I wasn't meant to cut to the head of the line - I'm okay with things not being easy. I'm okay with having to work hard, even really hard. I'm even okay with the fact that for some miserable reason I was actually meant to hit rock bottom on this thing, to have crowed about this to the entire world when things went well and then be forced to stand up, face everyone, and tell the truth about the outcome. I'm okay with being brought down to the size of just one ordinary human being who learned a very hard lesson indeed. I'm just not okay with it being impossible.


  1. its not. its easy to jump early when you're excited. i'd be very interested in reading your book. i think the whole publishing thing is very political. not in the activist sort of way but the high school sort of way - who ya know with all the red tape nonsense that goes along with planning and executing some social event, a weedding say...or a bar mitzvah - lots of rules and supposed toos.

    im impressed and inspired by your 'go it another way' technique. and grateful, that for us readers there'll be more of you out there to read.

  2. Ugh. Such a heart wrenching story, but at least it will give you some other funny material when you finally land that interview with Oprah.

  3. Linda,
    I happen to know that I know of few people who have worked harder at writing that you have. I am not convinced you were trying to take cuts to the head of the line. The bottom line is that you had several very top agents that wanted your book and you chose an agent with your "heart" that ended up being very lazy and not doing her not forget that part of it!! I am here to be your memory when you are being too hard on yourself! Three New York agents who are very well known loved your book!!!! Hellooooooo....Keep going...All is Well!!!