THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Memories of a Published Author (and giveaway)
by Julie Lessman
Close your eyes. Can you hear it? The jangle of the spurs? The reverberation of guitar strings? The haunting wah-wah voice while Clint Eastwood strolls into the desert graveyard for a showdown with an Italian cigar slowly rolling in his mouth? And then, all at once, beyond your control … your stomach growls and you realize you’re hungry for spaghetti. (Sorry, for all you sweet, young things out there, you’ll just have to ask a baby boomer what that means.)
Ah, memories. Ol’ Clint mowing ‘em down with his Colt 1851 Navy revolver in a movie about three gunslingers who dig and claw their way to gold buried in a cemetery. Which, now that I think of it, is faintly reminiscent of a writer’s golden dreams of publication—we dig and claw in the sands of unpubbed island in search of the “gold” while editors, agents and contest judges gun us down. And, as in the case of my 46 rejections for A Passion Most Pure—the potshots keep whizzing by, over and over again!
Sigh … to have our names emblazoned across the cover of a book—oh, yes—a golden dream to be sure, but as the old adage points out, all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s the glint of a jealousy in one’s eyes when somebody gets pubbed instead of you or the sheen of tears when a contest judge slices and dices your ms., or even when a reviewer calls your work “scum reading.” Sniff … will somebody pass the Kleenex, please?
So … as a war-torn veteran of five years (which really needs to be multiplied by five given my CDQ personality that imposes excessive wear and tear on the mind, spirit and tear ducts), I want to talk about the “good, the bad, and the ugly, and no, I’m not talking how a baby boomer CDQ looks first thing in the morning after a rough night of sleep—I’m talking publication and beyond.
Oh, the wide-eyed wonder of being a newbie! There’s something so innocent about it, you know? Like after I finaled in the Golden Heart in 2005 and sent out 25 query envelopes to agents? Yeah, I even stickered those little suckers with a cute, little gold emblem that said “2005 Golden Heart Finalist” because I was certain that would open doors, right? Well, it certainly opened envelopes, yes, each promptly thrown away, no doubt, to the sound of maniacal laughter. But open doors? Uh … not so much.
Which brings me to the “GOOD” on my publication journey. One night an e-mail pops up in my mailbox from a certain Natasha Kern after twenty-four agents had already rejected me, and I’ll be honest—I thought it was a hoax! I mean, come on—I was savvy enough to know that Natasha Kern had appeared in Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the top 25 agents for new writers to have, but when her e-mail asked me to call her at a Portland, Oregon phone number, I balked.
That’s the GOOD, now enter the “BAD” with fear, doubt, trembling and nausea … “What if it’s a scam?” I asked my husband, chewing my lip raw, “or a cruel joke somebody is playing on me?” My eyes flared wide. “I mean, Portland for heaven’s sake—everybody know agents only lived in New York!” “Well, you have nothing to lose by calling, Julie,” my husband said with a squeeze of my hand. Oh, yes, I did, I thought. My confidence (what was left of it), my hope and, yes, even my supper—in that order. I took a deep breath and reread the e-mail three times, which went something like this:
Julie, do you have an agent yet? If not, please call me at this number immediately. I am leaving on a trip and was hoping you could overnight your manuscript so I can read it on the plane.”
Yeah, right. Twenty-four reputable agents send rejection letters through the mail for A Passion Most Pure, and I’m supposed to believe somebody obviously posing as Natasha Kern wants me to express mail my ms. to OREGON, of all places??? And all this after seeing only FIVE pages and a synopsis (her submission guidelines back then) when all the others saw three chapters and a synopsis??? I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t buy it, and yes, the scary part is that I realllllly was that green, and I’m not talking environmentally.
BUT … I was also desperate, so I called … and the GOOD news is it WAS Natasha Kern and yes, she did actually sign me, the poor dear. The BAD news? She didn’t fully realize till after the ink was dry just how many times I’d been rejected. I believe the word she used was “daunting.” But apparently not too daunting for her amazing skills as an agent because she landed a contract for me within six months. OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!
So there I was, a newbie with a three-book deal, visions of sugar plums (masquerading as Ritas, and Christys and 5-star reviews) dancing in my head, completely certain that getting published would validate me as a writer. (Shaking head here.) Boy, did I have my pajamas on, ‘cause I was definitely dreaming.
Not that good things haven’t happened, because they have, but NOBODY warned me about the roller-coaster ride ahead. Sure, I launched into the sky shrieking with hands high when Revell told me A Passion Most Pure was the “fastest fiction release” they’d ever had up to that time (the “good”), then whooped for joy when I crested the height of that coaster with five-star reviews that brought tears to my eyes. But I wasn’t prepared for the plummet down the rails (the “bad”) when sales took a dive along with the economy and 1-star reviews maligned my books, my character and my faith in God.
And that’s when the “ugly” began—tears and self doubts, jealousy and low self-esteem, causing me to question my ability as a writer and whether or not my type of romantic passion was what God had called me to do. An ugliness so painful that I actually considered quitting writing altogether at least a dozen times in the last five years, begging God to PLEASE lobotomize that part of my writer’s brain that was enamored with book sales, contest wins and 5-star reviews.
Well … He didn’t “lobotomize” me, although to some of you, I’m sure it seems like it at times. Nope, He did something even better—He taught me how to defend myself, to draw my Colt and gun down the bad and the ugly, and let me tell you—ol’ Clint has nothing on me! I have learned the true stance of a gunfight—to keep my eyes fixed straight ahead on God (Proverbs 4:25—Let your eyes look straight ahead) and not look to the right: contest wins, book sales or good reviews—or to the left: not finaling in contests, low royalties and scathing reviews (Proverbs 4:27—do not turn to the right or the left) and above all else, guard my heart (Proverbs 23). For me that means:
Praying for blessing on every person who gives me a bad review (now, don’t take this as license to have me pray for you, please!).
Praying for authors of whom I am jealous to go to the bestseller list (my good friend, Julie Klassen is a good example, a true story I talk about in my Seeker blog entitled Oh, For the Love of God, Part 2 at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2008/11/oh-for-love-of-god-part-2.html).
Keeping my mouth free of perversity and corrupt talk far from my lips (Proverbs 24) by asking God to help me to repent and pray when I complain, whine or gossip.
And instead of praying for God to take the desire for awards, good reviews and sales away, to pray for strength to bear up under the job He has given me to do. (This has been a HUGE help to me because God ALWAYS gives you the grace to do what He has called you to do!)
There is no question the life of a published writer—Christian or non—is a blindfolded walk through a minefield of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where a writer can go from being awarded a booby prize for the most rejections in a year like I did at the 2005 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers conference) … to winning the 2009 ACFW Debut Book of the Year for the very same book. But … as Christian writers, we’re not in this alone. We are writing for a God who according to Romans 8:28, makes all things—the good, the bad and the ugly—work out for the good of those who love Him (i.e. those who obey his commands, John 14:15—if you love me, obey me) and are called according to His purpose (which is all of us who are writing for Him!).
I don’t know about you, but for me I plan to aim high and go for the real gold—honoring Him rather than myself—in my attitude, my words and my actions, ONLY doable with His help, of course. Because take it from someone who’s been there WAY more than she likes—fixing my eyes, happiness and hope on contest wins, great book sales or good reviews is nothing but fool’s gold. And trust me—I may be slow for my age, but I’m no fool!
Over the last five years, I’ve learned a lot about the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” as both an aspiring writer and a published one, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you today. Who knows? Maybe I can spare you some pain and give you a push in the right direction.
THE “GOOD” THINGS I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers at http://www.americanchristianfictionwriters.com/), FHL (Faith, Hope & Love at http://www.faithhopelove-rwa.org/) and RWA (Romance Writers of America at http://www.rwanational.org/), both to get connected with other like-minded writers and to learn a lot about your craft.
2.) Took a fiction-writing class and attended writing seminars
3.) Attended writer conferences such as ACFW to learn, to make friends, to network and to pitch to agents and editors.
4.) Join a critique group (you can do that through ACFW).
5.) Purchase and study writing books such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King or Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas, AND invest in a great thesaurus such as The Synonym Finder by Rodale Press or utilize FABULOUS Thesaurus websites like the OneLook Reverse Dictionary(my writer’s bible!!) at http://onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml.
6.) Enter contests for invaluable feedback, growth, confidence, networking opportunities and to get your name out there.
7.) Frequent websites/blogs that deal with writing, such as The Seekers http://seekerville.blogspot.com/, http://www.mybooktherapy.com/index.html , http://www.rachellegardner.com/, Inkwell Inspirations (who have a GREAT page on writing resources!) http://www.inkwellinspirations.com/p/writing-resources.html , and Writer’s Alley http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/ to mention only a few.
8.) Go for an agent first, publisher second.
9.) Query, Query, Query!
10.) Then pray your heart out and put it in God’s hands.
THE “BAD” THINGS I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Compared myself to others, inciting jealousy and ingratitude (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2009/09/conference-cpr-julie-lessman-style-and.html 2.) Queried publishers without an agent (biggest reason my rejections topped at 45 rejections on A Passion Most Pure.
3.) Didn’t get a website or platform till a few months before my first release (NOT GOOD … need to start building that platform NOW.
4.) Wasted time over-editing books when I could have been writing more, especially since publishers pay editors to edit your book!
5.) Didn’t research publishers and their guidelines before I pitched to them. http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2008/03/buckle-up-its-going-to-be-bumpy-ride.html
THE “UGLIEST” THING I DID AS A PUBLISHED ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Went off hormones when I was entering contests — YIKES!! (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2007/10/caution-hormone-free-zone.html
THE “GOOD” THINGS I DID/DO AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR:
1.) Connect with my readers through blog interview/giveaways, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail as much as I can because to be honest, after writing, this is what I love to do the MOST!
2.) Issue a newsletter 2-3 times a year with book excerpts and new covers, giveaways, pix of my reader friends and contests such as having a character named after you in my books.
3.) Build my newsletter list with special contests/giveaways for newsletter recipients only.
4.) Speaking engagements and teaching workshops.
5.) Maintain a weekly personal blog called Journal Jots where I keep my reader friends apprised of all that’s going on in my life and feature contests/giveaways.
6.) Set up blog tours during a book release.
7.) Contact all good reviewers on blog tours and ask them to post their reviews on CBD.com, Amazon.com, etc. Pray for the bad reviewers while staying FAR away from them … J
7.) Sign up for Amazon’s Author Central at https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/landing?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0
7.) Establish a group blog like Seekerville. J
THE “BAD” THINGS I DID AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR:
1.) Scheduled too many book signings. To be honest, according to my publisher, book signings are not worth the time and investment, and I’m inclined to agree.
2.) Scheduled too many blog interviews during a book release—not a good idea if you actually want to write. NOTE: I do believe this is beneficial if you are a new writer trying to get your name out there, but according to my publisher, it’s not an effective use of a writer’s time after you are more established.
3.) Checked my rankings on Amazon WAY too much, which according to my publisher are not valid indicators of sales.
4.) Entered too many unnecessary contests, which is not worth the money, the time and the grief when you don’t final.
5.) Spent too much time on e-mails, especially to reader friends to whom I simply cannot write a generic note to save my soul.
THE “UGLIEST” THING I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Compared myself to other writers. DO NOT DO THIS!!! We are all unique to God, and He has appointed each of us to a particular journey, so embrace where He has you and ENJOY it! Mantra: For His glory, not ours.
2.) Measured my success and worth by sales, figures, contests wins and Amazon rankings, which might work in the secular market, but when you write Christian fiction, these things are NOT an accurate measure of either your success or your self worth … EXCEPT in how you handle them before God!
GIVEAWAY TIME!! Leave a comment by this week, and you will have the chance to win a signed copy of any one of my books including my upcoming release Love at Any Cost.
Thanks, Tamera, for this wonderful opportunity to appear on your blog! I LOVE to hear from reader friends, so if they like, they can contact me through my website at http://www.julielessman.com, either by sending an e-mail via my site or by signing up for my newsletter at http://www.julielessman.com/sign-up-for-newsletter/.
Also, I have a cool blog feature on my website called “Journal Jots” at http://www.julielessman.com/journal-jots1/, which is a very laid-back Friday journal to my reader friends that will give your readers an idea as to my relaxed style of writing. Or readers can check out my favorite romantic and spiritual scenes from each of my books on the “Excerpts” tab of my website at http://www.julielessman.com/excerpts/. Finally, I can be found daily at The Seekers blog at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/, a group blog devoted to encouraging and helping aspiring writers on the road to publication.
Meet the Author:
Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. Winner of the 2009 ACFW Debut Author of the Year and Holt Medallion Awards of Merit for Best First Book and Long Inspirational, Julie is also the recipient of 14 Romance Writers of America awards and was voted by readers as “Borders Best of 2009 So Far: Your Favorite Fiction.”
Chosen as the #1 Romance Fiction Author of the Year in the Family Fiction magazine 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie was also awarded #1 Historical Fiction Author of the Year in that same poll and #3 Author of the Year, #4 Novel of the Year and #3 Series of the year. She resides in Missouri with her husband, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter and is the author of “The Daughters of Boston” series—A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed, and A Passion Denied. Book 1 in her “Winds of Change” series A Hope Undaunted ranked #5 on Booklist’s Top 10 Inspirational Fiction for 2010.
Click on the pictures for information about buying Julie’s novels.