On the Fifth Day of Posting, My Muse Did Say to Me…by Deb Jess

This week’s posting topic had me circling my desk. What has publishing taught me, I’d think. What has publishing taught me, I’d mumble aloud. Then I’d sink into my chair and tick my pen against my front teeth, staring out the window at the rabbits scampering about. Then I’d think, Gee, it must be nice to be a rabbit … well, except for that poor little guy that crawled under our porch to die a few months ago. Then I’d leap out of my chair and start circling my desk again. What has publishing taught me…

You see, it’s not that publishing has taught me nothing. The problem is that publishing has already taught me a great deal. And so many of these lessons have already been more eloquently observed earlier this week. And yesterday by a multi-published, amazing author. All of which has reduced me to a puddle of panic, typing things like, “Publishing has taught me to be patient. The End” and then deleting it in a fit and wandering outside to refill my birdfeeders and spy on the neighbors.

Okay. Now really. Here’s the thing. Publishing? Is a business. (But you knew that already.) Writing? Is what you do because you must. It’s both your compulsion and your art. Well, it’s art until someone from Hollywood calls and suggests, “How about you delete the scene where she reconnects with her long-lost biological mother and replace it with dogs on a trampoline?” I know what you’re thinking: dogs on a trampoline. I like it. It could work! Since this person from Hollywood is your cousin who works at Costco, you should probably listen. She’s pretty generous with her employee discount.

Alright, I’ll be serious for a moment. Here is what happened to me. I wrote a novel in 1999—a real stinker. I mean, you could smell it four miles away. If you looked west from New Jersey that summer, you might have wondered, Is that smoke from a wildfire? No my friend, that was a waving mass of Pig Pen-like fumes curling up from my first novel. Once I finished the book I rushed into agent querying, burning a bunch of bridges in the process because I’d run out of furniture and needed to stay warm. It gets cold in Wisconsin.

Then, I got divorced. All of the energy I had been channeling into bad writing found a new outlet in crying and carrying on. Fast-forward two years: you can imagine these two years like a movie transition scene, maybe The Shins are playing, and I’m going to workshops and reading a ton of books about craft and plot and pacing and character development, flipping through pages and nodding intently with my glasses on and a pencil stuck behind my ear. I polish and polish that bit of charcoal I called a novel until it started to look like a diamond to me … still a titch flawed and just a whit jaundiced, but this is the one! I thought, marching triumphantly to the post office with a fistful of query letters.

Nope. Close, but no cigar. No brandy, either. Suddenly it’s 2003. I have a crisis of faith. I turn into that muppet from Sesame Street, banging my head on the piano and wailing, “I’ll never get it, never!” I decide to hang up the fiction and focus on the grant writing. And it was my best grant year to date.

But still, something was waking me up at night. Something loud, primal, and urgent. So once I pulled the batteries from the smoke detector, I figured hey, I’m up already, might as well write. And Riding with Larry Resnick began to take shape.

Something was different this go-round, including the fact that I actually signed with an agent. We sold my story two weeks before Christmas in 2005. The following summer, my acquiring editor left HarperCollins for a position at Random House. It seemed I was destined to become (dun-Dun-DUNNN!) an orphaned author. According to the books I’d read, this meant I was kaput. Skewered like a kabob. Shredded like cheddar.

But lo! What is this? I can … go with her? I can actually switch publishing houses?! Yes! It can be done! And here I am. Slightly delayed, but generally in one piece.

So what did I take away from all of this?

Publishing can be flexible, as long as you are, too. All is not lost if “the worst” happens. Especially if you develop a sense of humor about it.

I will also recommend supporting your fellow authors and your fellow authors-to-be, both with your word and your pocketbook. And this: Be willing to constantly hone your craft. Read, read, read. Listen. Observe. Be an empathetic human being, if only so your characters will thank you for it.

And finally, this: Enjoy the ride. Even the rejections, because they mean you are learning and growing that much closer to being freaked out about a new step in the process. There is always something to freak out about. So loop back to that enjoying the ride thing. And yes, the entire process requires more patience than thought to exist in the known universe.

The end.

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9 thoughts on “On the Fifth Day of Posting, My Muse Did Say to Me…by Deb Jess

  1. LOL–great post, Jess. And here I thought you were instantly scooped up. told you were the genius you’d thought you already were, and lavished with praise reserved for royalty!
    Success after the trauma makes it that much easier to savor, doesn’t it?

  2. Love reading about your journey. You’re always so witty! But now you have ME worried. I was orphaned, too! And I wasn’t adopted into the new house. Is that really bad??? My new editor seems great but is there something else I should know?

  3. No, no Gail! Not bad at all. I should explain that our timing was just right (I had yet to enter the production pipeline & was still busy with the final editing.) Sooooo, I can’t be certain, but I wonder if I’d have stayed at Harper had I already had a cover, finished copyediting, etc.

    Jenny: I think that a little bit of trauma first makes success that much sweeter later! 🙂

  4. We should get our first novels together- the combined stink could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

    I remind myself (sometimes daily) that all of it is part of the process. If I had been pubbed on time (oh and let me tell you the woe that sprung up when that happened) I wouldn’t have been a part of this group of debs. I’m having longer to perfect some marketing and generally learning to roll with it.

  5. I love your description of the angst about this subject and the pacing around your desk, Jess. Hilarious and so very true. I seem to spend part of every week doing that, trying to figure out what to say about each topic. And it is tough to be at the end of (every other) week.

    I always love your posts for their humor and their truth and I always love hearing about people’s road to being published.

    D

  6. Oh, and speaking of stinky novels, someday I’ll have to tell you all about my first book that, once I realized it wasn’t going to sell as it was, I rewrote as an erotica. I have never actually read it all the way through. Only one human being has read it. It was going to be under a pseudonym.

  7. You were last but not least on “What I learned from Publishing,” Jess, reminding everyone that a sense of humor goes a long way on THE quest for success!

  8. Eileen, you already know you crack me up. And yes, I’m finding that the pub delay definitely had its benefits!

    Danielle, I’d LOVE to hear about your stinky first novel! Stinky first novel stories are the best.

    Larramie, thank you so much for coming by! I try to have fun with things (otherwise my family would have set me adrift on an ice floe years ago). 🙂

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