The bumpy journey of my novel, First Year

I started my novel, First Year, because I just wanted to see if I could do it—the urge was right up there with “Hey, let’s put on a show in the barn!” I had a series of vignettes that were cute but I had no chapter breakdown, no outline, no theme, no plot structure, nothing—a situation analogous to hanging wallpaper before the house is built. I’d write something, put it down for a few months, and start writing again. I ended up with 1,000 pages of disjointed material, got frustrated, and pursued other projects. I finally read someplace that I needed to be able to tell what my story was about in three or four sentences. Wow! What a concept! I figured out a story line and cut 550 pages out of the book—my manuscript looked bloody by the time I finished. Then I felt I needed a professional opinion. I was ignorant of the existence of professional editors but remembered reading Youngblood Hawk in my childhood. I thought a publishing house would help me (I’m cringing as I write this) but to get to them I needed an agent. I got the agent list and started writing query letters seeking someone to represent my novel, called Our First Year at this point. An agent who was a D on the list responded. She told me she’d never had a head reader so enthused about a book before; her exact words were, “He’s over the moon!” She asked me who I knew–which I thought was a little odd—and I responded that I didn’t know anyone; that’s why I needed her. She seemed surprised at my response (duh!) but asked if she could send a copy of the manuscript to the Big Six (or Five, can’t remember) publishers over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. She asked if she could do this without a contract—“a gentlewomen’s agreement”. Of course, I said yes. I knew I was honorable; I assumed she was. Besides, it was all so exciting. She added that two top people at Creative Artists were excited about the book and wanted to represent the movie rights. Wow! All this for my first book; I thought it’d be a lot harder. I was a little puzzled when I was told that 25% of my earnings would go to agents (literary and film); what in the world could they do that was worth that much? But I put that aside. Someone liked my stuff! Well, I was “over the moon” until some sense kicked in. I looked at my husband and said, “After all this buildup, what if it doesn’t go? I’ll just die.” Well, no one in New York had ever heard of me, I had no sales record, and the opening pages of Our First Year were flawed. That’s when I figured out that the publishers expected a completed, vetted manuscript. I found a New York manuscript doctor who pointed out the problems so I went to work. By the time the edit was complete, the agent had fired all my white knights in the agency. She returned the manuscript unread (I don’t think she ever read any version of it) with a note saying she’d never really been behind the project. That’s when I found out about being ‘shopped’—another new term. It’s when your manuscript has been around but rejected…and no agency wants a reject. So I put it on iUniverse. Thank God for self-publishing; I’d have been locked out if the option didn’t exist. And I think I dodged a bullet with this agent. She tried to get me to sign a year-long contract that included signing away ideas. I had sense enough to refuse to sign until that wording was taken out. I thought it was litigation waiting to happen. The agent also refused to meet with me. I offered to buy her coffee when I was in her area but she always had an excuse. I’ve been told since, and I agree, that if an agent won’t meet with you, they’re probably not very good for you. Also, publishing was in such flux (and still is!) I’m glad I kept the rights to my work. I’ve had problems with iUniverse since Authors Solutions bought them but I’ve learned a lot. And, as I said, I still own the rights.
So I’ll admit I’ve been disappointed–but I didn’t die. I managed to get some good reviews from reputable sources. Now I’m learning about marketing. And I’ve learned my craft. I’ve won six ‘Will Write for Food’ flash fiction contests with the SoCal Writers’ Association and had a short story, ‘Grandma’s Straw Hat’, published. But I’m getting the itch to “put on another show in the barn”–only this time I know how to do it which should take 10 years out of the process. I’ve learned how to self-edit. I know what I want in a contract. I know what I need in terms of marketing support. I’ve learned. Next time I’ll be ready. Until then, I’ll pitch First Year on my own. Of course, if any publisher wants to make a three-book deal I’m open to discussion. I have a really good book waiting to be discovered…
For sample pages and reviews, go to:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=First+Year%2C+Barbara+Schnell

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About Barbara Schnell

I've dedicated my life to full-time employment avoidance. I've been an actress, renovated a 1921 California Bungalow, set a cash-winning record on $25,000 Pyramid, and came in last on Jeopardy. I live in Los Angeles with my patient husband and two cats.
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