That was my initial thought upon receiving two more publisher rejections from my agent. I'm tired. So, so tired. Between my first agent experience, which turned out to be very shmagenty, and my current, real agent who does all the things an agent should do (and is great, truly great), my novel has been on submission for about ten-ish months.
First round was about four months before I parted ways with the first "shmagent" and now the second round (as I'll call it) has been around six months so far, with each round separated by close to a year. As I've said in a previous post, waiting is so, so hard. It's the hardest part. Sometimes, my agent will reach out with news first, but other times, I'll send a question because I can't wait any longer than a month between news. I don't know if that's good or bad. It just is.
Attempting to get published is an exhaustive marathon where you continually run into closing doors, when all you want to do is continue running. But you're also blind. Without any sense of where or how to go. And lobsters with razor sharp claws are chasing you, attempting to push you off a cliff.
Maybe not that last part, but the prior descriptions are totally apt to the business.
Between my full time job as a stay-at-home Dad for two CRAZY BOYS, regular life stuff and attempting to get published, I'm just so damn tired. Tired of being told no, tired of not knowing, tired of not understanding what I can do differently, tired of wondering if the other books I'm writing will stand a chance, tired of getting critiques, tired of self-critiquing.
I don't write this for sympathy. Just a need to be honest. All of us--published, unpublished, agented, unagented--should probably be more honest about our journeys.
So, I thought I'd share some of my rejections. Be open and honest and all that.
Soon after starting on my own writing journey, I discovered a blog by Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, wherein she shared many (maybe all) of her publisher rejections to show how subjective the nature of this business is. She had the happy ending that I haven't yet found, but I thought I'd share a few of my rejections so far anyway.
This is just a sampling, lifted directly out of the emails, and of course, no names or publishers are mentioned. Maybe it'll help some of you out there. Maybe it's just interesting. I don't know. Take a look, leave a comment, share your stories or rejections.
"James does a wonderful job infusing the atmosphere of the story with a sense of mystery and wonder. However, I have to admit that I wasn’t connecting with the voice as strongly as I’d hoped. Given this, I don’t think I’m quite the right editor for this project, so I’m unfortunately going to have to pass."
"I loved the writing, but after reading it, I’m afraid I’m not the best fit for books about magicians or traditional magic."
"I found the concept to the story a lot of fun and definitely appealing to the middle grade audience, but I just didn’t love the voice enough to see this as a project we could break out on our list."
"James Fryar’s bio is a lot of fun, and that same sense of whimsy and passion comes through in the manuscript itself. There’s a lot to admire in the novel’s pages, but ultimately I worry it might be a little too close to our own TITLE OMITTED to be a fit for our list."
"James is clearly a strong writer, and the engaging voice drew me in. That said, while I enjoyed much about the read, ultimately the plot didn’t fully click into place for me, and so I suspect that I’m not the right match for the manuscript."
"I really enjoyed the high-stakes adventures and getting a glimpse into the all the work that goes into performing magic! Unfortunately, I have another book on my list about a kid magician, and though this is a very different story, I don’t think I can take it on, too."
So, there you go. That's where I'm at. Novel's still on submission. There's still hope, blahblahblah, but honestly it's hard to see that at times.
I used to think rejection was the hardest part of the publishing process. It's not.
Uncertainty mixed with hope wrapped in a package of doubt and dread makes up the submission process with your agent.
The querying trenches are difficult and trying, but as the powerless writer, you can at least produce more queries, find new agents or work on your letter for the millionth time. Even you're powerless, you still retain some control over what you're doing.
Now, don't get me wrong, having an agent is the best. It means someone is finally in your corner. Another person that isn't your spouse, family or friend is advocating for your work, not to be nice, but because they believe there is a sellable, monetary value to your work. But the most difficult aspect is that you're no longer in total and complete control.
Days, weeks and months can go by without word--depending on your relationship--and it feels as though you're all alone again.
Publishing is about patience, right?
You know what? I'm terrible about updating my site. Whew! A touch of honesty always takes the weight off my shoulders and that felt GOOD. The lack of blog maintenance is just a fact of my life right now. I'm a stay-at-home father for two boys, aged two and four, which includes all the house cleaning, meal preparing, fun making, and all-around daily mess of an emotional tornado that makes up the all-encompassing homemaker position.
That brings me to my point, an aspect of writing (especially those writers that have some type of full-time position balanced with the DREAM, including homemakers) that is often overlooked: progress is typically small.
I often forget the smallness of progress. I get down on myself when I don't produce enough words or I stall in the process of writing a book or I forget to post on my blog. That last one is ALL THE TIME.
My story is this: ever since I was young, I've loved to read and write. My English and Literature classes throughout my school years were always a breeze, but I was never the type of wunderkind that wrote a full length book at twelve. Writing was always "easy-ish," in the sense that I could produce an essay or story thirty minutes prior to its due date and pass at a breeze, BUT I never disciplined myself enough to patiently work through my writing to create something truly special.
(Part of my lack of discipline was the belief in the MYTH of a writer pumping out a book in one go--instead of the constancy and hard work of the RE-WRITE or the MYTH of only writing with inspiration rather than stapling your butt to the chair and WRITING.)
I didn't find my discipline until my late twenties. By that point, I was married with a full-time job and only the far off dreams of becoming an author. It seemed too distant, too impossible, but finally--with a lot of encouraging from my wife--I wrote a book between commutes to work, lunch breaks and late nights at home. Nothing really came of that first book, but it opened the floodgates. I wrote more and more. I started some things, finished others, and eventually started querying another book.
Two years ago, my wife and I effectively switched positions. She was due back for work after close to a year off and she was ready, but we didn't want to do the daycare thing.
So I left my job to focus on the boys and--in my scant free time--work on my writing.
NOW, today, someone looking from the outset--with zero knowledge or appreciation of publishing--nothing much has changed since that monumental shift in our home lives. I'm still the homemaker. Still watch my boys on the daily. I still produce most of the meals, housecleaning and clothes washing. As to the writing, I'm still without a published book or a contract.
With most people, especially those I don't know well, I keep the writing aspect of my life very private. Although I do my best to keep it like a "real job" wherein I hold myself accountable to a writing routine and daily goals, to most people, if something doesn't provide an income, it ain't a job--no matter how seriously you take it.
The thing is though, I've accomplished a TON, especially in the face of the snail-pace of publishing. I have an agent (this is agent #2, after my first shmagent experience, which you can read here: https://jamesfryarwrites.weebly.com/home/on-agentsschmagents), I have a book on submission, I've written a lot of new pages and completed two new books and working on another.
Yet without that book on a store shelf, it FEELS like I haven't done enough. And that's when I have kick and remind myself what I have done.
Every word, each page and all your work adds up. Even tiny, incremental steps are closer to your goal than doing NOTHING. Just owning up to your goals or dreams, acknowledging them and proceeding forward, are all steps in the right direction.
That is PROGRESS. It's all hard work and it's never too small.
I'm very lucky to have a wife who works in the airline industry. We get to travel more than most. It's funny, when you're way up high, sailing over cotton ball clouds, and you peek out that little window, it seems as if you're traveling incredibly slow. Clouds don't change much. If terrain is visible, it doesn't zip by. BUT you are traveling INCREDIBLY FAST. It just doesn't seem like it. Your perspective tells you that you're going very slowly even though an average commercial airplane travels at speeds over 400 miles per hour.
That's how I think writing works. Most of the time, it feels as though I'm going at a snail's pace, but if you keep at it and continue chugging along, you'll be arriving at your destination before you even realize it.
Whoo! I don't know where to start. I've been lagging in my posts as of late.
I'm a stay-at-home Dad for two rambunctious boys (2 and 4), which already keeps me very busy, but our little family moved across the country--from Texas to Georgia--bought a new house closer to the town we wanted to be in, moved again, I signed with a new agent/agency, edited the book again, resubmitted to publishers, went overseas for a family trip, went across the country for a family reunion, and spent the holidays with our families back in Texas--ALL in the space of about four months.
So, apologies on my lack of proper blog posts (if anyone out there is actually reading :)).
For my first post in months, I'd like to provide an update on my previous post regarding my previous representation with Mark Gottlieb. If you're unaware, here is a link to the original post:
Let me be clear: everything I stated on that post is true and accurate, and I have emails and correspondence to prove it all (if necessary). If you also read the comments on that post, you'll see a number of other writers who've experienced the same exact treatment. Through Twitter and email, I've corresponded with even more folks who've told of similar tactics under the same type of representation from Gottlieb.
To that end, I will also include a link regarding Gottlieb's expulsion from the AAR, because of his treatment of a different client:
There are many, MANY other stories. Believe me. There used to be quite a few on Query Tracker until they were asked to remove all Trident Media profiles, so the best place (to my knowledge) for more of these would be Absolute Write Water Cooler (Link: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forum.php) or to reach out to Writer Beware (Link: https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) and Victoria Strauss. Victoria over at Writer Beware is probably the best, most dependable resource for shady agents/publishers/editors/trees. She's the best. Follow her on Twitter. Seriously--she's a resource you NEED.
Why do I say all of this (Because I certainly wish I didn't have to)? Mr. Gottlieb has been calling me and emailing me over the last few days in an effort for me to remove my post.
It's weird--my story was heavily shared and retweeted when I initially posted it back in August. What did Mark Gottlieb do at that time? He blocked me on Twitter. Trident Media's official Twitter blocked me as well. I heard about and directly witnessed a blocking spree on anyone that dared speak out against Mark/Trident over the next couple of weeks. It was CRAZY. It was the Twitter equivalent of a person covering their ears while screaming "la, la, la" because they wanted to ignore the TRUTH.
But it was fine. I was surprised (kind of), but I wasn't offended.
To me, the better tactic would have been for the agency and Mark to just apologize publicly--maybe even directly to the writers harmed--and move forward, but they just blocked and blocked, in an attempt to quell any kind of dissent. It's an old, classic tactic. And wrongheaded, in my opinion. Especially now, in this day and age with the prominence and accessibility of social media. Truth spreads like wildfire, quicker than you can stamp it out.
At the time, no one with Trident--not even Mark--ever contacted me. Radio silence. And it's cool, better that way probably.
But my intention is not to smear. Quite the opposite. Obviously, the information in my post wasn't--and still isn't--flattering about Mark, but it's all true. And my purpose was--and still is--to hopefully enlighten other writers of tactics I didn't agree with, and only the truth is on that post. I only wanted others--in my previous position--to have information I never had.
So, will I remove the post? At this point, NO. I see no reason to take it down since it seems that so many people are now aware of a bad agent, someone who won't treat you responsibly or appropriately. It's only fair and reasonable for would-be queriers to know who they're contacting.
There's just too much power on one side, too much obfuscation, and unknowable details for writers. Agents are known as "gatekeepers" for a reason: they are the first resource on accessing the land of publishing. They don't hold all the keys, and are sometimes in the dark with you, but they all hold some. At the beginning, writers have the LEAST amount of power of anyone--and they're the CREATIVES that this entire industry depends upon. Writers are the foundation. The crux of it all.
Communication and information MUST become more transparent and accessible. With debacles of Danielle Smith, Mark Gottlieb, Justin Wells and I'm sure many others, I think things are getting better. I hope. Baby steps, am I right?
Mark Gottlieb and Trident are a privileged elite. As I said in my previous post, "There are very few people in a position like Mark Gottlieb. Very few who have parents that own literary agencies." He's in an incredibly powerful, enviable position and I hope he'll treat current and future clients better than he treated me.
We shall see.
I've learned a lot about how to take rejection by watching Top Chef.
Yes, I said Top Chef. God, I love this show; there's no other reality contest show like it.
It eschews (most of) the drama that weighs down other reality television while being a week-by-week contest that whittles down the chefs to the very best of the best, AND no other contest show, that I can think of, has such thoughtful, debatable and deeply subjective tastes (literally) to divide the great from the sublime. You often hear criticisms that split hairs between wonderful dishes.
The critiques are sometimes furious and always deeply personal. These chefs are craftsmen and women that have dedicated much of their adult lives to making food--a great many thankless hours have been spent in hot, sweaty kitchens to hone their skills.
One thing I've gleaned from the many seasons of Top Chef is that the chefs that win are consistently the most good natured, and handle criticism very well. Not always--Hung from Season 3 is a good example of the opposite--but more often than not, the winners have been at the bottom as much as the top, and they learn from their mistakes. They don't bitch and moan. They take their lumps, recognize their mistakes, and continue forward. Arguably the most talented and successful chef to come out of Top Chef has been Richard Blais, and he didn't even win his season, BUT he learned from his mistakes, took his loss (or rejection) in stride, and eventually returned on another season and WON.
To that end, writers get used to rejection.
Rejection happens. Any writer worth his or her salt has been rejected time and time again. Even those that have "made it"--that is, writers that have been/are traditionally published--have extolled on the realities of continuing to get rejected. I think most of us who have taken up the mantle of "writer" have realized that our work will be rejected over and over and over again.
Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes...and a writer getting rejected.
At the beginning, it's heart wrenching. You go through stages of denial, cry, scream, think about sending a scathing reply to that agent, editor or CP that got it oh so wrong, and then console yourself. Eventually, you blow it off and get back to work.
When your write long enough, it becomes part of the routine. It's normal. Those rejections keep coming. It's even funny at times. Lightly frustrating at others. But you grow thick skin. Callouses. And the rejections that once wounded you, bounce off like nerf darts rather than the bullets they once were.
There's one thing that still bothers me, cuts me open: when agents or editors try to pretty up rejection into something its not, like--as that old adage goes--putting lipstick on a pig. I often see literary agents saying something along the lines of, "I'm not rejecting YOU; I'm rejecting your BOOK. It's not personal."
Look, I understand the sentiment. I can't imagine being in the position of looking over snippets of people's lives--that's what a book, any book, no matter how fantastical, IS--quickly weighing the pro's and con's, and possibly wrecking that person's day with a rejection. It can't be easy.
But don't pretend it's not a rejection of the author, the PERSON, because it is, just as much it's a rejection of the BOOK. To some extent, they are one and the same, because after months, YEARS even, a writer has poured much of him or herself into that book, so much so, that that book is essentially an extension of that person.
There was an agent/former editor of a publishing house who recently tweeted that, "Rejection is a kindness," and then created a thread explaining why it's a kindness. I couldn't help except think that her explanations were nothing other than window dressing for the natural viciousness for the entire publishing process.
The reality is that it's not a "kindness." Publishing is cutthroat and difficult, and often without explanation. It isn't palatable. It isn't even fun most of the time. Sure, there are great friendships and bonds created throughout, but it's difficult, frustrating, and very, very personal.
While I understand the desire for agents and editors to explain it away as not personal or that it's a kindness, it just isn't and the attempts to do so seem somewhat insulting to our intelligence.
Saying all of this is not to excuse the sometimes vicious response from authors that have been rejected by agents. Being rejected should never turn into a debasement of the person who rejected. Rejection is an opportunity to learn, to change, even to adapt. It whittles you down to your essence. It makes you reconsider, reread and further edit.
Rejection isn't a kindness. It's a necessity. And it's always personal.
"Dreams are like roses: beautiful to look at, but clinging too hard will make you bleed."
With all the drama surrounding the Danielle Smith saga, another name has risen to the surface: Mark Gottlieb. I was conned by this schmagent. There. I said it. I've been embarrassed, surprised, fatigued and otherwise felt just about every other desperate emotion through my experience being "represented" by Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.
I've had something akin to writer's block lately and I think it might (partly) be due to having never unloaded my feelings on being used by this guy.
Truth is, my "representation" only lasted about four months and it was about two weeks in (really, from the first minute, I had an inkling) that I became quite suspicious of Gottlieb's methods and lack of ethics. If you're aware as to why I'm using quotes around representation with Mark Gottlieb, than I'm sure you've already heard a multitude of heart-wrenching tales about Gottlieb's treatment of many authors and their work. Everything I've been privy to completely matches my experience--some a little better and others much worse.
I'll start from the beginning.
It was early September last year--2017--when a pitchfest event through Savvy Authors occurred. There were four agents representing my category at the time (MG Fantasy) and I threw up my pitch just to see what might happen. Why not, right? I actually forgot about the pitch over the next two weeks. An author colleague, from a small community formed out of a Manuscript Academy class, clued me in. I was ecstatic to find that three out of the four agents to whom I'd pitched requested additional material, one of which was Mark Gottlieb.
He requested my full manuscript. I promptly sent it over.
Like anyone in the writer community, I'd heard about Trident Media Group. TMG is on every top literary agency list and the owner, Robert Gottlieb, is a veteran of the industry--having led the NY literary branch of William Morris for decades and representing major talents like Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy and many others. The fact that Gottlieb's son requested material seemed like a big deal for me--I was (am) essentially a nobody in publishing.
After submitting to him, I looked up everything I could on Mark--Absolutewrite, Query Tracker, as well as googling multiple articles, and anything I could find about his publishing history. Everything seemed like gold. I followed (and still follow) so many authors and agents in the publishing community and nothing had ever come up as negative about the guy. Nothing. Not one thing.
So, only a few days after I sent my manuscript to Gottlieb, he messaged me back. I was surprised, but I'd seen on Query Tracker that he was a very fast read, so I wasn't THAT surprised. He really liked my book, he told me, but felt that it was a little long and could be "punchier." He asked if I could trim up the word count. My book was still out with a couple of other agents, but like I said, Trident seemed like the golden ticket, so I was nearly gasping at the possibility of being one of their clients. I did it. I took about two weeks and went through every line, paragraph, and chapter with a fine-toothed comb, cutting anything even remotely extraneous.
I returned the revised copy. And this is where things got weird.
Another two weeks went by before I heard anything from Gottlieb. It was an excruciating two weeks. Was my revision too fast? Did he like it? Did I cut the wrong things? Did I cut the right things? I went through every possible scenario about ten times over, and then I recycled them over in my mind again.
And then, finally, he responded:
"OK it’s out on submission. Let’s give it 3-4 months, at least."
I read this sentence more times than I can remember.
"OK it’s out on submission. Let’s give it 3-4 months, at least."
Was it code? Some sort of literary speak that I wasn't privy to? I'd never been represented before and had only written one other book at the time, so I wasn't the most connected writer, and I'm still not, but it seemed like he was saying that my book was literally on submission with publishers. I was certain that's what he was saying, but there was one problem. One, VERY BIG problem.
He wasn't my literary representative yet.
Everything up to that point indicated that he liked my book and I was feeling very positive that he might offer representation--but he hadn't actually offered up to that point. My book had still been out with two other agents at that point, so he was jumping the gun a bit.
Just to be certain I wasn't crazy, I emailed Gottlieb back with the most obvious, clarifying question:
"Does this mean you're offering representation?"
"Yes," he responded. "I was under the assumption we were already working together."
My mind was reeling. I had a couple of disparate thoughts right then. The fact that he submitted my MS prior to an official offer was a major red flag, BUT this was the son of an industry veteran at one of the biggest agencies on the planet. He wouldn't do anything to sully his reputation and birthright. RIGHT?
So I thought. So I thought.
I assumed a lot. Too much. And honestly, I should have demanded more from him, but there weren't the warning signs at the time that are now available all over the place. Right now, Query Tracker, Absolute Write, and Twitter are all littered with horrible stories of how Mark Gottlieb mismanaged books and careers. But then, in October of 2017 by that point, none of that was out there.
So, at that moment, in reading his message--"OK it’s out on submission. Let’s give it 3-4 months, at least."--all I could think about was TRIDENT and MY BOOK IS WITH PUBLISHERS. It seemed like a dream. After conversing with Gottlieb on the phone, I willingly retracted my book with the other agents who'd requested it and I started envisioning my book on the shelves of my local libraries and bookstores. I was certain that it would sell. Certain.
This euphoria lasted maybe two weeks (although there was always this inkling that something wasn't right with the guy) until another author on Twitter, one who'd been represented by Gottlieb, posted a blog about how bad his agent experience had been.
Curious, I reached out to the guy and got more of the story. In short, Gottlieb was a nonexistent agent. He never helped with editing on the guy's book, sent it out to publishers without ever including the author on the selection or progress on the submission process, and never initiated contact. Gottlieb would always respond to emails--with very short, unclear messages--but wouldn't ever reach out first.
I chalked up that author's experience to a clash of personalities. That's what I told myself. But, as time went on, my experience with Gottlieb was exactly the same, the only difference being that I never "chose" my representation, although I went along with it. Sure, I thought about cutting it off with Gottlieb or asking him to withdraw my manuscript, but I felt in doing so, that I could possibly burn a major bridge and offend a powerful player in the publishing industry--and all for what? That one author had a bad experience?
I swallowed the information like washing down a shit sandwich with piss water, but I fooled myself into believing it was a filet paired with fine wine.
Over the next weeks, more and more stories like that author's experience popped up. I talked about everything that had transpired with several colleagues; they were all shocked and pushed me to fire Gottlieb. At the same time, Victoria Strauss posted on AbsoluteWrite.com that she'd been receiving many complaints about Gottlieb. I reached out to her, but she wasn't comfortable revealing anything specific to me, given that I was a current client at the time. I thanked her anyway and at that moment, I resolved to get specificity from Gottlieb--one way or another.
Since I was already two months into the process--it was mid-December/2017 by that point--and I decided I would cut everything off by the four month mark: by late January/early February, I resolved to hound him for specific publisher information until I fired him or he fired me. Come hell or high water, I wanted resolution.
So, in late January, I sent email after email to get publisher info, editor responses, a pulse on where we were at and he responded each time, but he was always too busy or out of town and didn't clarify when he would get me the information I wanted.
Finally, on the fourth or fifth message within a two-week span, he attached all of his, my and publishers' correspondence on my book, along with a "we should part ways" comment. Reading that last part definitely wrenched something inside me. It was like a dream breaking off like unrooting a blossoming plant. His treatment didn't rob me of my dreams or desires to publish, I knew that, but it was still painful. It was like cutting off an abusive relationship--there's so much pain that you didn't even realize that cracks open, palpable and real.
I even had a written statement prepared for the inevitable moment that I was supposed to fire him--he just preempted my side of the "break-up."
I still sent him my message. It felt good. To distill it down to its core message, I told him that he needed to stop gambling with writer's dreams. He was (is) in a enviable, powerful position and he treats manuscripts that folks have slaved over, for years, as if they were darts being thrown at a dart board.
That's honestly the best analogy I can think of for how Mark Gottlieb treats his "clients." Darts at a dart board. He hits the bullseye from time to time. In fact, there was a release just a couple of days ago that some writer he picked up inked a six-figure contract with Blackstone Publishing.
To that writer, Gottlieb is a GOD now. No doubt, to some extent Mark Gottlieb thinks of himself that way, but like the God of the Old Testament, how many perished so that a few could make it to the promised land? According to Query Tracker, there are dozens. I'm sure there are many, many more.
I'm one of them.
It was painful to read over his correspondence with various publishers. It was messy. He essentially put his name on my query letter and spammed it out to around thirty editors. No specific names. He treated editors in the exact fashion that all of us authors are instructed NOT to treat agents--it may as well have been to one editor with the other twenty-nine cc'ed. In all, only about five or six responded to him. I take solace that most of them didn't take the time to deal with him. Folks are aware and growing tired of his tactics.
So, after all this, how can I better protect myself in the future? Better yet, how can I help to prevent others from falling prey to Gottlieb-types? The short answer, not much. Like I've stated, there was literally no dirt on Mark Gottlieb when our relationship began. All available information was positive. So, if there WAS another agent like Gottlieb (or Danielle Smith, for that matter), I don't know what you could do to protect yourself from such an agent.
Luckily, there are very few people in a position like Mark Gottlieb. Very few who have parents that own literary agencies.
Most folks behaving the way he has (and does) probably won't have fruitful careers. With advents like Twitter, there's very little that people get away with anymore--information travels fast so keep your ear to the ground and keep channels open.
It would be nice if this post could signal a warning sign to some. I can only hope. To those writers, I say: Your hard work deserves better than a gamble.
When I saw the horse, it struck me as odd.
I was driving down the road, my two boys strapped into their carseats in the back and I looked to the left to the front yard of a house we passed. A horse, a pinto with white hair and large orange spots, jumped and galloped there. No fence contained it. It was a painfully odd and beautiful sight that I kept watching as we drove by, almost forgetting to look ahead. The road was essentially empty, a tree line on one side and houses on the other, but chauffeuring my toddlers in the back demands more attention.
As my mind went through the monumental task of understanding the image of that horse galloping free with the normality of suburban sprawl, that Pinto galloped right onto the pavement next to my car, almost flicking side panels with its tail as if it wanted to flirt with the mechanical beast it noticed. That horse lost interest, quickly, and galloped ahead as I slowed, forgetting the gas pedal. It sauntered ahead to a small, fenced-in lot with two other horses, one solid white and the other solid brown, running around.
The Pinto galloped up to the fence. The white one met it. Their long heads craned over either side of the railing, one nuzzling the other. I kept watching, wondering what that magnificent beast would do next. I wanted to see if one might try to jump over the fence to join the other or if the trapped horses might find inspiration in the Pinto that somehow escaped.
A moment later, as I watched, an old rancher, white haired and grizzled with age, sidled up with a harness in hand. The Pinto jerked a bit, but that assured old rancher wrapped the harness around the horse's neck and led it back home.
For a moment, I saw something wild and free.
New Year. New Books.
I've been rather latent on my blogging. My last post was on October 26th last year, after which I promised myself that I would be more consistent on this page. Yeeesh. That promise went out the window.
With the holidays, the normal daily grind of being a stay at home father and all that that entails, and the rather ambitious goal of writing a first draft of a new book during the month of November (the first time participating in NanoWrimo) followed up by the promise of a second draft by the end of January...what can I say? As the saying goes, something's gotta give. Almost daily, the website would be at the back of my mind or scream out at me whenever I happened to check in on Twitter. And I felt really bad. Every time.
But never bad enough to actually post anything.
Well, I'm happy to announce that I stayed right on target with my new book. I completed a first draft by the end of November and took the next two months to increase overall word count, polish the prose and really understand the storyline. Now, with a pretty good draft on hand, I'm letting that sucker sit and marinate for the next month while I figure out my next book and work on a couple of short stories I've had at the back of my mind.
I feel good. It's been a great year so far and I feel accomplished on what I set out to do when my wife and I sort of swapped familial positions one year ago.
Here's to 2018!
I recently had a difficult decision.
I won't divulge any specific details, but suffice it to say that I had to make a rather quick decision that could alter the course of my career. With such an enormous choice, I put out feelers to some people in my similar position in order to hear their thoughts and make a more calculated decision. I listened, considered the pros and cons, and tried to see it from all the various angles.
Then, I pulled the trigger and made the choice that made the most sense to me.
Yet even after opting on my particular direction, I had a couple of people frantically tell me to reconsider, that it could be very bad for me and tried to halt my course. I calmly listened and essentially said that my decision was made, thanked them for the advice and that we'd see where my decision went.
As much as I felt secure in what I'd decided, that I'd taken the time to see it from the different angles, weighed the separate ways I could have gone, this one particular person's frantic cries for me to stop and reconsider really weighed on me. It ate at the excitement I felt in the decision I'd made. It bothered me.
There was that idea that I was risking everything by choosing my particular route. You're risking everything. You're risking that people might not like you anymore. You're risking something you've been working on. You're risking other opportunities. You risk! You risk! You risk!
But I came to a conclusion: Everything thing in life is a risk.
You risk everything when you wake up. When you leave the safety of your house. Everything around you is a risk. Literally everything. Some minor. Some major. Many lie between these polar opposites. Yet all is risk.
More specifically, I've been dwelling on the idea of dreams--DREAM job. DREAM career. DREAM life--and how much you should risk in order to achieve those dreams. Because you will HAVE to risk something to grab those dreams, whether it's a portion of your free time, less sleep than you'd like, certain expensive expenditures, or even a stable income.
When you have a difficult to achieve dream, people will tell you that it's not a good idea, that it's too much of a risk to sacrifice a real career for something that won't happen.
But you know what? By getting that realistic diploma or that realistic job or that realistic home in that realistic neighborhood, you're making a risk, too. Maybe a more comfortable risk. But it's still a risk. And in that case, you're risking your deepest dreams.
And those elusive dreams will haunt you.
A friend of mine is a very successful businessman who lives in Napa Valley and is a part-owner in a fantastic winery. On one of our trips to wine country, my wife and I were lucky enough to stay at his home and one night, at dinner, I leaned forward and asked him a very simple question: "To what do you attribute all of your success?"
He sort of chuckled, no doubt having been asked this question more than once and he, quite honestly, chalked it up to one particular thing: the ability to make choices. I was somewhat stunned. It wasn't what I expected. He believed he was a smart man, but not exceptionally smart. He'd had a fine education. His family wasn't poor, wasn't rich. He was a hard worker, but so were many people.
As he saw it, his success came from his ability to pull the trigger and see things through.
He admitted that he hadn't always made the right choices, but he always stuck it out until its end. He learned from the wrong choices, resolved to make better ones in the future. Too many of his peers were stifled by difficult choices, he said, and his superiors always noticed his ability to face those hard decisions and see them through.
I thought on this for quite some time and realized something very specific. In life, you have to make choices. They're not always easy and there often isn't a clear path or road signs to direct you. There will be risk no matter what, but the one aspect you can control is the type of risk that is worth it.
You must choose your risk or the risk will choose you.
Short story: I've just accepted an offer of representation with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.
Long story: Nine months ago, my wife and I took a big risk. We reversed our familial positions.
Since the start of our relationship, following into our marriage, each of us have always had full-time jobs. She's been a flight attendant. I worked in the wine industry. We moved to New York for a couple of years, then returned to our home in Texas; I changed managing jobs from a small, mom and pop operation in Manhattan to a massive nationwide company called Total Wine in Dallas.
Through it all, I had this nugget of a dream to be a full-time author.
It always seemed like a pie in the sky type of dream, the type you're chastised for as a kid because you need more realistic options. As the years progressed, I couldn't let it go, so on subway rides to work, any spare pocket of time at my job, I'd jot down notes for a book. I wrote my first book while living in NYC, submitted it to literary agencies...and got nothing in return.
SIDENOTE for those unaware---there are various levels of gatekeepers on the path to publishing a book. The first, and possibly most important, gatekeeper is securing a literary agent. Kind of like wanting to act in movies, you need a guide, confidant and someone that knows the ins and outs of the business. For an author, this is a literary agent. To get a literary agent to represent you, you essentially need a finished, very polished book and a query letter. There are other aspects, but for simplicity, I'll leave it at that.
So you query into a "slush pile" along with hundreds, possibly thousands of other writers. Suffice it to say, the odds aren't great that you'll get through and it typically takes a long time to secure this first gatekeeper.---
My first attempt was a bust. (There's more to this story of my first book, but I'll detail more on a later blog.) It was frustrating. I'd put in a ton of time and effort and I couldn't get more from an agent than a form letter rejection. Only NO. NO. NO.
So, after moving back to Texas and working at my new job, I started working on a different story, slowly on the side, writing notes and ideas and over the next couple of years, I pieced an entirely new book together.
At the same time, Cam and I found out we were pregnant. Cam took off time from work, took a long leave of absence, returned to work for a few months, and then we found out we were pregnant again. Another year off, to focus on our growing boys. It was an amazing time.
My dream still needled at me. It was tough. The way my schedule fluctuated and lack of free time with raising these two new, blossoming lives, it was impossible for me to form any type of regimented writing schedule. So, I continued to write in spare pockets of time, on long car rides or between naps, but nothing ever regular.
Yet, very slowly, I wrote that second book.
I queried again to agencies with zero success. All form rejections AGAIN (other than one agency, but that, too, turned into rejection). I was frustrated, distraught, and just had that feeling that my dream would never be realized.
I was (am) married to the love of my life, had (have) two incredible boys, had a stable job with a steady income, but when there's something you dream about, it just continues to needle at you no matter how much you try to push back. The dream haunts you.
So, this past January, we had confronted by a choice. Cam was due to return to work, but we'd always desired to have one of us at home full time with the boys. Between Cam's ever changing schedule of flying and my crazy schedule at the wine job, it would be very difficult to stick with both, raise the boys and still have one on one time with each other. We'd done it once, for about five months prior to finding out about our second son, and it was really stressful; we rarely saw each other.
So, the question we had: does Cam quit her job or do I quit mine?
Cam essentially made the choice for me. She knew that I hated my work, coupled with this intense dream clinging to me, and pushed me to leave my job. At least being home with the boys, I could have the regularity to truly focus on writing. So, that's what we did.
I left Total Wine, set up a routine of writing for about two hours during the boys' nap times, squeezing in more words here and there and started writing a brand new book. At the same time, I hired a published author of eight books in my same genre and age category, who also provided editing services on the side, to look at my second book.
I worked on a third book, something new, while my second book was in the editing hands of the published author, and by April, I was provided with extensive notes, with which I totally overhauled my book. I joined a writing group through Facebook, and by May, I was querying my second book again, noticing a significantly different response from my two previous attempts.
This time, I was getting numerous requests to read my manuscript. I still received rejections, but many of these were personalized rather than form letters, some with light feedback. I took the feedback and continued editing, all leading up to this past September when it started to feel as if my momentum was really picking up. I felt incredibly positive like it might really happen. I had two agents that both seemed very interested, providing feedback while still requesting more pages--just more correspondence than I'd experienced.
As this was going on, I was checking my email minute-by-minute, biting my nails, nervously anticipating the inevitable rejection that would follow. When you have such a seemingly impossible dream (the odds of publishing are not in my--or anyone's--favor) you prepare yourself for failure. At first the rejections sting, but then those ego callouses build around you like armor. You become impervious to it at some point because you're so accustomed to the "NO's" and you just expect it.
Then, this week, I found out that one agent felt so positive about my work that he was ready to submit my book to publishers immediately. We talked after he emailed this message to me and I almost had no words. Right now, my book is in the hands of every one of my dream publishers and we're waiting for their responses, which could take another couple of months.
I have accepted an offer of representation from Mark Gottlieb with one of the top agencies in the country, Trident Media Group. My ultimate dream is not yet fulfilled, but it's just around the corner and I feel as though I finally leaped over the biggest hurdle.
I am a writer. I write.