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“On the New York Times Bestseller List!, I Want to Be _________”

Sitting here gazing out from my vantage point on the cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere, I find it hard to believe I once had a literary agent. In fact, I once had a few literary agents wanting me to sign with them. Crazy? Yes. But it’s proof that persistence pays off.

At the time I was working as a grunt in the publishing industry. It’s amazing the inspiration you find living on barely enough money to pay your rent AND buy spaghetti noodles for dinner. Plus, typing out the payment requests for authors and illustrators every day reminded me that other people were, every minute of every day, fulfilling their dreams of becoming published.

Somehow, I was inspired by my living situation at the time and became 100% committed to writing a humorous book about my experiences in New York. I worked on that manuscript day and night, which is easy to do when you have no kids, and can’t afford a social life beyond the obligatory pint of beer after work. My manuscript came together quickly because I wrote it with passion. Things are easy to do when you enjoy them. One day it was finally finished. I then dutifully studied how to write the perfect pitch letter, and found suitable agents to query. Suddenly, agents wanted to read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe my luck when one day I received two letters from agents wanting to represent my work! Here, I, low man on the publishing assistant totem pole, was now having to decide between two literary agents.

One agent had his own literary agency, and the other agent was really an agent’s assistant at an international entertainment agency. I went with the agent who owned his own agency, and in good faith signed on. Unfortunately, the plans he had for my book coincidentally “inspired” the publication he showed my idea to. Two months later my book idea was a featured story on their magazine cover. I learned the hard way about copyrighting – and how you can’t copyright “inspiration.” Sigh. Life goes on. I was never able to reach my agent by phone again, but a few weeks after the magazine with my story idea came out he left me a scratchy and vague voice mail saying he was in Los Angeles. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Fast forward to recent times. My fears of making more mistakes with my writing and the publishing industry – and knowing my belief in the good of people doesn’t always work well in the business world – stayed with me for years. I had writer’s constipation. I had many ideas, and started many books, but then with no end in sight I would let them fizzle out. All because of a fear that I’d make another naive mistake and get taken advantage of. Then along came Joyce Carol Oates.

My writing career was revived earlier this year, thanks to some words of wisdom from Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t remember the specific words, because I read them on a blog and didn’t memorize them. But her words stayed with me and haunted me and sank into my brain until I was convinced she was right. This was my green light to go forward with writing again. ย She said something along the lines that if she had to give advice to new writers she would tell them to start with blogging. It is a way to find your audience, to fine tune your writing and get quick feedback on your work. So, I started this blog. And she was right. She was RIGHT. SHE WAS RIGHT!

In all my life’s ups and downs I have been so inspired by the bloggers here on WordPress. There is endless creativity out there, and an audience for everyone’s voice. I usually never know what to write about, but somehow the words show up. They always say to “Write what you know!” But that is hard to narrow down, and really not helpful. The freedom to write here on my blog without judgement, expectation or limits is what helps me color outside the lines.

I often get confused on what “humor” writing really is. Why are there two categories of humor that agents represent: Humor: Non-Fiction and Humor: Fiction? What is the difference? If I write about my experiences but embellish, or change the names to protect the innocent is it now fiction? These are the little details that lead to procrastination and a cobwebbed keyboard. I was so frustrated by this question that one time I asked a literary agent in an online discussion forum what the difference between these two categories was. I received a snarky and condescending answer in return. And I still didn’t know the difference between the two. Sigh, again.

I’ve recently been hit with a lightning bolt of an idea. One of those “Of course!” moments of what would be a fun and interesting writing project to take on. And taking a chance on writing is always a good gamble….it’s free! Which is good in this economy. Starting today I’ve created an outline of something that perhaps I might finish. And send off to some agents. And hopefully get published. And if I’m published, I damn well better get on the New York Time’s Bestseller List. No pressure, if you know what I mean.

About Fortyteen Candles

oh, let's see...distinguished Gen-X'er, frustrated writer, suffocating in the confines of a small town that thinks it's a big deal. A few years ago we were home to the second largest Walmart in our state, don-cha-know. Oh, and I was voted "Most New Wave" in my senior high school year book. Actually, that last sentence alone is really everything you need to know about me.

50 responses »

  1. I think the hardest part is doing what you set out to do, and allowing things to change as you go along. You wanna write, then write. Stick with it and you will be successful. As you say, it just takes perseverance.

  2. Can relate with so much of what you just posted (not the agent part though). I’ve been walking around for ten years plus with article and book ideas in my head. Thank goodness someone encouraged me to start blogging as well. We’ll see where it goes but holding myself accountable and not letting the unknowns cause me to procrastinate is half the battle. You go girl.

    • You go, too! Have a plan and follow through. Keep up the momentum and don’t look back. It is sheer agony for me to even re-read previous work I’ve abandoned. It’s like looking at a failed relationship.

  3. Good luck!

    I promise to read whatever you write.

    And that literary agent who made the snarky comment? He probably doesn’t know the difference either.

    If you don’t get on The New York Times best seller list, just remember how many weeks the 50 Shades books have spent there. Shoot for The Book Review instead!

  4. Very nice indeed. You have just inspired to me to go back to writing one of my many unfinished novels. But I do agree that blogging is the way to go. I just started my third one. Hopefully this will stick. I am not a quitter, I just get bored and move to something else. I wish I could stop doing that.

  5. Great post! Just write it – as “humor fiction” if you have to decide now- it’ll give you all the freedom to embellish the story as much as you want! I’m still waiting for my “lightning bolt”…and it’s sunny right now.

  6. That’s horrible that your idea was pilfered. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been for you, especially after all the work you put into it.

    I agree, a blog is a good means of improving and maintaining one’s writing skills. Even though writing a novel is different than writing a blog post, blogging keeps my writing muscles loose, so to speak.

    • Yeah, it really sucked. Then I felt like a fool. I really learned a lot from it, though. I learned you have to write in your own voice. Make sure your work isn’t anything that can be used as inspiration…lol. Blogging is like exercise and it helps you develop your voice.

  7. My son told me that nobody makes money writing who sets out to make money writing. Well, duh. Not like I didn’t know that. I love blogging and I love that my kid reminds me that I am writing because I feel more like me when I write.

  8. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    There are folks without scruples out there. Don’t let them stop you.
    My one bit of advice to you: No matter how desperately you need the money, NEVER sell “all rights” to your work.

  9. Great news Fortyteen. I am finishing up a book by another blogger now. Will yours be ready for me tomorrow?

  10. Ugh! How wretched that your idea was stolen! I’ve actually heard of that happening before–though it was a writer who hadn’t even signed with the agent. The agent read their full manuscript, passed on it, then a year and a half later, this writer read a story about another of the agent’s clients who sold a book with a similar title and precisely the same storyline–and happened to mention she began writing it a month after the original writer was rejected. Ack!

    As for the distinction between fiction and nonfiction humor, I say just write it and don’t worry about labels yet. When you finish the book, then you can decide if you’ve tweaked too much to call it nonfiction or not. David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs apparently do *a lot* of fictionalizing, but humorists get a bit more leeway than non-humor writers owing to the exaggeration inherent in writing funny stuff.

    • Sorry to hear about that other writer. I like to think this is uncommon, but it is horrible none the less. You’re right….I’m not going to let my worry about labels stop up my creativity. Great insights….thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  11. I am already pre-adding it into my Amazon cart ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy writing !!!

  12. HONOURED to meet you!!!
    Here’s wishing you get there to that bestseller list asap as possible ๐Ÿ˜‰ so that I can boast around saying [of course dangling the book I’d have bought] – “I know her, I know her… she’s Fortyteen Candles…” Hurry now ๐Ÿ˜€ xx

  13. I think blogging is the perfect outlet for writers to tweak their craft. We’re always told to write as much as we can. Well, it’s so much easier and fulfilling when you have an audience and immediate likes than if you write things and keep them to yourself, isn’t it? Good luck with your next great idea–and your agent.

  14. Sorry to hear of your negative experience with the literary agent. These things do happen, but not that much. But I would like to continue on the blogging idea. A blog is a very good way to find your audience, and it is a new version of publishing. You could publish your book on your blog, chapter by chapter, and build an audience. One of the greatest disadvantages though, of blogging, is that people tend to say just the positive things, and to give support. When youโ€™re working on your craft, you need some positive criticism, pointing out where youโ€™re not getting through. Other times, editing is very important. If you could, it would be very good to find someone who could give you that sort of feedback. I wish you luck, and look forward to reading some of your serious (or humorous) writing.

    • Life is full of experiences we can learn from. Glad to know this was something that is not that common. I like the idea of blogging as the new version of publishing. How do you publish a book on a blog? Can you sell a book you publish on a blog? Building an audience is so important, like you’ve said. I agree that constructive criticism is important as well. Thanks for your insights!

      • Itโ€™s important for you to define for yourself, whether youโ€™re more interested in being read or in making money off your writing. If money is your main object, you would have to do things a bit differently, but of course, you have to be quite good as a writer in order to succeed in a market that is filled with writers aching to succeed. That aside, I have read books that were published on the internet. Usually they published by chapter, about once a week, and people were waiting anxiously for the next chapter each week. The more you manage to attract readers, the easier itโ€™ll be to sell your next book, whether you choose to do it through an agent, or to self-publish it. If people have read a book, or part of a book that you have written, and they like it, they will want to read other things you might have written, or what youโ€™re about to write.

  15. The fact that you had agents queuing up to sign you the first time, shows that you should write. I can’t tell you (or maybe I can) how tough it is to get rejection letters (you know, the ones which say they didn’t connect with the ‘voice’) and no proper feedback. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you feel like giving it all up. I’m happy I read this article of yours. A little motivation goes a long way when you’re going through something like that.

    • I know the pain of rejection letters. The good thing about them is they can be recycled since they’re made of paper! Not everything will be understood or appreciated by everyone. Just see it as their loss. Don’t give up on the things you believe in. Keep moving forward and you’ll find your voice and audience. So glad you enjoyed this article. Keep writing!

  16. You should look into self-publishing. Its a great big world out there for self-publish books and you’d be surprised at how many get picked up by an agent/publisher after showing signs of getting on the Amazon lists. Just something to think about ….

    • Yes I’ve thought about self publishing. Are those primarily downloadable e-books? That is a very good idea. Are there any self publishing services you’ve heard good things about? Have you done it yourself? Thanks for the idea!

      • They are downloadable books BUT you get your book setup on Amazon, which is a HUGE place to find readers. I’ve been doing a ton a research about this because I’m going to move in this direction when I write my books.

        More and more authors are using these programs/route since its getting even harder to get a publisher/agent. I follow this blog every week for great advice from formatting, book covers, editing to promotions:
        Check out the site, I think it’ll give you the answers to make your decision.

      • Thank you for this great information! Are downloadable books like those available on Kindle…or are they printed out? I’ve heard about a publishing service through Amazon. Like you said, Amazon has a lot of readers. Thanks for recommending that blog. I’ll definitely check it out!

      • From what I’m learning, you can set this up to be on Amazon and on Kindle. I also know there’s other publishing services out there who can help you with this process including help with printed books. When I get to that point, I think I’m going to contract with some company to help me. I’d rather spend a little money upfront to get everything done right then to get it done and mess something up.

        Keep us posted on your book ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Will do! Sounds like you are on the right track. I totally agree, that if you’re going to do it right you might as well make every assurance it is right! Keep me posted on your book as well ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Can’t wait to read it! I got back to writing last November thanks to NaNoWriMo, and there was a gusher in there waiting to be released! I decided to go the indie route mostly because I’m both impatient and a bit of a control freak. Plus, if I have to do the marketing anyway, I’d rather be in control AND have a better potential upside. I’ve written 4 novels and a screenplay, published 2, and have a 3rd coming next month. All since last November. So you can do it!

    • Wow! You are a true inspiration! It is amazing what you can accomplish once you put your mind to it. When you say “indie route” does that mean self publishing? Where do you market your book? Incredible! Keep ’em coming ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. I love it when people tell me that big corporations would never bother to steal material from we “little” people. They can, they do. It’s happened to more people than I can count — including me — and I’m sure it’s never going to stop. They’ve got money, lots of lawyers while we have … us. Self-publishing has come a long way. The publishing is easy: the PR is very hard work. Not impossible, just hard. But if you can push yourself hard enough, you’ll win. I’m rooting for you. I copyright everything, but that’s not as much protection as it sounds like. If they just change a few things, suddenly, it’s sufficiently different that they can beat a plagiarism suit in court. Who amongst us as the resources for a court battle against a big organization?

    • That’s right. The little guy has to put a lot of faith into situations where this can take place. Your suggestions of self publishing are great. I’ve heard some good things about the process, though I’m not sure which companies are the best to deal with. I know Amazon has started up its own self-pub operation. Publicity would be in control of the author whether traditionally published or self published. If you have a blog, into social media and are persistent…the sky’s the limit! Sorry to hear about your own unfortunate experience with this. I once was on a writer’s online support group and mentioned my experience with this, and one person became irrate and basically accused me of making it up! I could never understand the motivation for such outrage from one writer sharing a story about this all to real (although hopefully rare) situation. Thanks for sharing your story, solution and insights.


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