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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Story Girl - Confessions: The Shift, Part One.

by Kay C (writer), Vancouver, June 23, 2010

Credit: Natalie Camidebach
The Story Girl

We are the writers. And we are still essential. The internet creates new possibilities and opportunities.

It's finally happened.

That which had been so intractable - immovable as bedrock - has loosened.

And now I'm running wild with the new wiggle room. Yes, I've had an attitude adjustment.

For as long as I can remember, I believed the only way an author should be published was the old-fashioned way - write query letters, pitch agents, revise query letters, pitch more agents. Once a legitimate literary agent was secured and the inevitable manuscript rewrite completed to satisfaction, it was then time for said agent to begin pitching to a select group of appropriate editors. An interested editor would then convince the entire editorial board to take a big chance on an untested novice. Once that hurdle was cleared, the manuscript would then go on to be inevitably rewritten again. Manuscript title, book cover, and sleeve design were to be decided on by a group of near magicians trained to know what sells. A year or two later, the book would most likely hit the brick-and-mortar stores and be ready for purchase by the general public.

The process might seem like a mild torture, but only to whiners - I was convinced that such a process was not only legitimate and esteemed but also very much etched in stone. It was the sole way in... the only game in town.

Along the way, rejection letters were to be used much like a poker - to stoke the embers of a budding perseverance into something flaming and eternal. After all, perseverance - that much lauded quality - needs something formidable to make it possible in the first place. The One who perseveres is the one who is challenged, blocked, tossed, kicked, and slammed at every turn .... but of course, the one who perseveres is also the one who can never be stopped. Ever. Like some sort of futuristic and indestructible machine.

No set-back is too big for the one who perseveres. And that is the point. Like weights for the muscle, rejection strengthens the resilience of the potential victor. Rejection sweetens the taste of eventual success.

Not only did I loathe the idea of what I thought was "taking the easy way out", I felt it anathema to success. Instead, the road is supposed to be bumpy and laborious. The potential victor is meant to strain every faculty to the very limit, to rest every now and again, wipe the brow and resume the climb.

People who did not follow what I considered to be the legitimate path to publishing were subject to my internal scorn. Were they lazy? Talentless? Slack and spoiled? Used to having life show up on cushy terms?

Of course, I had internalized the overwhelming stigma that was already out there... wafting so abundantly through the ether. The fact that indie filmmakers and musicians were not subject to the same level of derision seemed rather unfair, but also besides the point. After all, just about anybody could pick up a pen and fancy themselves a writer - imagine the horror if such dimwits were actually allowed to unleash their delusional need for validation on the rest of us. Entire forests would disappear, and traditional publishers would have more justifiable reason to ridicule.

And then, real life happened...

(but perhaps some back-story is in order).

I've always been a rather ambitious person. After graduating from University with a degree in literature, I moved to Los Angeles to study theater. I had little trouble transitioning from dry academia to artistic abandon - even foaming at the mouth and having rage infused breakdowns at the request of two overly eager instructors. I liked people who pushed limits and decimated comfort zones... especially mine.

Not only did I want to create, I needed to. Hollywood had always seemed a mysterious place, where creation was ruled over by demi-gods and miracle-makers. The reign of the mysterious masters was never to be questioned. Movies were a gift from the heavens to the mortals, a holy fix of fantasy to get through the tedium of everyday life.

So... I did some extra work and quickly landed a few micro roles (or under fives as they're known) and continued to pay more dues... until I was able to pay my literal dues and join the Screen Actor's Guild. I did land myself a theatrical agent, but most parts were gained through cold casting. I encountered a lot of people whose toolkit seemed to consist only of delusions of grandeur, but I also met a handful of real talents. Those people who were passionate about story-telling - not to feed an ego so much, but to answer the call of their very life force. These actors and indie filmmakers were talented, hard-working, and passionate.

But they were not part of the corporate machine, the big grinder that became ever more corporatized with each passing decade. This machine must often slay artistic bravery in favor of that joy-kill known as the bottom line. And as the diversity is stifled, the landscape becomes increasingly more barren. Thankfully, driven filmmakers who needed an outlet for their work brought about the independent film revolution.

And even as I contributed to such projects in the film world, I was still a publishing snob. Especially as I came to realize that my real passion is writing. I also forgot some essential truths about myself. First, I love to demystify all that dazzles and flabbergasts... I like to peel back the curtain and expose the operations. And I also believe in the democratization of everything. Let the people decide... let them pick what they want to see, hear, and read. Limited corporate interests shouldn't get to be the sole decider of what the public has access to... what they have the chance to fall in love with.

And up until recently, that has nearly always been the case with books. But with the advent of technology, things are changing. And determined authors writing kick-ass books are slowly scrubbing away the stains of stigma.

And yet... I resisted.

Plus, one of my dearest friends in the world had done it the traditional-commercial way, and there was no one I respected more than her. She was a consistent beacon through very murky terrain. She was the one who had persevered and it had paid off...

Still... I noticed that she seemed to be doing a lot of the promotional work herself (which is probably the reality for so many authors - both traditional and indie).

So I continued... you bet I did.

Continued to persevere up Mt. No-End-In-Sight... and lo and behold, scored my first agent! With my first manuscript! A dark and edgy literary fiction. When I received that email informing me that she wanted to actually talk on the phone as opposed to play email-tag, I was elated. I felt like I had won some sort of cosmic jackpot. She told me that she loved my manuscript and went on to describe it in profound terms - only a couple of minor tweaks were needed. Wow. I had never felt so good about my abilities... my potential.

I felt like I'd finally arrived at base camp. I was now standing in the shadow of that looming and treacherous beast, the one that so many before me had so bravely and valiantly scaled... I shuddered at the thought of what they'd most likely endured - from the typewriter to the endless do-overs, the mailing costs and SASE's.

My agent and I lived in different cities at this point, but I managed to see her twice while I was in Los Angeles (insert chuckle... no, not every single agent lives in New York City). I made the necessary tweaks and was ready to launch... but she still needed to write the pitch.

No problem... no problem at all, not-at-all whatsoever.

Well... and the clock ticked. And how quickly the seconds pile up - soon you realize you've taken another turn around the great fire orb.

But she needs time to write the pitch. And she is the agent, after all!

Fine... but no, it wasn't fine.

I quickly came to realize that my beloved and hallowed agent was woefully disorganized - and not in that I'm-a-highly-effective-yet-super-messy-manager sort of way. What a let-down, and what a supreme blow to my expedition, as she was the only member of my team. Team ME. Even though I was used to all the heavy lifting, there were certain routes of ascension that only she had access to...

Shit.

It ultimately took my agent nine months to write a pitch letter that she felt comfortable submitting to editors.

Nine months!

I'm sure there's some pertinent symbolism there, but alas, I'm simply too weary...

After I finally rallied myself to confront her, she tried to explain that her flakiness was a result of romantic loss and weight gain. And in the background, I could hear my life flushing itself down the toilet.

It had taken me a year to get an agent, and nearly another year to decide to terminate our contract. In my world, life without an agent felt like Pinot Noir without feta.

So now what?

The mountain seemed even higher, ever more daunting - I'd have to redouble my efforts. But adversity was cool!! damnit - although at this point, I was also beginning to wonder if it wasn't also self-fulfilling.

No matter. It was all fodder for the struggle. And so another manuscript was completed (lighter commercial fare) and a fresh round of queries began...

Eventually, I found an interested agent who really liked my second offering - although she did request a partial re-write. I did everything she asked of me and then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. But she had other clients to deal with. Probably the corporate pleasing big-hitters, I figured. (The Laura Bushes, Sarah Palins, and their various assembled ghost writers of the world).

Soon, it became nearly unbearable to keep pace with the gate-keepers. Everything felt like slow motion. Like trying to do the butterfly stroke through quicksand. And even though the publishing process can begin to feel like a death-knell, it is up to serious writers to deal with it and continue to slog on. The pace itself often weeds out the non-serious writers. At least, I was hopeful.

But soon I was lost again in cyberspace purgatory. I had spent countless hours holed up in the library, putting my characters under the knife, sculpting them a little closer to yesterday's beauty queens. But I was still waiting for Agent #2 to come back around and send me an email update on the status of things.

It was precisely around this time, that the importance of common courtesy began to make a comeback in my head. I had meticulously followed the rules up until this point, and expected to be treated in at least a half decent sort of way. The idea that such a revered group - literary agents - were turning out to be inconsiderate and flaky was a most sobering realization. Although I still believe that there are many great agents out there - who have a huge appreciation for writers. And there are also those agents who love truly original voices, even as they're simultaneously nervous about saleability. I also realize that most everyone - from writer to editor - is severely overworked. (And to be fair, I've had six agents request samples of my latest manuscript (#4) in the last three months. One even compared it to The Shining:)

I certainly don't expect everyone to like everything I do, or to stroke me in anyway, but I do now expect my efforts to be treated with a modicum of manners. Too many writers (and I'm not talking about the nagging, needy, creepy ones who annoy the bejezus out of everyone) accept poor treatment as inevitable.

Too often we race to annihilate our creative instincts in favor of those who tell us to change everything so that we can read more like the other books on the shelf. Too often we are tinkered with until we're raw.

But we are the writers, dangit.

And we are still essential.

We are the ones who spend the hours, days, weeks, and years giving birth to the characters and the stories. They are our children, and we nurture them accordingly - but then we need them to grow up, get out in the world and make friends...(not languish in a drawer). And I want my children to be liked for the unique creatures they are - not twisted into some ill-fitting version of popularity.

For that is not the reason I create. I don't desire to be yesterday's winning formula... or any sort of formula. I don't want to rely on color-by-number templates nor do I want to emulate others. In fact, I want to do the opposite. I want to expand my imagination, and give any shred of originality full breathing room - not strangle it to death in its crib.

However, I am also - still - a huge believer in the critique. Get people to read, make suggestions, help to hone and polish - but let's not toss our best instincts in with the recycling. And I also still believe that passion usually always makes a fine home, especially when it marries relentless determination.

Ultimately, it's not that I've lost faith in agents and publishers - it's that I've regained faith in the power of the reader to decide, in the new technologies that make reaching that reader possible, and most importantly, I remembered that I am the writer, the creative foundation.

And it is still actually quite impossible to predict what IT is exactly that will sell. But usually, people either want to relate to something or be absolutely bedazzled by it. Give them a fanciful escape, or hold up a mirror.

So that is what I intend to do - I am now going to share myself and my creations - not hoard them for posterity.

I invite all of you - especially those beaming artistic souls - to remember the awesome potential that you have as individual creators. And when that potential is realized as a collective, entire industries are revolutionized.

Revolutionized on the backs of those who could never take no for an answer - those pioneers whose dedication to the art and craft of creation broke barriers and changed the world.

Stay tuned for Part 2... or the manifestations.

(please follow my adventures in entertainment on my new StoryGirl blog at http://theboomerangeffect.blogspot.com/)



About the Writer

Kay C is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on Story Girl - Confessions: The Shift, Part One.

Log In To Vote   Score: 0
By JJFCPA on June 23, 2010 at 04:14 pm

This was an interesting essay or rather article. You have been on an interesting journey. This was useful perspective to share. Our community should read it.

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Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By alan handwerger on June 24, 2010 at 06:34 am

I await, impatiently, your Part II. This is by far the most articulate and engaging expression of its intended subject that I've ever come across. Thanks.

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