Wednesday, April 13, 2011

13 WOW Wednesday: Karen Harrington on Writing Through Everything

Our guest blogger today is Karen Harrington, author of JANEOLOGY. After her publisher shut down last year, she decided to release a paperback edition via CreateSpace, due out April 30th. We’re happy to have Karen here today to share her experience on the ups and downs of publication. You can find her on her blog or at http://www.karenharringtonbooks.com/. She is represented by Julia Kenny of Markson Thoma.

You Can Always Keep Writing

by Karen Harrington


One of my favorite songs by Gary Clark includes this memorable lyric:

“Some days you write the song. Some days the song writes you.”

That is how I would sum up my writing and publication journey. It is fodder for a country song. My experience has gone from love and celebration to heartbreak and tears. I haven’t had a lot of control over the lyrics of my country song journey, but I’ve learned one important lesson: I could always control the refrain. And that refrain is to constantly, consistently keep my butt in the chair and write.

When you can’t control anything else, you CAN keep on writing.

Like any good story, this one has a beginning, middle and end.

BEGINNING

Since the early 1990s, I’d written novels and screenplays, collecting a steady stream of rejections and a handful of encouragements. My first real sign of recognition was when I received an honorable mention in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story contest in 1998. This, of course, made me feel validated. I thought, here is a sign that I am a true writer. I’m finally in the club! My dreams are on their way!

You know how life works? The road to a dream isn’t always a direct one. It’s more of an uphill, zig-zag.

It would be two novels, two jobs as a professional speechwriter, two babies and ten more years before I’d become published.


MIDDLE

I finally stumbled upon the idea that would be become JANEOLOGY. I wrote it in fits and starts for a few years. I began the long query process and received a fair amount of requests to read it, both from agents and a handful of independent publishing houses who accepted unagented work. Many of these responses were positive. They really liked the story, “but, it’s just not quite there,” some of them wrote. Now as a stay-at-home mom, I knew what I needed was feedback on this story. Many people benefit from writer’s critique groups, but I wasn’t in a position to participate regularly, much less get a regular haircut. Then, a fortuitous thing happened. I quite literally stumbled upon a website offering a free critique of the first 5 pages of any completed novel, along with commentary on the first 15 pages. Free, you say? And all done on-line? I took a chance and sent in my work. Based on the initial feedback from one of the editors, I could see how much this would benefit me and my work. I sent in the entire manuscript. When the editor returned it to me, I went through it slowly and thoroughly. It was akin to taking a Masters Class in my own writing. I think that if you can’t connect with a critique group to get feedback, seeking a freelance editor is a terrific option. Like other writers have said before, the benefits from critique and feedback cannot be understated.

The very FIRST time I sent the book out after completing these revisions, I received and offer of publication from an independent publisher called Kunati. JANEOLOGY was published in April 2008.

I thought, here is a sign that I am a true writer. I’m finally in the club! My dreams are on their way!

Kunati folded in October of 2009. My book went out of print.

Sigh. I was back to the starting point. Again.

Or was I?

While I was enjoying the published author life, I’d continued writing daily and completed a novel I was certain would be my second book. So I began the query process for this work. I got solid responses, though this time it was the subject matter that “wasn’t quite there.” “Who wants to read about cults in Texas,” they wanted to know. “I just don’t know how I’d sell this.” One agent wrote to me: “Your problem is easy to fix. Write another novel.”

Easy, you say? Sure, I’ll just take my lunch hour and crank out a new novel.

Fortunately, I’d been working on yet another project. It was one that I’d written for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I was still intrigued by the character from this story, which happened to be the daughter of the protagonist from Janeology. Several readers wrote to me asking what had become of her. As it turned out, I was interested in what became of her, too. So, armed with my annoyance at that agent telling me to just “go write another book” I took out that old NaNo draft and got to work.

I think that all of my years’ experience writing and editing came to bear on this project. Around October of last year, I felt that deep assurance that this story was whole, real and wonderful. You develop that inner sense from years of writing and getting to know yourself as a writer. I took this work to a handful of beta readers, collected their input and by late January, I was ready to start the query process yet again with a story titled NO ORDINARY GIRL.

By March 13, I’m thrilled to say that I had agent representation for this novel.

EPILOGUE

So what does my story tell you? I think it boils down to a consistent, perseverant spirit of continuous writing. At times it was my writing that didn’t connect; at other times it was my subject. I got published, then went out of print. Now I have an agent and with luck, I’ll have another book out. But who knows what happens next? Answer: no one.

There have been dozens of ups and downs in this process – most of which were out of my control. But there’s one common thread throughout all of this: I continued to write. I continued to draw from the story well each and every day, practicing and getting better. Of all the tasks one does in the journey towards publication, this is perhaps the only piece a writer truly controls. And for me, it not only made the biggest difference – it has also been the most enjoyable, too.

It’s true, some days you write the song, some days the song writes you. But what’s important is that you write.

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing. It is so true that there are ups and downs in an author's journey to publication. We can't control them. But the one thing we can control is that we keep on writing. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  2. What great inspiration and so true. This journey is full of ups and downs. Thanks for the amazing post!

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  3. Thanks to Adventures In Children's Publishing for letting me be part of this great blog series. I'm always inspired by the stories of others.

    Great love,

    kh

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  4. An "uphill zigzag." Love it! Thanks for sharing the story of your journey. It's always enlightening and inspiring to read how others made it to publication. We all have slightly different stories, but you're right--we have to keep on writing!

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  5. I'm glad to hear you stuck with writing and have achieved so much!

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  6. Really appreciate your encouraging post, Karen. Life happens 24/7 around every writer, and it's just a matter of pressing in and writing deep no matter what.

    : ) Beth

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  7. Wow - what an amazing story! Perseverence is such an important trait for any career - but it seems especially important for writers. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

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  8. Wow, what an inspirational story! I wish you the best of luck with NO ORDINARY GIRL.

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  9. Thanks for your inspirational story. I know what you mean about how to control the refrain by continuing to write.

    I'm now in the process of seeking out "beta readers," which I've never used before. With my previous five novels, I had "readers" who were colleagues—each with divergent points of view. I can't use them again...hence, the need to search out other options.

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  10. Karen, I appreciate you sharing your story. Mine has been filled with downs, ups, and more downs too. I agree with you completely that 1. We have control over little besides writing and submitting it and 2. Studying the craft and getting feedback is vital.

    Hope we hear great news from you about a contract soon!

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  11. Karen, you may want to submit your Texas cult novel to Imajin Books. We'd be very interested in looking at it. ;-)

    Cheryl Tardif,
    Publisher, Imajin Books
    <a href="http://www.imajinbooks.com>www.imajinbooks.com</a>

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  12. I forgot to mention, I LOVE your new cover for Janeology!

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