Tuesday, July 9, 2013

30 The Road to Publication: A Dialogue between Martina Boone and Tracy Clark

"Intriguing insights come out of conversations with other writers. Obviously, we have fascinating minds. Sometimes, it seems only another writer can truly understand the unique lens through which we view the world."

The quote above is from author Tracy Clark, whose superb Young Adult trilogy will be published starting early next year by Entangled Teen. She and I were exchanging metaphors for the road to publication the other day on Twitter after we had both recently announced our book deals. (My own trilogy will kick off Fall 2014 from Simon Pulse.)

Tracy, who was one of the first authors I met here on the blog, sees the journey as a circle. I see it more as a series of hills. In typical writerly fashion, we decided to explore our metaphors in detail.

Here's Tracy:

The circle is a mental and emotional Indy 500. Or, maybe it’s more apt to compare the journey to an Olympic track and field event. Only this event is often measured in years and the hurdles are of varying difficulty. Let me explain.

The starting gun goes off. I’ve heard this gun before and I’ve ignored it. I watched from the stands as other writers sprang from starting positions, giving it their all, typing away. All the while my fingers are twitching as if it’s me out there. I want it to be. Badly. Just not badly enough to lace up. Or more honestly, I’m afraid I might go out there and fall flat on my face.

Finally, my own longing overcomes me and I take my place on the field. Jittery (probably due to the required caffeine) and eager to prove I have what it takes, I stretch, wiggle my fingers, and try not to throw up. I’m finally ready. I’m pumped. Let’s do this. What I don’t realize when starting out is that this is a marathon of indeterminate length. This is probably a good thing. Ignorance is bliss. I’m fueled by dreams and passion and chocolate. I’ll need that fuel as it’s gonna require serious stamina to see this through.

The reason my mind sees a writer’s journey as a circle is that I’ve come to believe there’s no finish line. This only ends if we quit or if we’re dead. But while we’re on the circle, every one of us is either leading or following. It’s very hard to discern who’s “ahead.”

Here's me:

I'm not sure there is any "ahead" or "behind." The journey is more a question of up and down and perspective, like a series of hills we need to climb. The first hill slopes with deceptive gentleness, inviting us in. Fortunately, the top is high enough that we can't see anything beyond the wisps of cloudy dreams floating  above the peak.

We start off, delighted with every word that spills from our fingers onto the keyboard. We meet a few other writers, and we cheer each other on. But the hill gets steeper. Some of the writers we started with surge ahead and finish a book. Some set a more leisurely pace, take time to enjoy the view. We get to the steep part of the climb--we send out queries, throw out those grappling hooks. Now there are writers at the top to pull us up. We in turn hold out a hand to help others polish their manuscripts and pitches. We finally do it though, we win. We plant our flag on an agent's hilltop. And only then do we discover a whole 'nother hill beyond the first. We need to sell the book. Then revise it. Then promote it. And write another. On deadline.

There's always another hill. Something harder, steeper, more dangerous. Often there's a fall before we reach a new peak, or we hit a valley, a slump, a stretch of bleak road that seems to go on forever.

Here's Tracy again:

First of all, there are different lanes on the road. The drafting lane, the revision lane, the agent lane, the publishing lane, the marketing lane, and the career lane. All lanes in the same big circle called “Being a Writer.” Just that some of us are focusing on one particular lane right now rather than another. And that’s the way it should be.

Yes, there are the major hurdles that some writers have jumped before you: finishing an actual book, signing with an agent, selling a book to a publisher. But folks, I’ve done all three of those (the finishing a book hurdle has been leapt over four times, almost five) and the hurdles don’t stop there! After each hurdle, there is another, and another.

Let’s not forget, on this thrilling, exhausting, wonderful circle there are also medals of excellence. Some writers have mastered a particular aspect of writing: surprising and engaging dialogue, appropriate and moody setting, completely inventive and fully developed characters. Maybe they’ve mastered plot or that elusive, smoky thing…voice. While I may have earned a medal or two, I always have my eyes on the writers who excel at hurdles I’ve yet to conquer. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have an agent yet, or if they are a bestseller. If they are great at something and I am not, I am behind them, chasing them.

Or, could be I’ve inspired someone else with something that they think I do well. Along the way, there have been writers who’ve reached back to help me, and writers I’ve pulled along. It’s very much a relay sport. And that’s also the way it should be.

And me:

There are many ways we writers help each other. We might offer a hand critiquing, or teaching, recommending a workshop or agent, offering a bit of insight. Perhaps we it's as simple as writing a kickasss scene, a heartbreaking theme, or a character who inspires someone the way we ourselves have been inspired as readers. Or it could be *readers* who carry us to the heights. By rights, it should be the readers who inspire us, because we write to communicate heart to heart. Touching a reader is the elusive pinnacle of what we do. But there is no instruction manual for doing that. There's no road map for any of this. We do our best, keep our heads up, our hearts open, and our arms wide to encompass all the books, the readers, the other writers, because we all share the love of words and story.

Finish it up, Tracy!

Point is, we’re always following and always leading, all at the same time. Whether you see your journey as a hill or a circle, keep moving forward. Doesn’t matter how fast. Just keep moving and don’t forget to wave when you see us out there.

Yeah. What Tracy said. In spades. :)

If you are on this journey, you aren't alone. If you are despairing, or cheering, or trudging along, there are others right here to commiserate, nudge, push, shove, or cheer. Whatever you need.

So tell us.

What do you think? Circle, hills, or something else? Where are you on the road? What part of the journey are you finding hard to reach?


30 comments:

  1. I've always seen my writing 'career' as sort of a quest. I blame this on being bent (in the most lovely way) by D&D and fantasy novels since I was a wee babe.

    In my world, I've already picked up a weapon of choice (writing tool) and done a few good deeds, vanquished a few bad guys (written several books) and now I'm dicking around at some inn at a crossroads waiting for the next turn in my adventure.

    Okay, so really, I feel more like Mad Mardigan from Willow, sitting in the crow's cage at the crossroads, alternatively begging for someone to let me out so I can fight for their cause, and mouthing off behind the backs of those who walk by, informing me that I'm not worth the trouble. Like Mad Martigan, I don't REALLY wish them ill, I'm just desperate to get out of that crow's cage and be going somewhere.

    In our world, this means that I'm still querying agents. Still trapped in that realm of 'almost' and 'FANTASTIC, but not for me'.

    Eventually, though, my Willow will come along, and let me out of my crow's cage. And then, who knows. But I'll greet the new adventure with a smile and a toss of my sword!

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    1. First of all, congrats on being FANTASTIC. That is gold in rejection terms, and it sounds like it is just a matter of time and finding the right connection. It's amazing how "down" we can feel just before the breakthrough.

      OMG, I love your Mad Martigan analogy! Overall, your version sounds far more swashbuckling, romantic, and just plain fun. So wonderful! And now I have to go find Willow, because I just realized that I have left a dire omission in my son's film education. I also have a sudden desire to go acquire a sword. :)

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    2. I couldn't resist using Mad Mardigan as an analogy! He's the epitome of 'I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way, and I'm going to make the best of it!' to me, and I want to be that way.

      Yes, I am very happy to have reached the 'fantastic' type of rejection. It's a big step. But it's also like waving chocolate in my face... now that I'm so close I can taste it, I want more! So, I'll just keep at it until I get the more that I'm craving :)

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    3. This is so true: "It's amazing how "down" we can feel just before the breakthrough."

      I've seen this happen to so many writers, if not all - me included. Right when you're ready to throw in the towel or smash your keyboard over your head the light finally appears. The hard work isn't over - I'm realizing that it's never over, in fact it intensifies. But working hard for years and and years and coming *this* close to giving up (perhaps multiple times!) actually gives you the fortitude to survive getting published. :-)

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    4. Right? Right? The dark moment. We are the heroes of our own journey. The dark moment homes our resolve and ensure only the strong make it through to return with the elixir. (okay, sorry. End geek moment. :))

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  2. Great points both of you! Now I'm seeing a crazy track full of different hills with intersecting lanes as we weave back and forth on our journeys!! The help we get (and give) others is so incredible. I've never experienced another community as generous and unflaggingly supportive as the online writers' community!

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    1. I couldn't agree more. It's funny, because I used to think of writing as a solitary pursuit. It's strange how well the Internet works for us. When I think many of us are essentially shy or introverted, it's surprising how plugged in we feel to this community. But maybe it is because we can start off gradually and feel supported by others, it makes us naturally inclined to be supportive in turn. Whatever the reason, it's AWESOME!

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  3. I can empathize with Tracy when she says, "I’ve heard this gun before and I’ve ignored it. I watched from the stands as other writers sprang from starting positions..."

    I was there too and regret not jumping on the track years ago.

    Both writing metaphors are excellent. Like Jemi Fraser's comment, the track and hills morphed together. Now, all I can envision is an X-Games style dirt bike track with crazy jumps, giant hills, invisible turns, and flaming hoops thrown in for good measure. Thanks. =D

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    1. LOL! Thanks for that mental picture. But maybe that is pretty much the way it is. No matter what we plan, or think the journey is going to be like, it is going to throw things at us out of nowhere. We can only hope we have the grace and balance to keep going. Sort of Ninja Warrior games style, right? Or maybe Mario. (He is still my favorite hero. Or second fave; you can't beat John McClane!)

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    2. John McClane and Mario are pretty awesome. Although, I have a soft spot for Indiana Jones even if he's not considered an action hero. Or is he? :)

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    3. Oh, I think Indiana Jones is definitely an action hero. Don't you? I think what all three of these guys have in common is that they don't whine. They just go take care of business and they seem sort of unassuming at the beginning, but they make the most of the tools they are given. To me, that's the best kind of hero. I wish there were more of them in YA. We have a lot of heroines like that though! (And that's kind of even better!)

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  4. I agree with you both. And I do agree that it never ends and once you reach a certain milestone, like getting an agent or a book contract, it doesn't mean the future is smooth sailing. My own journey started out as very excited and couldn't wait to submit, but then like Tracy said, realizing I wasn't ready. So I pulled back and learned my craft, watching others get ahead. Sometimes I was frustrated, but now I'm okay with a slow journey. Like many, I have to work full-time and have many other demands. Right now I don't want more deadlines so am pulling back till I'm ready to take the next step.

    I also agree that the writing community is incredibly supportive. And it makes it so much easier going through the sometimes exciting and sometimes hard journey of being a writer. It's not a path for the feint of heart or one to expect big financial gains from. It's a journey of the heart.

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    1. It you are right, Natalie! it takes a lot of courage and stick-to-it-iveness to go through the process. It's not a race, and you are smart to wait until you are ready to take the next step. The great thing is that you are loving the process, and building a support network of all the people who you have supported along the way. We will all be here for you whenever you need something!

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  5. I see writing more as a series of hills, although my own journey became a circle.
    Writing has its ups and downs and you never know if you'll have enough momentum to make it up the next hill.
    My personal journey is a circle though. I began as a nobody - an unknown author with no blog followers. Now I am in a position where I can help others and bring attention to those who were are where I began. And that is the coolest thing!

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    1. You are a blogging machine, Alex, and it is great that you are using your power for good. I love the Insecure Writers Group, and I think we pretty much all belong by definition. Even a small gesture of support or praise can make all the difference as we struggle! :)

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  6. I see it more as ripples on a pond. You're looking to hook the fish that takes you on the next part of the journey. Kudos, Martina and Tracy!!

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    1. LOL! I love that. And yeah, in a sense that's what we are all about. We may be looking to hook an agent, an editor, an acquisition panel, a bookseller. Ultimately, they are all readers, and if we can write something that readers love, we will ultimately find an audience.

      Thanks, Traci! I am so proud of Tracy Clark. She is such a dynamo in person, and you just know that's going to translate to a kickass book! :)

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  7. Whoa! So pleased to see the dialogue continue here! Thanks, everyone, for the positive responses. No matter how you see the road--it IS your road, after all--just know that we're all in it together. As writers. As readers. As passionate people who DO their dreams rather than talk about them. We kinda kick ass, you know that?

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    1. I love the idea of doing our dreams. I definitely see that in you more easily than I see it in myself, but I guess it is true for all of us. It takes fortitude and a little bit of reckless courage to go after this all out. Kickass, huh? I've gotta love that image. :)

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  8. I love both of these analogies, but could particularly relate to this part: "And only then do we discover a whole 'nother hill beyond the first one." EEP. I'm at the bottom of my next hill at the moment, but excited about the climb ahead. :-)

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    1. You can do it, Cally! No matter how steep the hill, it's one step at a time. It doesn't matter how slowly you go, or fast. Just go!

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  9. As far as the analogy of ripples on pond and fish: (Ahem...)

    I am the fish in the pond. I have found my own unique stroke, I have swum--bravely out of the dark forested weeds to the cold clear water. I work hard every day to maintain my own space in the quickly rushing stream when --Whoops! One of the fish in my school is miraculously pulled from our midst, taken from our ranks. He has been offered the bait! And he has taken it! Much is made over this fishes length and weight and beauty. He is a "prize fish", chosen by those that dwell above. He goes off to become a great fish story, and the rest of us are left to wait for our own bait, and our own hook.

    I don't wish to appear jaded, I just sometimes feel powerless, though I KNOW that's not true. I read the blogs and understand the wisdom behind the work ethic. I just sometimes feel like I am a fish, trying to catch the fisherman. Dwelling in the depths, unheard, swimming with all my might, searching for that hook.
    (Mostly I just tried to go with the metaphor here, and it does ring a little sad...but true. Don't worry. I'll keep fishing.)
    ~Just Jill

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    1. Holy wow, I LOVE the metaphor of the fish trying to lure the fisherman. And it is true to a point. But the difference is that unlike trout, we all control the shape and beauty of our stories. Our assignment, if we choose to take it :D, is to change our shape and appearance enough, differentiate ourselves enough, to make the fisherman want to catch us, If you think of it like that, you realize we do have the control, and it's an empowering way to look at it!

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  10. Kay. I'll do it.
    Fish-fry anyone?
    ~Just Jill

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  11. Loved reading all the metaphors here, so I thought I'd add one more.

    Writerly journey sometimes feels like intergalactic travel. I started off from my own 'place' with a wish to explore only the corners of the universe I could see. But after getting 'there' I realized that the place is infinite, and going 'there' is so much more than following a single line from here to there. Each genre feels like a solar system of its own, with its own set of planets. Still exploring, and it's so much fun!

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  12. I love that, and it's the hallmark of a reading writer. The more read outside our genres, the more we bring not our writing. I especially love that genres are so fluid in YA.

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  13. I will be coming back to this post and re-reading it as inspiration during sticky time. I say hold your arms up on the downhills and scream your guts out.

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    1. I love that, Leslie! It definitely IS a wild ride. We gotta enjoy the hell out of it, right? :D - As always, you nailed it!!!!

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  14. What a great read! For me, the circle and the hills came together - the no finish line really resonates with me, while I've also experienced the ups and downs of those hills. The whole writers supporting each other/relay sport thing is really inspiring - I think I need to get out into the writerly blogosphere more!

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    1. Belle. the more you get out into the writersphere, the more you will love it. Jump on in; the water's fine!

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