I love to write in our city library. The building is nestled on the western edge of our little ski town, up against the converging flows of Soda Creek and the Yampa River. There is a bank of tall, wide windows along the southern face of the second floor, where patrons can sit and gaze at the jagged hills across the river. They offer bumper stickers at the circulation desk, right near the front door, which announce: “I came for the skiing and stayed for the library. Steamboat Springs, CO.” It’s that good.
But I can’t sit by the windows to write. It’s far too tempting to allow my eyes to be drawn away from the screen to watch the river rolling by, or to search the hills beyond that for mountain lions. (I know they’re there…) No, I have to lock myself away in the only windowless study room in the entire building if I have any hope of getting work done. If that’s already occupied, I can settle for the room facing the street instead, the frosted glass windows there offer little distraction.
Why come to the library at all, if not to enjoy the view? Because walking through the front doors, past the display of hardcover novels embossed with household names, and further still past the rows of shelves stacked high with fiction, reminds me that these books represent a tiny fraction of humans who have successfully completed the arduous process of writing a story and getting it out into the world. I’m only beginning to understand the patience required to endure it.
Each title represents months – years, even – of that author’s life, the best parts of which were spent gathering the story – listening to the characters reveal what happens next, finding the words and writing them down. Patience encourages the tale to unfold, and then blossom.
Each one of these writers had a first book, I remind myself. Each one of them went through the thrill of writing it. Each one of them rode high on the enthusiasm of completing it! Most, probably, came crashing down with the realization of just how hard it can be to get a book published when nobody knows your name.
For an unknown writer, the publishing process goes like this:
Step One: Carefully craft a letter to an agent – several agents, most likely – in which you fit a hook, a winning description of your story, a relevant biography about yourself, and the reason you’ve chosen to approach this particular agent onto a single page, double-spaced. (The purpose of this query letter is to ask for their permission to send the entire manuscript.)
Step Two: Send the letter.
Step Three: Check your email every 15 seconds for a response.
Step Four: Repeat Step Three for weeks. Maybe months.
Step Five: Google “How to self-publish my book.”
Step Six: Admit to yourself that marketing isn’t your strong suit, and research more agents to query.
Step Seven: Start again at Step One, with a different list of agents.
Step Eight: Sell plasma.
Step Nine: Open a new bank account for plasma earnings, which will be dedicated solely to self-publishing the book. Vow to learn about marketing.
I don’t know what comes next. I’m at Step Seven. Only my fear of needles is preventing my advancement.
I’m lucky though, I have a dear friend – Rebecca Gummere – who’s been there. She’s a stunning writer, and has had essays published in the likes of O, The Oprah Magazine! (You should follow her here!) I reached out to her, letting her know that I was dealing with a hard case of reality. She empathized, and pointed me towards the #ShareYourRejections community on Twitter, where artists from all walks of life and every level of success lay bare the moments in which they were beaten down. I can’t tell if this makes me feel better.
In the meantime, stories keep coming, and thank goodness for that! While I’m watching those unfold, I can almost forget about the one that’s already come through me – the one I love more than anything else I’ve made in my life, save my children (and let’s be honest, that depends on the day.) I’m now writing a second novel, and several short stories. The short stories are offered to you here, on Patreon.com.
As for the novel, well, I’ll get it out into the world somehow, some way. And in the meantime, I’ll just keep writing…