07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Without a Parachute

by Tam Linsey

I leaped out of the plane without making sure my parachute had been properly packed. There was a chance it would work. But there was a greater chance that the cord would break, or the fabric get stuck, or a myriad other things that can go wrong in a parachute jump. Luckily I didn't have far to fall.

That's an analogy to my first manuscript submission. I'd spent my senior year of college researching the novel, and began writing it as my Senior Thesis. It took me ten years to finish it. No one can take ten years to write a novel and expect to make a living at it.

Then I had loved ones read the one hundred and sixty thousand word tome and tell me it was wonderful. I felt great, basking in the adrenaline rush of my immanent success. I started calling myself a writer. I had no idea industry standards for first time authors tend to favor shorter manuscripts of around one hundred thousand words. Not to mention you should never say your mother loved it.

I'd gone over the finished product three times, which felt like plenty of revision. All I need is a beginning, middle and end, right? Not so. Stories have things like character arc, turning points, and subtext. Although I'd been an English major, I'd never heard these terms before. Granted, there are a few savant writers out there who can pull out a story without thinking of these things, but I found out the hard way - I'm not one of them.

Of course I got rejections.

The only thing I did right was go to my local library and research reputable agents for their addresses. (The Internet makes this so much easier these days!) But researching agents wasn't going to assure me my ill-packed parachute would open. And it didn't. I got 29 rejections before I paused and decided to look for a support group.

When I found my local RWA chapter, they pulled my chute out of the pack and taught me how to fold it properly, check the cords, verify the emergency release, and all the other little details. They were harsh. And they were right. They made me realize how unprepared I was. And when I was truly ready and properly terrified, I wouldn't jump.

So they pushed me out of the plane.

Guess what? My parachute opened.  I got personalized rejections (for you non-writers, believe it or not, this is a good thing.) I got full manuscript requests. I have not landed an agent, yet, but I know I will eventually hit the bull's-eye waiting for me below. Maybe even on my next leap.

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Tam,
Great blog.
I think your experiences are almost universal for most new authors. I know my journey to publication was a mirror image of what you said.



Diana Mcc. said...

Loved your analogy of the writing/publication journey with the parachute jump! :))

My first ms was pure inexperience junk when I look back at it.

I feel more confident now that one day, thanks to reading "how to books" and RWA, I will be published.

Great post!

Tam Linsey said...

Thanks, Margaret and Diana. I don't think I'll ever feel like I'm "ready" quite like I did back before I knew anything - lol!

Judith Ashley said...

Great post! and I love your graphics - free falling in #1 and an free floating in the last one. I remember my first foray into romance writing and how great I thought my story was - dialogue stilted? no way! Except when I read it out loud, it sounded horrific (another word for stilted).

Are you even considering self-publishing?

Tam Linsey said...

Judith, I'm not closed to the idea of self publishing. But I definitely want to make sure my parachute opens if I do!
My personal resolution is to query through December, at which point I'll begin the self publishing process if I have not attracted an agent or editor.

Sarah Raplee said...

Great post! The writers among us will relate!

Paty Jager said...

Tam, That is so true of the writing process. Great post!