Monday, September 16, 2013

ANOTHER Honest-to-God Publishing Story

In 2011 I posted the publishing story of my friend, author L. R. Giles. Well, I've had the pleasure of "meeting" author Lori Goldstein this year, and I have to say, her journey to the Big Six publishing contract is just as entertaining (and heart-wrenching) as Lamar's. I trust you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Without further ado, I give you over to Lori's capable hands...

The Importance of Having an (Honest) Cheerleader
GUEST POST by author, Lori Goldstein
Behind every successful writer is a pom-pom wielding cheerleader. As time goes on, if you’re lucky, you may look over your shoulder and realize you’ve gathered an entire high-ponytailed squad. But in the beginning, there is just one.

For me, the cheerleader doing the high kicks on the sidelines was my husband. Without him, this journey to publication would have ended years ago. In fact, without him, this journey would have never begun.

The year was 2008. I was working as a freelance copyeditor. My journalism degree had led me to a career in the world of words. Newspapers, trade journals, corporate communications, by 2008, I’d written, edited, and designed for these and more. I switched jobs a few times in my early career, constantly searching for the one that would allow my love of and excitement for the written word to be felt in the actual work I was doing. I came up empty. It wasn’t them, it was me. (Well, maybe sometimes it was them. I’m looking at you IT metrics newsletter.)

Working as a freelancer allowed me to take on a wider variety of projects. They weren’t all glamorous, but at least I was doing different things (like editing a knitting for dogs book, I mean, how many can claim that on their résumé?) and meeting new people (including some Okies after editing the energy policy proposal for the state of Oklahoma, don’t ask, still unsure how that came about).

But in terms of career fulfillment, I was running on fumes. The work was steady enough, I was in charge of my own schedule, and I had more free time to do other things I enjoyed. In truth, the search was over. I had resigned myself to work not being something that would ever contribute to my personal happiness. I figured lots of people live that way. After all, isn’t that where the “a job’s a job” comes from?

Thankfully, my husband was not so ready to give up the hunt. We were both avid readers. Nothing made us happier than a week on the beach with a stack of books weighing down our luggage (the same is true today, save for the switch to fully loaded must save one’s back as one gets older).

One day, my husband came home from work, having told a coworker yet another amusing (for them, not me) tale of what it’s like to be short. At 4 feet, 10 inches, I am not built for this world. Scratch that. The world is not built for me. Don’t believe me? Try having to sit on a pillow to see over the steering wheel or getting whiplash as your belt buckle snags on the kitchen drawer pull every time you wash dishes. Welcome to my world. Annoying to me, but apparently, funny to everyone else.

“People have no idea what it’s like,” my husband said. “You should write about it.”

If this were a movie, there’d be a light bulb flashing above my head followed by a montage of me sitting on a pillow at a desk with a trash can as a footrest, banging away at a keyboard, printing out the final page of a short book (pun intended), walking through a fancy lobby proudly sporting a pair of kids’ ballet flats adorned with sparkly hearts, exiting an ornate elevator to sign my name on a generous publishing contract.

But it’s not a movie, and it’s also five years later, so we all know that didn’t happen. But what did happen is I wrote a book.

Though a writing folder on my computer contained several first chapters of a variety of stories, I never pursued any of them further. I was a journalist, not a creative writer. I could tell a news story, I could write a snappy feature article, but a story straight from my imagination? That wasn’t me. But this, writing about being short, nothing could be more squarely in my wheelhouse.

And it was nonfiction. It was like writing a really long article. No problem.

Hey now, stop that. I hear you laughing. I hear you calling me naïve. And I was. I thought this, writing about me, would be easy. And the truth is, most days it was. But easy doesn’t mean good.

During my freelancing lulls, over the course of the next year, I wrote my book about being short. By the middle of 2009, I had approximately 50,000 words. I thought it had some funny moments. I thought the writing was solid. It was ready for my first reader. And you know who that was by now, don’t you?

I can’t imagine being in my poor husband’s shoes, having to read something I spent a year on, something he encouraged, and having to be honest about it. The pressure. The desire to just smile and say “it’s fantastic” must have been strong. And that’s what a cheerleader would’ve done. But I didn’t need just a cheerleader. I needed an honest cheerleader. And he was. It must’ve been one of the hardest things he’s had to do, but he did it. He told me there were parts he thought were hilarious (and I heard his guffaws while reading so I believed him), but he also told me he thought it needed work.

And we talked about what I might be able to do with it. One idea was to turn it into fiction. Maybe a romantic comedy type thing where a short chick meets an NBA-sized dude and the hijinks ensue. But as I’ve said, I didn’t consider myself a creative writer.

By this point, it was the fall of 2009 and the economy was in the toilet. Being flushed down with it were most of my freelancing clients. Companies were scaling back, and my services were the first to go.

At first, I panicked. Was I going to return to an office job? And lose my freedom? Were there even jobs to be had?

But then, my cheerleader suited up and raised a pom-pom. My husband encouraged me to think of this not as a problem but as a solution. I would now have more time to write. To do a job I thought I might actually like —I was not ready to say (hope for) love.

I owe my publishing career to my husband, my cheerleader, and to this moment. This moment in the fall of 2009 is when I decided to write.

While I loved much of my nonfiction book about being short, something made me open the writing folder on my computer. One nugget of a story, based on the true experience of a college friend, leapt out at me. The original date on that file, which had a mere five pages of material, was 2005. It was now 2009, and it was time to go back to it.

My only preparation was reading Stephen King’s On Writing. As I kid, I read every Stephen King book in print. Surely this would be enough to transition me into the world of fiction.

Yes, now you can laugh. A lot. I am.

I didn’t then. I didn’t laugh a year later in the fall of 2010 when my husband read my first draft, which came in at a whopping 150,000 words (the Stephen King effect!), and told me, in a much more serious tone than with my short book, that this was good but not great. He said, despite the year I spent on it, that it still needed a lot of work.

Did his honesty hurt? Yes. Both of us. But it also helped. Because he followed that comment up by flinging both pom-poms in the air and insisting this manuscript was worthy of the work. There was something there. Of that, he was sure.

I was less sure. But his cheering, and his willingness to discuss changes and read every revision, wouldn’t let me give up. Wouldn’t let me give up for the next two years, the two years it took me to rewrite this manuscript.

Writing is hard. Writing is work. Writing takes discipline. Writing takes the ability to learn from your past mistakes. Writing takes opening yourself up to critiques, allowing yourself to revel in the good and forcing yourself to not only accept, but to change, the bad.

During those two years of rewriting I experienced every emotion. Frustration. Self-doubt. Anger. Sadness. Joy. Yes, joy too. Because despite this being the hardest thing I had ever done, it was also the most rewarding. And fun. I loved it.

I devoured every craft book in my local library. I read everything I could online about querying and getting an agent and landing a book deal. And all the while I cut, edited, wrote, and rewrote my manuscript.

I learned to write by rewriting that book. I learned to trust my cheerleader by writing that book. My cheerleader who wouldn’t let me give up. My cheerleader who waited by the phone, more scared than I was, to hear what the first person outside of him thought of my writing.

In the winter of 2012, this manuscript was in the best shape it had ever been in. I loved it. My cheerleader loved it. But no one else had read it. Few people even knew I was writing it. I was afraid to tell friends and family because what if it wasn’t as good as we both thought? Even if it was, I knew the odds of getting an agent let alone a publishing deal were long. It was hard enough setting myself up for disappointment. I didn’t need to do it with an audience.

But I knew I needed an outside opinion.

I signed up to have two agents read my first three chapters at a conference run by Grub Street in Boston in May 2012. In advance of that, in February 2012, I submitted my pages to a Grub Street manuscript consultant. She was to give me feedback I could incorporate before those agents would receive my work.

My heart pounded as I walked in the door that day. Sophie Powell, author of a lovely novel called The Mushroom Man, set my heart racing even faster by becoming my second cheerleader.

She loved my writing. In her captivating British accent, she read sentences, my sentences, aloud, saying how “brilliant” they were. Mind you, this is a commercial, mainstream story about a twenty-nine-year-old man-boy struggling to find love and happiness and (sound familiar?) satisfaction in his work. I was not trying to write the next great literary novel. But Sophie made me feel like I had.

Her enthusiasm and her words, “I cannot imagine this not selling” followed by “send this to my agent” made my entire body tingle.

I still remember the pride and excitement I felt when I ran out the door after that meeting and called my husband. A complete stranger, a complete stranger in the publishing industry, had validated what we both hoped. I just might be a writer.

Of course, again, this isn’t a movie. It’s the real world. And the reality is, the publishing industry is hard. My book might have been the best book ever written and still not find its way out of my writing folder and into the hands of readers. But that day, I thought I was on my way. I mean, it had taken me three years to get there. Three difficult years. I thought maybe, just maybe, success was around the corner.

It wasn’t.

I sent my query to Sophie’s agent. She didn’t request my book. The agents at the conference in May, while having extremely complimentary things to say about my writing, thought the beginning needed to be faster. They didn’t offer for me to revise and resubmit.

I won’t lie here. This was devastating. I am not an overly optimistic person, and still I had convinced myself that this was the start of something. I had even given in and told a few close friends what I had been up to. Which turned out to be a good thing. I needed the cheerleaders they became. Because they read my manuscript and gave me such positive feedback that I put on my big-girl pants and started revising — again. I took the notes from the agents and reworked my start. After running it by Sophie, who gave me an even bigger thumbs up, I was ready to start querying in July 2012.

Taking the advice I had read, I decided I’d write something new while querying. I switched genres, moving from adult to young adult because an idea for a book had been kicking around in my head for a while. I’ve always been a fan of young adult everything — novels, TV shows, movies, they’re my favorite source of entertainment. So why not write in this genre I love that is experiencing quite the resurgence right now?

Pantsing my adult manuscript had led to three years of work. It was an experience I was not about to repeat.

So before I wrote a word of my new idea, I took a Grub Street novel planning course with author James Scott in July 2012. Though I had read much on this topic over the years, none of it resonated with me. But James Scott’s class did. I must’ve eaten a dozen flies that week with the way my mouth constantly hung wide open. Everything he said clicked. Every trick, every technique, every piece of advice he gave seemed designed specifically for me. I got it. I finally got it. I finally got the elements of the novel. And how to plan them.

So energized was I that I took one last crack at my adult manuscript. I adjusted a few things to better match what I had learned in the course. In September 2012, I began querying. At the same time I started planning my young adult novel. I spent the rest of that month developing a detailed outline and beat sheet, to the tune of fifty pages.

While I queried my adult manuscript in the fall of 2012, I wrote my young adult novel, tentatively titled Becoming Jinn. The first draft took me two months. Two months. Planning made all the difference. Needless to say, I am a convert for life.

Unfortunately, the queries I sent out for my adult manuscript didn’t result in many requests. And the rejections on the full didn’t provide much feedback. Save for one agent. The agent who is now my agent: Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency.

Though she passed on my adult manuscript, she said the magic words, “you are a talented writer.” They were the perfect words at the perfect time. The rejections were starting to take their toll on me. But the positive things Lucy said about my writing style and my storytelling ability fueled my desire to finish Becoming Jinn.

And my husband, my cheerleader, pointed to those words as evidence of why I needed to keep going. Maybe my adult manuscript was a tough sell in the world of commercial mainstream fiction, but Becoming Jinn had a great hook. It just might be the thing to get me noticed.

After revising for a month, including incorporating feedback from published authors whose critiques I had bid on and won through charity auctions, Becoming Jinn was ready to be queried. Before I got the chance, in January 2013, I entered my first page into a contest and won. The prize was a full manuscript review by an agent. I hadn’t even sent out a single query yet, and here I was with a request for a full.

Considering how querying my adult manuscript had gone, I wasn’t optimistic that querying Becoming Jinn would go much better. But still, what if the contest agent liked my manuscript? Did I want other agents to have a shot? Did I want one particular agent to have a shot? I sent out a handful of queries including one to that particular agent: Lucy.

In less than a week, Lucy had read Becoming Jinn and offered representation. I was in shock. My road, which began in 2008 with a nonfiction book about being short, was ending with representation by an agent for a book about genies. Five years later, I was finally on my way.

Based on Lucy’s insightful feedback, I revised Becoming Jinn during the winter and early spring of 2013. We went on submission in May 2013, and in less than two weeks, I had an offer for Becoming Jinn and its unwritten sequel from Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

I actually did get the chance to step out of an ornate elevator into the Flatiron Building in New York City when I met my editor for the first time in July. It was then that it hit me. I’m going to be a published author. After all my struggling, I have a career I love. One that is professionally and personally fulfilling. And I have my first (honest) cheerleader and all the ones who joined the squad after to thank for it.

Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but thankfully, the journey is not. 

Lori Goldstein's book, the tentatively titled Becoming Jinn is scheduled to be released in Spring 2015. You can see a sneak peek and follow the rest of this publishing journey at and chat with me about books and more on Twitter at @loriagoldstein.You can connect with her on Goodreads at

Your Turn: Questions for Lori? Comments? Where are you in your author journey?

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