Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing I Learned From Willy Wonka

Well, that title is a bit misleading… I’m new to writing and publishing and don’t know “everything I need to know” by a long stretch.

The inspiration for this blog post came when a quote from Willy Wonka popped into my head and seemed to fit my quest for publication.

“There’s a hundred billion people in this world, and only five of them will find golden tickets [representation as a debut author]. Even if you had a sack full of money, you probably wouldn’t find one. And after this contest [process] is over, you’ll be no different from the billions of others who didn’t find one.”

“But I am different. I want it more than any of them.”

The more I recalled from that film, the more appropriate it seemed. So, here’s what I’ve learned about publishing from Willy Wonka:

  1. You should never, ever doubt what nobody is sure of. If there’s one refrain everyone and their brother is singing, it’s that publishing is subjective. Rejections are expected, even for eventual best-sellers. A particular genre or topic or plot device may be unanimously declared cliché, or overdone, and yet opinions can change in a split-second based on fresh execution. So, all you can hope to do is keep writing what you love, and hoping someone else comes along who loves it as much as you do.
  2. Rude demands and entitlement issues will send you down the garbage chute. There have been a lot of posts about this recently on agent/industry blogs. From moonrat’s unproductive lunch, to odd or hostile letters sent to Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, Jonathan Lyons and even intern Jodi Meadows… the one clear fact is that these author reactions did not help them get published. Take home point? Be a good egg.
  3. In here, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams. I am often surprised at how often control becomes a fundamental point of focus. Part of what I enjoy about writing– the reason I find it therapeutic– is that I finally have complete control over something. My characters, their world, and what happens to them depends entirely on what I decide. That is a heady feeling. Interestingly enough, once the writing is finished the next step (if publishing is the goal) means putting yourself in a situation where you have very little control. I think that’s why so many authors get frustrated riding the query-go-round and alternately cling to rules and/or declare them arbitrary and unreasonable.
  4. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Opening yourself to other people is the only way to share something wonderful you’ve created. It also means they might disrespect or destroy it. Be ready to filter your chocolate river.
  5. A little boy’s got to have something in this world to hope for. I struggle with this one a bit personally. I realize rejections are expected. I know thick skin is a publishing industry prerequisite. I know I haven’t queried remotely enough to make any assumptions about my chances to be published, but reading the odds can be pretty discouraging. But stories are meant to be shared, so I’ll keep a healthy dose of optimism on hand.
  6. Don’t let a golden ticket make the chocolate taste terrible. As much as any aspiring author wants to be recognized and published, the publishing process should not be allowed to spoil the experience of writing. It’s easy to get swept into the madness of query letters, synopses, and pitchcraft. And I’ve spent my fair share of time agonizing over query blurb wording (many can testify to that), but it is important, I think, to remember why we started writing in the first place.

Kate on ktliterary posted a while back about Josie Bloss’s plans for a tattoo to celebrate the release of her novel Band Geek Love, and asked what other aspiring authors would do to celebrate publication. I think I might sing “Golden Ticket” at the top of my lungs:

I never thought my life could be

Anything but catastrophe

But suddenly I begin to see

A bit of good luck for me.

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye.

I never had a chance to shine

Never a happy song to sing

But suddenly half the world is mine

what an amazing thing!

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden chance to make my way

And with a golden ticket

It’s a golden day.

ETA: I’ve added a couple more points to this list. Part II is here.

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This is What Happens When I’m Not Busy With Editing…

Since I first started writing The Edge of Memory in October, I have spent virtually every minute I’m alone in the car working on it in my head. I commute 75 minutes each way. So that’s a lot of time.

But I think I’m really done now with editing, until/unless an agent or editor has suggestions for further changes. And the plot details of my next project are still percolating.

I finished a 26-hour shift this morning, and then hit the car for the long ride home. This is the result.

So, with fair warning that the following post will be full out ridiculous, proceed at your own risk…

New from Imaginary Label, a division of Totally Bogus Records, I present the novelist’s soundtrack:

  1. Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
  2. Language (Suzanne Vega)
  3. All I Ever Wanted (Depeche Mode)
  4. Paperback Writer (The Beatles)
  5. The Book of Love (The Monotones)
  6. Grease is the Word (Grease Soundtrack)
  7. I Promise You I Will (Depeche Mode)
  8. More Than Words (Extreme)
  9. Open Book (Cake)
  10. The Word (The Beatles)
  11. Words (The BeeGees)
  12. The Story (Brandi Carlisle)
  13. Bookends (Simon & Garfunkel)
  14. I Could Write a Book (Tony Bennett)
  15. The End (The Doors)

And, if you order now, you’ll receive our special Agents Who Blog companion soundtrack, featuring…

For the powerful ladies of BookEndsAin’t Nuthin’ But a She-Thing (Salt-n-Pepa)

For Nathan Bransford, the only acceptable rhetorical questionsBlowin’ In the Wind (Bob Dylan)

For the folks at Folio, embracing the tidal turn towards electronic books and readersThe Electric Slide (Marcia Griffiths)

For desperately query-guideline clarifying Jennifer JacksonAll I Really Want (Alanis Morrissette)

Sadly, the song “Stompy Boots of Doom” has yet to be recorded, so for Colleen LindsayThese Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra)

For Jonathan LyonsThe Guitar (They Might Be Giants) “Hush my darling, be still my darling, the Lion’s on the phone…”

For Ipod-addicted Kristin NelsonPut Your Records On (Corinne Bailey Rae)

For Query Shark Janet ReidManeater (Hall & Oates)

So, gang… what else should we put on this imaginary soundtrack?

A Random Sort of Posting…

I do most of my creative thinking in my car when I’m commuting.  The rest of my life is just packed with too many distractions.

Lately, having plateaued on edits for The Edge of Memory, and patiently waiting for partials to be reviewed, I’ve been spending time thinking about my next novel, which will be more firmly in the “Suspense” category.  I’m very excited about the idea, and I love thinking it over, figuring out the plot details.

But not today.  Today, my mind was cluttered with a variety of oddities.

Like, remember this?

It occurred to me that I should add in a parody for “Somewhere” (There’s a Place for Us).  Obviously, this would be titled, “There’s a Plan for Us.”

Usually, I’d have drummed up the lyrics on the spot, but I was distracted.  By the no-less-than eleven stuffed Garfields displayed in the rear window of the car ahead of me.  Two of them were of the window-cling variety.  Some were quite old-looking.  I increased my speed slightly to pass the car, fully expecting to see an older cat-lady type driving.

Hmmm… chain-smoking young man.  Did he borrow this car?  Was he demonstrating his softer side?  Attempting to woo a Garfield-lover?  Or does he simply love Garfields and I should learn to accept him for who he is?

I’d like to believe the last one is the truth.

And finally, I kept coming back to the realization that Obama finally did it. 

This makes me happy.  I’d like to shout “Yes We CAN!” but, as a pediatrician, that just makes me think of Bob the Builder.

Every Car Has Its Life-Threatening Defect

So, virtually every car has some sort of glitch.  Our old minivan had a transmission that was prone to crapping out without warning.

And my luck dictates that if a glitch is possible, it is probable.

So, recently I was driving home from work in my dream car.  The weather was fabulous, and, inhibitions removed by lack of sleep for 24+ hours, I was rocking out loudly to the Indigo Girls as I sat at a stoplight.

A car pulled up next to me.  I sensed the driver’s intense stare.  “So what?” I figured.  “Let him enjoy my impromptu sing-a-long session.”

From the corner of my eye, I see him waving to me.  Is he about to compliment my singing?  Ask me to shut up?  Tell me to get a life?  I’m 34 years old; it’s been a long time since a stranger chatted me up at a stoplight.  Finally, he will not be ignored.

“Excuse me,” he shouts over my radio.

I hit the mute button.  I get it now.  He needs directions.  There is something in my face that suggests I know how to find places. “Yes?”

“Did you know that your brake lights are out?”

“What?”

“Yeah… both brake lights are out.  Only the one in your window is working.”

“Oh… thanks for telling me.”

Heading straight to the shop, I call my husband to tell him I’ll be late coming home.  He is skeptical.  “That’s weird that they would both be out.  You don’t even know for sure… it’s just some random guy.  If they really are out, you’ve probably blown a fuse.”

“Well, I’m still going to get them checked.  I’m due for an oil change anyway.” I hang up and drive with exaggerated stopping time.

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, Internet Boy is researching brakelight problems for 2006 sonatas.

At the shop I ask them to check the brakelights.  They tell me the lights are working fine.

As I prepare to leave, I decide to check them myself.  After all, why would a random dude stop me otherwise?

Although the taillights come on, they DON’T light when you step on the brake.  I call the mechanics out to look.

The mechanics suspect an electrical problem, but they agree to try replacing the bulbs.

Et Voila!  All fixed. 

Internet Boy calls in with the news that 2006 Sonata original brakelights tend to burn out oddly.

So, potentially dangerous defect now repaired.  Total cost to me?  $5.86 for the bulbs.  Installing them was free with my oil change.

I seriously love my car.

Oh… and if you have an ’06 Sonata, you might want to replace your brakelight bulbs. 😉

John Denver and I Made Up Today…

Remember this?

Today, for the first time in a month, Sunshine on My Shoulders came up on my random mp3 disk.  But today was a gorgeous day.

So John and I are officially back together. 

Wearing my $5, non-prescription sunglasses in the springtime sunshine, letting my eyes caress the hollow of each individual leaf shimmying in the wind on the distant trees, I had that “new glasses” feeling.

My myopic readers will know what I mean… that moment when you walk out of the optometrist’s office with brand-spankin’ new lenses on your face and realize, “Oh, yeah… this is what the world is supposed to look like.”  Everything looks brighter and more intricate than you remembered.

Except I now get this feeling with naked eyeballs.

Thank you, LASIK.  

Six months later, and you still seriously rock.  

Brain the Size of a Planet and Still Dumb

Ms. Brain-the-Size-of-a-Planet was one of my ex-boyfriend’s nicknames for me (Douglas Adams fan, natch). There is ample subjective and objective evidence to suggest that I am a smart person. And yet…

I have a lovely mp3 mix that I listen to in my car. A playlist of ~200 songs that I listened to while writing The Edge of Memory. In short, songs that I have listened to approximately 116,000 times, give or take a thou.

About once or twice a month for the last 4 -5 months, I have the following internal conversation with myself in the car:

Huh… I never noticed the back melody in this song before… *tilts head to listen closer*... It’s an odd rhythm, really… *wrinkles nose*... I don’t think I like it. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of the tune… *shrugs* Huh… I don’t hear it anymore… *slaps forehead*… Crap, that was my cell phone, wasn’t it?

I have rationalizations of course. I hardly use my cell phone. When folks need to reach me, they usually page. My pager is on 24/7, and I can pick that sound out of any din, even when deeply asleep.

But still… you’d think I’d have figured it out by now, wouldn’t you?

Bite Me, John Denver.

John Denver is messing with me.

Or maybe the Universe is just laughing behind my back.

Let me preface this blog post by saying that I love my car. When my husband asked me what my dream car was last year, I told him an ’06 Hyundai Sonata. He said, “you’re kidding.” And I got my dream car.

My car has an MP3 player, which I also love. And so I have mega-mix MP3 disks with me at all times, on random. Over the last month or so, the weather in Chicagoland has been… how shall I say… craptastic.

The only nice days so far have been the ones where I’ve been lucky enough to work a 24-hour shift.

And recently, when the weather is at its most icky– such as just before the blizzard on Good Friday, or at 5 am this morning when I left for work in the cold drizzling gray– my MP3 player keeps picking “Sunshine on My Shoulders”.

“If I had a day that I could give you,

I’d give to you a day just like today.”

I just bet you would. Sadist.

I don’t need “Sunshine All The While”.

But a day or two would be great.