But along with those freedoms come issues and responsibilities. This past year has been a difficult one for us. Between work issues and health issues (me), speech issues (my son), school issues (also my son), work travel (my husband) and the other more general issues, we've had a difficult time finding our blessings - me especially. Yet, there have been several this year. One in particular has buoyed my spirits for the past several months, and although it didn't conclude with the rosy outcome only seen in Hollywood rom-coms it still gives me hope.
So, what's the story? Well, it's your classic girl meets famous author she has greatly admired for decades/girl and famous author speak/famous author sends girl's synopsis to equally famous editor story.
Oh, you want the meat of the story? O.K., no problem.
I went to a tiny college - only 1,132 students (who still manage to get us on the party school list every year) - in the middle of the eastern side of Virginia. (Think - one exit south of Kings Dominion. Yes, there is a college past all those truck stops.) One of the benefits of going to a small school is that you can keep in touch with former professors and they will actually remember you, even those with whom you never took a class. This past April one of my favorite authors was scheduled to speak at the school and I was fortunate to be invited by the school to join a select group of students, staff, professors and alumni at a reception and dinner for this author prior to the reading. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to hop a train and spend an evening in Ashland, VA.
The author, by the way, is Margaret Atwood.
While I had hoped to be able to speak with Ms. Atwood, I never expected to walk with her and my professor Dr. Sheckels from the reception to dinner. Nor did I expect to be able to speak candidly with her regarding the state of publishing and fiction today - specifically how in the world does one get noticed by an editor if you need an agent first but can't get an agent without being recommended first? (She really hadn't thought about this issue so no real answer to that one yet.) Our 13 minute talk (estimated, but it really doesn't take longer than that to get from Wash-Frank Hall to the dining hall on campus) was exhilarating, informative and thought provoking. Then, she did something I never expected. She asked me about my book.
So there I was, attempting to quickly pull together a 15 second way of describing my story of two generations, a grandmother and her granddaughter, hashing out all the family and personal issues they had during the last six weeks of the grandmother's life in New Orleans. I must have done a good job as she then asked if I had a synopsis - 2 pages specifically - and if I could leave it for her at the hotel. (Please note - Ms. Atwood does not read unsolicited manuscripts, story ideas, etc. Please do not send her anything!!! See her website for more information.)
Like I said - a dream. I left the synopsis thinking "If nothing else, she liked the story enough to ask." Wow.
Then, about six weeks later a letter came from Canada. She had forwarded my synopsis to her editor, Nan Talese, at Doubleday and hoped they would give my book a read.
Yes, my heart stopped beating for several seconds. No, I did not entirely panic. Yes, I did think I was dreaming. But, if nothing else she liked the story enough to ask for a synopsis and the synopsis enough to send it forward. Wow times two.
Then yesterday, I received a lovely note from Ms. Talese. Not a call, a note. While the author in me is somewhat heartbroken that I won't be seeing my name on the Barnes & Noble bookshelf by the holidays 2011 or summer 2012, the business person in me completely understands. Ms. Talese has an incredibly small imprint - only 23 authors - whom she spends a great deal of time working with. My book is not necessarily the right fit and I am an untested entity - her imprint works mainly with tested artists who have been with her for quite awhile. To have her even look at the synopsis is encouraging. (True, it could have been someone on her team, but someone in that office looked at it long enough to know the basic story and put it in the note.)
As for next steps, I intend to take the advice Ms. Talese gave me in her note to heart. I will search for an agent prior to an editor. Over the next two weeks I will work on revising my query letter and pour over The Writer's Market and the Acknowledgements in various books similar to mine to find the right agents to approach and, hopefully, by the end of July have sent out a query to someone who can possibly help me.
What started as a Hollywood rom-com has now become more of an indie film. Not entirely cheerful, but not completely depressing either. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a dim one. But no matter how I look at this, there is hope. Ms. Atwood liked my story enough to ask for the synopsis which she liked enough to send forward. Then, Ms. Talese saw something in there (either how she received the synopsis or the story itself) that prompted her to give me the advice I was looking for - seek an agent first. Wow times three.
See, hope. Now, where'd I stick that agent list?