After a year and a half of staying home to write, I’ve started venturing back out to a café to get some writing done. I’m again organizing a once-a-week Shut Up & Write session in Alameda and (mostly) I’m happy to get back to this practice.
But, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it feels a little like the way I imagine an astronaut might feel when she takes that first space walk. While I eventually got quite comfortable writing in cafés in the pre-pandemic days, it did take me a while to get there and I had to learn a few tricks to make it really workable and productive. Then the pandemic hit, the lockdown began, and I had to re-adjust to writing at home. Now, as I get back to café writing, it once again feels like a foreign environment that I’m not fully prepared to handle.
For one thing, I’ve had to re-assemble my go-bag. In the past, I was so well-prepared for café writing that I kept a backpack or canvas tote ready with all the things I considered essential to get my writing done. It included a paper notebook, a few pens of different types, any notes or files I needed for my current project, and earphones so I could listen to music and block out ambient noise. All I needed to do was slip my laptop in the bag and I was ready to go.
But over the intervening months, my go-bag was disassembled, and a half-hour before I was supposed to leave for my first Shut Up & Write session, I realized that I had to first remember exactly what it was I needed to bring with me, and then scramble to pull it together.
OK, so go-bag in hand, I’ve been to four SU&W sessions now and I think I’m starting to get the hang of things. We are meeting at a new café, one that has outdoor seating available because in spite of being fully vaccinated, I’m still a bit leery of being indoors as long as the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is an issue. When the weather turns cooler, I’ll have to figure out what to do since the indoor seating in this café is limited. There’s also a lot of street noise at this place and my old earphones are not good enough to block it out, so I just invested in a new pair of noise-canceling headphones that I’ll be test-driving at the café later this week.
I’m also remembering what I’ve been missing this past year and a half: The energy you get from sitting with other writers striving to find the right words. The fun of meeting people and hearing a little about their works in progress. The reminder that writing doesn’t have to be an isolating slog. And the way a really good latte can make the words flow just a little bit easier.
So, having made some successful pitches to book editors last week, I’m now in the position of having to put the final polish on two book proposals.
It. Is. Not. Fun.
And it makes me think that book proposals really do have a lot in common with marriage proposals. In both cases, you tend to go into it a little starry-eyed, thinking “Wow, if I can just get a ‘yes,’ I’ll be soooooo happy!”
But there are more similarities than that.
Let’s face it, both book proposals and marriage proposals are kind of a hard sell. You have to hit the highlights. You have to know how what you’re offering compares to similar options on the market. You have to promote yourself. And you have to do all of that while feigning confidence that you’ll be able to work through any bumps in the road and still deliver something good—probably on a much smaller budget than what you expected.
Probably the main difference between book proposals and marriage proposals is that there’s no way that a book proposal is going to get an immediate yes or no. Once you send it in, you need to prepare yourself to wait. And wait. And wait. Weeks will go by. Sometimes, months will go by. Earlier this year I got a rejection from a publisher that I had submitted a proposal to so many months earlier that I had completely forgotten I’d sent it to them. That did help take the sting out of it—at least a little bit.
There is one other important difference between book proposals and marriage proposals. With book proposals, it’s a good idea—a really good idea—to have more than one proposal to shop around. I have three proposals for three very different books. I would be happy to do any one of them and I hope eventually that I can write and publish all three books, even if it means self-publishing.
But for now, I’m focusing on making these two proposals as good as I can make them right now and sending them on their way. Because in the end, whether you’re proposing a book or a marriage, all you can do is give it your very best effort.
And, for god’s sake, remember to spell-check!
I’ve been attending the virtual conference for GardenComm this week and it’s been great. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this brave new world (new for me, anyway) of virtual conferencing. On one hand, it’s just not as good for networking as meeting in real life. The best connections I’ve ever made at conferences have been made over a meal or on a bus ride while we were touring gardens. That just doesn’t transfer to a virtual context. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for attending sessions in my pajamas or while I’m doing a load of laundry.
But so far I’ve attended really useful sessions on creating book proposals and on moving from nonfiction to fiction. That last one was with best-selling author Amy Stewart and I learn something new about writing every time I hear her speak.
The keynote address by Shaun Spencer-Hester was also great. She’s the grand-daughter of Anne Spencer, one of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance and she talked about her grandparents and Edankraal, their home and garden in Lynchburg, VA, as well as their connections with writers like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois, who were among the many luminaries of their time that visited their home. The house and garden are open for tours and that’s now on my list of writers’ homes I want to visit when the world opens up again and we’re finally out of this damned pandemic.
But so far, the highlight of the conference for me has been the round of pitch sessions we were able to sign up for. I have two garden-related book proposals that have been simmering on the back burner for a while and the time felt right to move them to the forefront again.
Now, for those who don’t know, pitch sessions are a publishing device that has popped up in recent years where an author has a 10- or 15-minute session to sit in front of an editor or agent (or, in this case, meet in a one-on-one Zoom session) and tell them about your book proposal and try to sell them on it. It’s actually a pretty efficient way to get a read on how receptive publishers will be to your project. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure the whole concept of pitching was dreamed up by some sadist who really gets off on torturing writers. A lot of writers, maybe most writers, are introverts, so this face-to-face process of hanging your baby out there to get picked apart or rejected outright is just a wee bit harsh. That being said, I’ve pitched a few times now and I’ve never met an editor or agent who was anything less than gracious, even when what I was pitching was clearly not something they were interested in.
So I was scheduled for four pitch sessions with editors from four different publishing companies. One session ended up not happening, possibly because of technical issues. But the other three sessions went great. Two editors asked to see one of the proposals and one of the editors asked to see both. I tried not to appear too shocked, but honestly, that was a better reception than I was expecting. Of course, that just gets my proposal in the door and it’s a long, long way from an offer but for the moment I’m allowing myself to feel encouraged. I’ve learned to take my wins where I find them!
I've been spending the past week going through the recorded sessions from the InkersCon 2021 Authors Conference. The conference ran over three weekends in July but I was so busy I wasn't able to attend any of them live. But I'm so glad I had registered for it. It was the first time I've attended InkersCon and I was thrilled to find that it is so worthwhile. There were great sessions on craft, marketing, business, and advertising in addition to a number of roundtables and author Q&A sessions. I haven't gone through it all yet, but I've already learned a lot. If you haven't already heard of InkersCon, check it out!