Fiction / My Books

The Reality of Writing a Novel… and The Truth Returns

I'm baaaack!

I’m baaaack!

Once upon a time… Thus begins many a fairy tale. In my own convoluted history, I have started and not finished countless stories (and I’m just talking about the ones I’ve undertaken to write myself, not the books written by others that I never read to the end). Thus, when I finally finished a novel, I thought I had truly accomplished something.

What came next? Pitching the book and trying to get someone to answer my query. Or queries. I did my research, I found agents I thought would be interested in the type of book I had written, I sent out the appropriate letters. I did everything by the book.

And I heard nothing.

Those of you who have been with me since the launch of this blog (while the posts date back four years, I think it’s been about three years since I created astridcook.com with the intention of blogging on a—hahaha—daily basis), you know this part of the tale: I opted to self-publish my book. A handful of friends and some distant acquaintances bought the book and the feedback I received ranged from “couldn’t put it down” to “the most depressing thing I’ve ever read” (honestly, I’m happy with the superlative in either case… so long as I don’t get “most boring thing I’ve ever read” I’ll take it).

I thought it was a good book. I thought it was a story that was worth being shared.

Then I went to the Writers Digest Conference in 2013 and had the chance to pitch directly to agents, face-to-face. Nearly 3/4 of the agents I spoke with were interested in my book. But… You knew there was going to be a “but.”

But they weren’t interested in a book that had been self-published. So, I did what I always do… I caved to the pressure of other people’s opinions and took the book off my website and out of distribution channels. I thought I could remove any trace of my book, but—as I should have assumed—the internet lives forever, and once you have that little ISBN number, your book is out there in the ether, even though it may be damn near impossible to find.

Anyhow, I sent the manuscript to the agents who claimed interest. Cutting to the chase… no one made an offer to rep me. Adding insult to injury, I had entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and I didn’t even make the first cut. It was a terribly demeaning time, totally feeding into my self-esteem issues. Maybe what I had written was total crap, and I should just hang it up and go back to writing about beer.

Which is really what I did. Among the good advice I got from agents was that the novel I had written was too short: I needed at least another 10,000 words. In retrospect, I now see less myopically; that even if the agents loved the book (and I’m not saying that they did), they didn’t see a book they could sell, which is really the point.

I swear this isn’t sour grapes, but I also think I am plagued by my gender. There’s a reason why a lot of women write under their initials or with a male pseudonym: A woman writing about women’s stories will generally be lumped in with commercial women’s fiction. I tried to pitch my book as literary fiction, but the agents who offered me feedback all agreed that it was a commercial book.

By this time last year, I never wanted to look at that damn manuscript ever again. My beautiful daughter—who admittedly has only read sections of The Truth—summed it up pretty well: It’s a difficult book. And because it was a dense (i.e. short) difficult book, it wasn’t going to rise to the 800-page tomes that many award-winning authors are writing today. She suggested I just go on to a more approachable novel; in other words, go back to one of the other stories I had begun but not finished over the decades.

I went back to beer. And that has been moderately sustainable from a commercial perspective. I love craft beer and the people in it. However, I guess I didn’t want to leave things unfinished, so a few months back I opened the document on my computer and started with the rewrites.

And I have a much better book to show for it.

Somewhat shockingly, I managed to add 25,000 words (when you consider the original work that I self-published at the end of 2012 was only 62,000 words, that’s a considerable amount of new material). The structure is more sound, the pacing more balanced. There’s more sex in it, if that’s your thing. There’s also more ruminating and philosophizing (if that’s also your thing, you should buy a copy!).

I also took the time to edit the book more carefully. Is it mistake free? I doubt it. I have read and re-read this damn book so many times, I am completely muddled in my reading. But I just did the final proof, and I took my time (almost two weeks) reading it, so I hope it’s in better shape than the earlier edition, which had many typos and page flow errors (this time, I laid out the book in InDesign rather than Word, which is not an option for a lot of self-published authors… I had the software from my stint in magazine publishing 10 years ago).

So what’s the coda? I’m putting myself back out there again. Self-publishing, in the hopes that this story will resonate with readers: women (and men, I hope) who are looking for a challenging tale, one that doesn’t have easy answers for what it is to get through life. (Slight) Spoiler alert: The Truth neither begins with “once upon a time” nor does it end with “they lived happily ever after.”

But difficult women are allowed to write their fairy tale and have it, too. If some book clubs or a random review sparks an interest in my work, that will be what I have to say about writing a novel that took up the better part of five years of my life. I hope that this is the final word, and I can move on to a new (or revisit an old) tale. I’ve many more to tell, so whether you love or hate this book, so long as it’s a superlative feeling, I won’t have wasted my time.

And thanks for hanging in there with me.

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