When I grow up…

I want to be an author. A published one. Who writes for a living. Books, in case you were wondering.

I am talking a class with two published authors, who also worked in publishing. They have authored 40 books between them – and they are my age. They know stuff, and in one lesson I learned more than I have taught myself by reading at least a dozen books about how to get published. I have three more classes, and by the end of the month, I will have the tools and know-how to pen the perfect book proposal.

Self publishing and e-books are the way into the industry for many authors. But, I am going to do this old-school. With an agent, or an editor, and I am going to author a hold-it-in-your-hands-and-turn-the-pages book. And then I am going author 3 more – to start, that is.The stories are already in my head.

My heroine is Sarah.

She is currently 27 and it is 1996. She is Australian and lives in London. Her relationship with her boyfriend of 5 years has ended – they broke up in Paris – and she is spinning in the aftermath. If she were Dorothy, this would be the part of her life where a tornado picks her up and dumps her in a queer, but magical world. Dorothy has Oz; Sarah has Europe.

I started the book as an autobiography – years ago – and am now novelizing it. Re-writing it as fiction has been surprisingly satisfying, because as interesting as my past is (and it is pretty interesting), fiction is funner. There is still truth in the words, because I write from a place of knowing, but Sarah can be smarter, funnier and more self-aware than I was when I was alone and broke in Europe after the collapse of a five-year relationship. Sarah is Sandy 2.0.

Non-sequitur: Today I went into a bookstore. This is rare, because I have owned a Kindle for one year, four months and one week. Browsing for new books has become an online activity, like catching up with friends, shopping for shoes and writing to my mother. But today was special. For a start, it is sunny here in Seattle, and when it is sunny, you leave the house. Period. You just do.

Also, I had homework to do. My task by next class is to research books like mine and identify my competing titles. This is so I can paint a clear picture for agents and editors of what my book will be like. They will not only want to know which books mine is like, but what will make mine distinctive from these books. And, what will my book look like on the shelf as it is nestled among these competing titles? I have some work to do, and this type of work is best done in a bookstore.

And the last reason I went to a bookstore today is that sadly, my Kindle carked it (it doesn’t work anymore) last night. You would think that with something that has been a part of my life for the past year, four months and one week, I would have a period of mourning longer than 13 hours. But no. It was surprisingly easy to get back into my bookstore groove.

Bookstore visits are best accompanied by a good coffee, so I stopped for one of those first, and with more anticipation that I could have, well anticipated, I stepped inside the small bookstore at the top of Queen Anne hill. It is aptly named Queen Anne Books in case you want to stop by. It really is a lovely store. I immediately gravitated towards a Valentine’s Day display, where I read through a couple of picture books, and then picked up, “Are you a Jackie or a Marilyn? Timeless lessons on love, power and style.”

The cover was kick-ass. And don’t listen to that nonsense about not judging a book by its cover. That is B.S. perpetuated by authors of books with crappy covers. Of course you should take the cover into consideration when choosing a book. If you don’t like the cover, how on earth are you going to convince yourself to spend hours reading what’s on the inside? It would be like trying to convince yourself to eat a bowl of great-tasting sludge. And if covers weren’t important, all book covers would look the same. I digress.

I flicked through the chapters, and I liked the lay-out. The text is interspersed with clever comics and quizzes. If I am going to read non-fiction, I like it to have an angle. Quirky, funny, smart, or otherwise engaging non-fiction for me. Pages and pages of paragraphs put me off. I have the attention span of a gnat; I need to be stimulated.

I moved on to the final selection criteria: The first page test. I read it and the tone and pace spoke to me, so I took the book to the counter. I told the store owner I was still browsing. I had yet to do my homework. “Do you have a section of what I would call ‘chick-lit?” She visibly flinched. I guess she doesn’t really consider that a genre, although all my girlfriends would know exactly what I meant.

She pointed me towards the Romance section. I stared down at every book Diana Gabaldon has ever written. “Uh, I guess I mean something more contemporary, like Nick Hornby for women.” This seemed to bamboozle her further. She started scouring the shelves for books and pointed to Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is one of my favorite books, but nothing like what I am writing.

“Uh, something lighter than that. I just read Bond Girl, which was more like what I am looking for.” She pulled three more books from the shelf and left me to look them over. They weren’t right for my competing titles list, but the good news is that in my attempts to identify what sort of book I was looking for I remembered Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green as two authors who write books like the one I am writing. I was pleased that I had made some progress on my homework.

And although I didn’t find any other books to buy, I am happy with my first post-Kindle purchase. Perhaps I will stick with ‘real’ books for a while.

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2 thoughts on “When I grow up…

  1. Good luck with your writing, Sandy, and glad to hear you have found some fantastic mentors. I am totally with you on taking the old-fashioned route, though it can be very slow and frustrating at times (probably why many people turn to self-publishing). Keep us posted on your progress!

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