In this column, Life of a Writer, every 8 weeks or so I will share the next episode in my journey as a middle-aged woman who finally gets serious about her dream of becoming a published author.
In Episode 3 of this column, I wrote about how I completed the manuscript of my first novel in the early days of the pandemic and despite the death of my son.
From the end of Episode 3: Ultimately, I decided to go the traditional publishing route. Being traditionally published is how I’d always imagined my life as an author. Plus, I had no interest in rewriting the script to fit whatever actual year was on the calendar. So, I drafted a query letter. I thought I was finally on my way! Then absolutely nothing went like I’d imagined it.
When my oldest son was twelve, he passed all of his promotion exams and was granted the rank of Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. It was a towering achievement, a culmination of seven years of hard work. It was the top of the mountain, the cherry on the sundae, the end of the road. Right?
According to his teacher, Sahbumnim Ralph, it was just the beginning. “Now, the real work begins,” he told my son with a wink.
“Nah, I’m done,” my son said. And he meant it. He never took another class. Now he’s 28 and says he doesn’t know an ap chagi from a yeop chagi.
Similarly, when I finished the manuscript I had written in 74 days and the revision I finished in another 60, I was sure I was done! All that was left was writing a generic query letter as a start and then finding the perfect agents for my book.
I spent hours researching agents who best matched with the genre and age range of my manuscript: a contemporary YA novel. I made a list of my favorites, put them into a spreadsheet, and highlighted all the agents who were interested in representing own voices or BIPOC authors, especially since I’m a mixed-race author who writes bilingual characters. My debut novel is written in 90% English, 10% Spanish.
Within a couple of days, I queried all seventeen agents on my spreadsheet. The evening that I sent the last email, I poured myself a glass of wine and fantasized about all the requests for a full manuscript that would surely be coming my way in the next few weeks.
From Pixels to Platform
As if I couldn’t have planned it any better, I was in the midst of DIY MFA’s Pixels to Platform course when I finished revising and querying. After sending off my queries into the ethernets, I was able to buckle down and finally start building my platform.
I mean, with all those book deals surely coming my way, I needed to have some eager readers ready to celebrate with me, right?
I purchased my domain name and corresponding email address, downloaded WordPress, and paid for hosting. I was so grateful that I had completed all of the worksheets in the first few modules of Pixels to Platform because I used all of that information to create my own website.
It took a few days and a lot of trial and error learning how to use WordPress without breaking my site, but I finally achieved a balance between a basic form and rudimentary function.
The next step in my platform was building an email list. I signed up with ConvertKit and spent a day or so designing a landing page, creating a lead magnet and a welcome sequence for subscribers. I installed the ConvertKit widget on my website so my newsletter opt-in form would appear automatically for site visitors who hadn’t yet subscribed. I wrote a short article as my first blog post and made this the last email in my welcome sequence.
After pivoting my existing profiles on Twitter and Instagram from personal to professional, I posted a link to my website. A day or so later, I posted a link to my landing page (in case followers missed the link to my website), and a day or so after that, I posted a link to my blog. I also created an author page on Facebook and did the same there.
The Sound of Silence
In the meantime, I hadn’t heard anything from the agents I had queried, but I reminded myself it had only been a few weeks. As I continued waiting, I focused on writing blog posts about lessons I had learned from challenging experiences in my life.
As a high school teacher, one of my whys for writing a YA novel is to inspire young people to use their innate creativity and turn their trauma into art. I see the difference in young people who see themselves as artistic or creative, as compared to their peers who only see what they cannot do or who they cannot be.
While my own creativity kept me hopeful for several weeks, the sound of silence grew louder. I had heard that many agents simply don’t have time to respond, so if there is no reply after 6 or 8 weeks, to take that as a rejection.
Soon, however, the replies trickled in.
The Sound of Rejection
It’s not the sound of two hands clapping, that’s for sure!
One by one, I drew a pink digital highlighter through the line in the spreadsheet where I had typed that agent’s information. I wrote the date of the rejection next to each.
Many of the rejections were clearly a form letter, but surprisingly, a few agents gave me solid reasons why they weren’t able to go any further with my manuscript. One, a young Latinx agent, told me she really, really wanted to like my book but she couldn’t connect with my protagonist. Another agent gave me some very detailed feedback on the pages I had sent, which I was grateful for.
With the consensus being that my book was not quite ready, I knew that I had rushed through the revision process and queried prematurely. Therefore, the next step should have been taking the suggestions of the agents who generously took the time to give me thoughtful feedback.
But that’s not what I did. Instead of getting back to work, I did nothing.
Truth be told, I was over it. In my mind, I had already baked that cake and set it out at the church bazaar. The last thing I wanted was to take it back and fire up the oven again!
No. Maybe the truth, the real truth, was that I just couldn’t hack it.
Maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to be a writer.
Stay tuned for Episode 5: Confessions of a Failed Pantser
Anita Ramirez is a writer and teacher who transforms dispassionate teens into lovers of books — one reader at a time. When she’s not teaching Hispanic/Latinx literature and composition to her high school students or linguistics at the college level, she’s revising her first novel, a YA contemporary featuring bilingual characters. She loves the poetry of Pablo Neruda, teen movies from the 1980s and café con leche. You can check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.