Friday, March 31, 2006

HA: A True Story

When I had been writing for a few years, with several unpublished manuscripts in my desk drawers and on my computer, but no publications under my belt, I felt the pangs of desperation. I mean, I'd gotten the writing down pretty well. I'd had almost-theres and encouragements from several editors, but no sales. I knew that if I couldn't sell these manuscripts, many possible readers would miss the message I had for them.

So shy Cheryl, with low self-esteem, worked up the nerve to start sending my manuscripts to other writers whom I thought would understand my predicament. I mean, they'd been there, too, at one time, right? They knew what it was like to paper their walls with rejection slips.

I sent a Peretti-like manuscript--yes, the whole thing--to Frank Peretti. He would immediately see the value of my work. I waited and prayed, just knowing God had intended this all along. Peretti would take me under his wing and help nurture me.

Imagine my surprise when, not only did I not receive a wing to cover me, I didn't even receive a personal note of explanation! His assistant--ASSISTANT, mind you!--simply sent me a short note suggesting an editing service.

I was devastated. Not only couldn't I get an editor to read my work, I couldn't even convince a fellow writer to help me out.

Of course, much later still, I did get that first editor to take a chance on me--on Hannah Alexander. And then, when Mel and I were also published authors, I realized why Frank Peretti didn't have the time to deal with my complete manuscript. There is simply no time! It's amazing how much more a person has to cram into a day once those books are published. We have to help publicize, we have to help with back cover copy, front covers, work on a proposal for the next book, do book signings (ick) for recently released books, and keep up with the writing for the next book. And there are deadlines to be met for everything!

Last summer, much older and somewhat wiser, I finally had the opportunity to meet Frank Peretti in person at a convention. I'm so relieved he didn't know what I'd done in the past--that I'd had the audacity to suppose that he would take a complete manuscript from a complete stranger and read it from cover to cover. That once upon a time I'd been a newbie.

Guess we've all been there, huh? We've all been newbies at something, some time in our lives. I'm no longer a newbie in the writing world--at least, not my small corner of the world--but I'm always a newbie at something, and I always will be. I want to remember that lesson I learned long ago, and look at it from both sides. First of all, newbies are new. They don't know the rules yet. I need to be compassionate, and help them, because I understand and I've been there.

Second of all, I still have to learn things the hard way. I still have to do the work. I can't just expect an experienced mentor to take me under her wing and do the work for me. The hard work still has to be done. I have to do it. There is no other way.

Let's all be kinder to one another, more understanding. Let's stand on our own two feet and do the work that needs to be done. But let's also be willing to lend an encouraging word, and point those newbies in the right direction.

Hannah Alexander, author of Fair Warning


At 12:07 AM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

You and your husband got my attention with Last Resort and Note of Peril...and I've been a fan ever since! I do reviews for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. If you need any posted reviews on upcoming titles, just drop by the blog and email me!

I think you guys are awesome!

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks, Cheryl, for a great post. It was so compassionate yet encouraging and informative too. My dh and I sat with you and Mel at the Christy banquet when you won a Christy. I could "see" your compassion that night!

You said, "Let's all be kinder to one another, more understanding. Let's stand on our own two feet and do the work that needs to be done. But let's also be willing to lend an encouraging word, and point those newbies in the right direction."

When I first started writing fiction, I'd had hundreds of articles published, had worked for two New York Times subsidiaries, and had taught at two colleges. But fiction was a whole different ballgame from nonfiction, and what I wondered was, Is my fiction writing any good? I didn't necessarily want a published author to take me under his/her wing so I could get published, but just to give me a FEW pointers.

Thankfully, some did as well as some kind editors along the way.

Though I still have a long way to go to see my dreams fulfilled in Christian fiction, I've made a determined effort to help newbies. I write "Crafting with Kristy" in American Christian Fiction Writers' monthly ezine in which I edit/critique members' manuscripts. In this column, I point out what they're doing RIGHT, what they're doing WRONG, and HOW TO correct it. I also give free and/or paid critiques to writers as time allows.

I'll always have a heart to help newbies because I was once a newbie (and still am, at least in the publishing end).

Thanks again for your kind words. May God richly bless you.

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

I'm a little late replying, Cheryl, but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this column! And you know that I, too, once sent poor Peretti a manuscript to read. It has made me more sensitive to those who send me their work hoping for a magic shortcut to publication.


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