Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Post: Author C.Lee McKenzie, 'What I've Learned'

When Tabitha invited me to do a post about what I’d learned since I started writing for kids and teens, then tell what I wish I’d known, I thought, “OMG, I’ve got a book here!”

I suppose the honest answer to part one is I knew nothing. I didn’t even know what a young adult or a middle grade book was. I certainly didn’t know how the publishing world worked. Query? What was that? What was the difference between an editor and an agent? Hmmm. There are critique groups? Where?

One thing about starting at zero is that there’s no fear and the only way to go is ahead. So that was me: dumb, fearless and charging forward. I learned the answers to all of those questions above and discovered there were tons more questions popping up every day. I guess I’m lucky in that I stumbled around, finding writers who knew more than I did, finding groups that were supportive and instructive, discovering that I couldn’t write worth diddle squat (that was humbling), and then setting out to teach myself the craft (that’s been daunting).

I also learned about failing. I couldn’t sell anything I submitted: my short stories bombed, poetry came back in the mailbox before I could drive home from the post office (*raspberry sound goes here). Then as I entered the little more advance dumb-fearless stage I wrote this novel about a girl who cuts herself. I subbed it to about six publishers (Notice I didn’t mention agent here because . . . well, just because. I’ll explain later.)

They all turned me down or ignored me. How dare they! Then I subbed it to WestSide Books and the next day I had a request for a partial. The next week I had a request for a full. By the end of the month I had a contract. How about that? I’d done it. Now what?

Oh, yes, there was this small portion of the writing-selling-publishing business that no one mentioned. It’s commonly known as “marketing.” The real name is “full time job,” at least for me since now I had to learn another whole set of skills. That’s when Dame Fortune smiled. Not really. She gave me more of a smirk with, “Now you’re in for it” implied. I connected with 2009 Debutantes knew what they were doing, and I did whatever they told me to do. I kept my SCBWI membership current and started attending more conferences. Verla Kay’s website was invaluable during this time. Here’s my thanks to all of those communities and the people who showed me the way.

I guess that covers what I didn’t know, so I suppose these could be added to the column labeled, What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started. Yet, when I think back I might never have taken on the challenge if I’d known what I was up against. Maybe it was better to back in, learn by doing, and to stick it out. Even though I love learning new stuff there are some writing-editing-marketing my books days when I’d love to know what I’m doing. (Please note the plural books. I didn’t have my fill of labor intensive days with the first book experience, so I wrote a second one.)

Remember when I didn’t mention agents earlier in this post? Well, I didn’t because I don’t have an agent. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to have an agent; I just haven’t gotten around to really researching and querying them yet. For heaven sakes, I haven’t had a lot of time.

Since I still have some middle grade books hibernating on my C Drive, I thought I’d focus on getting representation for those, so that will be a 2011 goal . . . I think. I hesitate because I don’t know how it will be to have a person between the publisher and me. If I succeed in finding representation I guess I’ll find out, then if Tabitha asks me to poke my nose into her great blog again, I can tell you what happened.

Thanks for the opportunity to go on and on here, Tabitha. It’s been fun setting out my experience from knowing nothing to knowing a little about what I’m doing as a published author.

Thanks so much, Lee, for sharing all this great stuff with us! And we would love to hear how it all works out. Right, guys? :)

To see what all Lee is up to, check out the links below. And, because she's so awesome, she's giving away an ARC of her newest book, The Princess of Las Pulgas. Just fill out the form below, and come back here on Dec 10th to see if you've won. Good luck!

Blog: http://writegame.blogspot.com/
Webpage: http://cleemckenziebooks.com/
Sliding on the Edge http://tinyurl.com/2e6lr3x
The Princess of Las Pulgas http://tinyurl.com/2eul96n


Kelly Polark said...

Great interview, ladies! Thanks for your honesty and info, Lee. When I first started writing, I was sure I'd be published in six months :). Oh naivety!
Congrats on your books!!!!

MG Higgins said...

Gee, and I thought I knew all about your writing history, Lee! :) I didn't realize you'd started from zero. What an inspirational story! I'm glad you shared it.

cleemckenzie said...

This is such an honor to be on Tabitha's blog. We bumped into each other in one of those critique groups I mentioned in my post. I've met some really wonderful people on this bumpy journey. Kelly and MG included. *waves*

Anonymous said...

Great interview! This industry is tough and Lee, I'm glad you took the time to share what you've learned the hard way. I look forward to visiting your blog.

Catherine Stine said...

Good to know it can still be done without an agent. Your YA books look interesting, C. Lee!

LM Preston said...

Wow! Who'd a thunk I was hanging out with Lee all this time at yalitchat and didn't know this at all. I'm so impressed and awed with your unique way to publication. Believe it or not - it's not so unique. I have 3 other author friends that got deals with publishers without an agent.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Nice to learn how you got started, C Lee. You're doing great. Good luck with your new book. I look forward to reading it too.