My Debut Sold: What’s Next?

You’ve finally made it! An agent is repping your book and has just sold it to an editor at a major house that is now going to publish it. Okay, by “now” I mean, in a year or two. Regardless, you’re “about” to hit the big time! Right? Slow your roll, gangsta, and don’t quit your day job. Let’s take a look at the reality of what you can expect following your big news.

First, congratulations! You’re probably zinging between utter elation and sheer terror. People—actually, a whole lot of people—are going to read your book. Holy page-turner, Batman! Being a first-time author can be overwhelming. However, a good agent and editor will hold your hand and guide you step by step through the publication process and explain everything along the way. 

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William KenowerComment
Revising the “Not Good Enough” Narrative

Six months into the search for an agent and publisher for my first book, I found myself singing this line from a John Prine song, “…felt about as welcome as a Walmart Superstore.” Indeed. A negative tailspin followed that will be recognizable to most writers: “You can’t write. Who are you kidding?” Sound familiar? I considered stuffing the manuscript into the lower drawer of my desk. Writers die a thousand deaths in this way.

In thirty years of practicing psychotherapy, I have worked with countless authors and artists who were under the spell of self-reproach. These were talented people who struggled with persistent feelings of inadequacy. In nearly as many years as a writer, I have faced my own dark hours suffering from the internal narrative that proclaims, “I am just not good enough.” Even our most successful writers are subject to troubling insecurity and episodes of self-doubt, ultimately undermining their creativity. 

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William KenowerComment
I Can: This Is Not a Test

I had another test dream the other night. These kinds of dreams involve me trying to get somewhere in time to take a test for which I am unprepared. So, there is both stress regarding time andanticipated failure.  In this particular iteration I hurry to get to my old elementary school to take a science test, for which it now seems I am already late.

In an atypical moment of limited lucidity, while driving to my destination, I reflect upon what I am about to do.  Maybeit doesn’t really make sense.  After all, I haven’t attended any of the classes so the teacher won’t even know who I am.  And wouldn’t it be odd for an adult to come into a classroom, sit down with children, and take their test?  Brick by brick, my cognitive and analytical skills came to life and, after a while, Dream Me concluded it might make more sense to offer to help out and play with the kids rather than take their test.  This thought unleashed a surge of enthusiasm.  I am joyful! I no longer had to take the test – there was something better for me to do, something I actually wanted to do, and something I knew I coulddo.  I awoke victorious.  My dream self had cleverly changed the assignment.  No longer did I have to be evaluated; now I could just participate and enjoy.  

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It Doesn’t Matter: Letting Go of What Hurts

Last night when I was lying in bed wanting to sleep, I had a headache.  It had started earlier in the day, later seemed to be abating, then returned with renewed verve.  As I lay there I considered when the headache, in its trajectory, had circled back. I realized it was soon after I had started picking on myself. In the course of the evening, I had come up with a laundry list of self-criticisms, and was still feeling their effects when I crawled into bed.

I took note of the on going self-attack and mentally told myself to “Stop.”  The response I heard was crystal clear: “But I don’t know how!” And for a moment, I (the other me?) agreed: “Yes, I understand.”  But then, it hit me: of course I know how to stop insulting and denigrating myself. I know how to stop throwing a ball no matter how many times I’ve thrown it before. I just don’t throw it.  But I do have to be willing to stop.  And that willingness depends upon what I believe matters.

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Five Ways to Destroy Your First Chapter (and Turn off an Agent)

There are many ways to turn off an agent (and many ways to turn on one—hello, two-martini lunches, six-figure advances, and fruit-of-the-month club!) so why should writers hinder themselves in any way? My goal in writing this is to be candid and to share the biggest and most common “first chapter” writing mistakes I’ve seen as an editor, both at large publishing houses and in a freelance capacity.

1.     Prologues

Oy vey, the prologue! I’m here to be honest. Just like Abraham Lincoln. In fact, the kids in my son’s third-grade class recently asked me if I was taller than Honest Abe. As a five-feet-ten inch woman, I took this as a compliment. But I digress.

Hear me now: a prologue is simply a dumping ground for material that can be placed more naturally and with more flair within the actual story. Usually, an author creates a prologue when he or she thinks, “Now where am I going to put that significant information that I need to tell the reader?” First, don’t tell, show (more on that later). Second, weave the material into the meat of the story and make the first chapter stronger and more significant. Then no prologue is needed.

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Homework for Life

I was leaving the gym the other day, feeling good, occupying that unique moral high ground between having just exercised and not yet eaten a cheeseburger. Theoretically, I could still eat kale for dinner and maintain my elevated moral status over the non-exercisers of the world. This will never happen, of course. Kale is disgusting and cheeseburgers are heaven, but I am not opposed to feeling theoretically happy and morally superior to enormous numbers of people for short periods of time.

As I made my way past the smoothie bar, already thinking about cheeseburgers, my keys slipped from my fingers and dropped to the floor, landing squarely on my foot. Before I could bend over to retrieve them, a woman walking into the gym bent down, picked up my keys, plopped them into my hand, and continued moving past me, so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to see her face. As I turned to proffer a thank you, she entered that medieval torture chamber where unfortunate souls ride stationary bicycles to nowhere while authoritarians in spandex shout at them for not going nowhere fast enough.

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Good Company: Embracing the Process and Doing What You Love

Many years ago, in my college days, I dreamt of a woman dressed superhero-style in red from head to toe with a big flowing cape.  She burst up from the ocean in one awe-inspiring moment, a symbol of power and strength.  At the time I did not relate much to power and strength – I saw myself as a small but good and intelligent entity with varying capabilities, positive and not so positive qualities.  I certainly didn’t see myself backed and uplifted by an erupting force of energy.  To me I was occasionally wobbly, and generally less confident in the world than I wanted to be.  When I first arrived at college, I developed some agoraphobic inclinations and worked through a great deal of that fear-of-getting-out-therestuff, though remnants of that frame of mind could still get stirred up.

At that time I didn’t own a car and was sometimes dependent on Greyhound to transport me home for the holidays.  The Greyhoundbus station however was not just worn, neglected, and mostly unclean; in my eyes it seemed seedy and potentially unsafe. So I didn’t want to go there alone.  But eventually life provided circumstances in which I pretty much had to. I was in a bind: my desire was to make the trip, but I didn’t want to feel so frightened along the way. 

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More Than Regional Differences

I once told a Seattle visitor that he had picked a good day to come here because all the mountains were out.  He looked at me and asked what we said about them when they weren’t out.  Did we say they were “in”?  I told him we didn’t talk about them then.  There are many regional sayings like that.  A friend from Alabama was always “fixin’ to do” something.  And everyone has heard a Southerner say “y’all” or someone from Boston say he went to “Havahd.”

These regional pronunciations and expressions are useful to movie producers who need to use dialogue to establish a character’s background.  But mispronunciations that are not confined to a region may come across as mistakes or lead to misspelling or wrong word choices in your writing.  There are many, but these are some common errors that you should be sure you aren’t guilty of.

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William Kenower
Flannery O’Connor: Lupus Warrior

The works of Flannery O’Connor can be found in almost any library. Hailed as one of America’s greatest fiction writers, her works – including such notable pieces as A Good Man is Hard to FindWise Blood, and Everything that Rises Must Converge– line the shelves in any self-respecting book collection. The work of this southern gothic writer has been captivating people for decades. Even readers who don't particularly enjoy her writing would be surprised to learn this one remarkable fact about Flannery O'Connor: she wrote some of her best works while fighting lupus, a debilitating inflammatory disease. This battle would shape her faith, her writing, and her life– and ultimately end it all.

O’Connor grew up in Savannah, Georgia, quite literally beneath the shadow of the Catholic church. When I visited her childhood home one cool September day– my legs tingling with nerve pain from my own long-term health problems– I saw her cradle in an upstairs bedroom; the steeple from St. John’s Cathedral across the square filled the window above it. I was shown the bathtub where she used to gather her friends and read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to them, which would send them home terrified, producing irate parents coming back later on. I learned how her faith and her worldview shaped her writing, and I realized what a blow it must have been to both of those to be diagnosed with such a terrible disease so young.

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Building a Book

"Have I taught you nothing?"

That's what my best friend asked me when I told her that my husband and I had decided to build a house. Her family had recently survived their own construction chaos, and because they lived in a distant zip code, she had shared her travails with me in our almost-daily emails. After I'd been a digital witness to her seemingly endless ordeal, how could I consider stepping into the same excavated pit?

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William KenowerComment
Take a Number

Just as the difference between fewer and less continues to confound people, so does the difference between this kind and these kinds.

  • Fewer” deals with things that can be counted: You should have fewer responsibilities around here after that mess.

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William Kenower
The Desire to Be Done: Resisting and Creating

 I’ve been in a funk lately. I entered it unwittingly and have had trouble finding the exit, and when I do, difficulty remembering where it is.  I don’t like to use the word depression, which makes me feel blanketed – as though it’s wall-to-wall sorrow.  There are always corners and areas where all is clear

 

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Confidence And Clarity: Bringing Ourselves Into Focus

 I’ve been in a funk lately. I entered it unwittingly and have had trouble finding the exit, and when I do, difficulty remembering where it is.  I don’t like to use the word depression, which makes me feel blanketed – as though it’s wall-to-wall sorrow.  There are always corners and areas where all is clear

The other day, I was rooting around my work area and opened a drawer mostly forgotten.  Inside was a large envelope filled with letters from about three decades ago. They were from friends – some with whom I’m no longer in touch, some with whom I still have contact, some with whom I remain close.  As I read, the letters helped me spot those clear areas in me.  The letters, at least for that moment, helped me remember.

We often focus on remembering.  We like to remember the good: special occasions, landmarks, graduations, birthdays, vacations; and we also choose to ruminate on what feels bad, what we consider failures, betrayals, scary things, and pain.  We tag these groups with either like (good) or dislike (bad). 

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How Many of This Do You Want?

Just as the difference between fewer and less continues to confound people, so does the difference between this kind and these kinds.

  • Fewer” deals with things that can be counted:  You should have fewer responsibilities around here after that mess.

Less” deals with volume:  There is less water in the pond this year.

The trouble comes when that difference is not recognized, and people carelessly say “There’s less kids in the class this year.”

The same singular/plural situation arises when designating one item versus a number of items.

  • Do you want more of this chocolate?
  • Do you want more of these chocolates?

You often read about “these kind of vegetables,” instead of either “these kinds” or “this kind.”  It’s the kind vs. kinds that confuse.  

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William Kenower
Bummer – Rejected Again

Okay, I thought of a few, coarser words to use in the title instead of “bummer” but really, do you need to have those in your head? You’ve probably said them enough already and with force because – well – who the deuce likes rejection? In addition, upon receiving the “u” word (“unfortunately”) from that editor last week, you may have resorted to kicking things like a two-year-old whose snotty little cousin just ate the last tater tot.  One of my favorite rejections was from an editor who stated that, even though they enjoyed reading my story, they were going to “free it up” for another publisher to use. Seriously? I said more than “bummer” for that one.

 Listen, we all kick and curse and shake our fists at the unfair universe. And then we settle into the second stage of rejection grief and feel sorry for ourselves, glare out the window, and boo-hoo-hoo. And if, in the throes, you’ve got your hand across your forehead and a cigarette dangling from your other hand, going all Sylvia Plath on everybody, I want you to do something. Snap out of it. You are in such good company, it’s ridiculous. I mean, think of all the editors who looked at Harry Potter, called it “bloody rubbish,” and gave it a toss.

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William Kenower