Wednesday, March 01, 2006

my backstory

When I first started writing I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere in a county without a single stoplight. I didn't know anybody who read fiction let alone wrote anything more than a grocery list. Only flaky townies wasted time on stories that weren't real, and college was considered a silly indulgence. Completely clueless, I found publishing house addresses inside books and I sent complete manuscripts to these addresses. They would come back months later with the standard rejection letters. My favorite return was a torn package complete with boot print courtesy of UPS. There was no internet, and home computers were just making an appearance. And I had to walk five miles in two feet of snow to buy crack. Oops. Dropped into fiction mode for a second there.

I had an electric typewriter and a four-year plan. When that four years was up, I would stop. That was that.

Four years and four manuscripts later I hadn't yet sold -- but the rejection letters were getting more personal. Was it realistic for me to continue? I didn't want to stop, but what about my four-year plan? I worried that I was deluding myself.

I needed feedback. I needed to find someone familiar with the genre to read my stuff, someone other than my husband who was very encouraging with comments like: Well, yeah. It's just like all the rest of that crap.

I joined RWA and attended a chapter meeting sixty miles away in gasp -- a CITY. This was scary and huge because I rarely saw another human other than immediate family. These meetings were actually critique groups with several published writers in the bunch. I brought something to read to the first meeting. I wouldn't be returning. Read it and slink away, that was my forty-minute plan. When my turn came, I was shaking. I'm not a person who likes to speak in front of people, so to read something of my own in front of a group of 25 strangers scared the hell out of me. I was cold. I was sweating. But I had to find out. I had to know the truth.'
I read my ten pages. Several times people burst out laughing. They whooped and clapped. Hmm. This hadn't happened with the other readers. Is this good? (In retrospect, I think they were just really bored.) When the meeting was over, several people told me how much they'd liked what I'd read. Did I have an agent? Three of the published authors had the same New York agent. Did I want her name? They would call her. Tell her about me.

A few months later I sold my first book to Pocket Books. Two weeks later I got a call from Silhouette about a manuscript I'd submitted months earlier without an agent. They wanted to buy it and were offering a two-book contract.

I don't do critique groups anymore, but I'd desperately needed that feedback at that point in my career. And the published authors? One of them - Linda - hasn't written in probably ten years. (And much happier.) We're still good friends and get together a couple of times a year. The other two? One is a New York Times author, the third hasn't had a book out in quite a while. I kept the agent for a few years. She was charming, funny, but completely wrong for me. That was almost twenty years ago. I think my career would have gone a much different direction without her horrible guidance. She advised me to quit writing single title and do nothing but series romance. Completely insane, but I didn't know any better. She eventually talked the rest of the group into moving from single title to series - possibly because she didn't have to do much, or maybe she didn't like being the bad guy. There was no fighting with editors or negotiating series contracts at that time. I was able to avoid actually dumping her. She ended up leaving the agency to work on her own. I simply stayed, then found a new agent who has been my agent ever since.

24 comments:

Kelly Parra said...

Thanks for sharing your backstory, Anne! What a great story, and I love how you took the guts to read in front the group and didn't want to give up after your personal dealine. Very inspiring! =D

ps What a crazy first agent.

Jeff said...

I agree with Kelly. Great backstory, Anne. It's great because it shows your determination to become a writer, even though you had periods of self doubt and bascially no encouragement (not even from family). You knew what you wanted and were willing to step out of your comfort zone and make it happen. I applaud you for that. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this post is not only an interesting glimpse into your past and the steps you took toward getting published, but also an inspiration to those of us yet to be published writers who trudge along in hopes of one day achieving the same goal.
Thanks, Anne. :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Great post, Anne. Just goes to show how lonely and intimidating this profession can sometimes be.

Glad you were able to come out of your shell so that we could reap the benefits of your hard work.

Jer said...

Loved your post, anne.

jason evans said...

There's still some of that writer tromping through the snow left in you, isn't there? Don't worry. We're here to hand you a mug of hot chocolate if you need it. We're fresh out of crack.

Kelly Parra said...

Don't worry. We're here to hand you a mug of hot chocolate if you need it. We're fresh out of crack.

Omigosh, Jason!! That made me laugh!!

anne frasier said...

out of crack? dammit!! no smiley face for you, mister.

but really --

thanks kelly, jeff, rob, jer, jason. :) there's the smiley.
i debated about posting this. now everybody will know
1) i'm old
2) i'm a hillbilly

i guess neither are big secrets. still, it's a good thing i'm not doing blogcast like rob.

Mary Louisa said...

What a DELIGHTFUL post today.

There are worse things than being an old hillbilly, Anne. You could be an UNPUBLISHED old hillbilly.

ba-dump-chhhhh

(Did that sound like a rim-shot?)

Mary Louisa said...

(Cuz that's what I was going for.)

anne frasier said...

mary louisa,
i actually HEARD that.

Shesawriter said...

Loved your backstory, Anne. Thanks for sharing. Good that you didn't take the series romance advice! :-)

Tanya

Alex said...

Thanks for sharing, Anne! i love to hear a really good I-got-where-I-am-through-hard-work backstory. It makes the success so much sweeter.

anne frasier said...

tanya -- i kept trying to sneak dead bodies and blood into those early books. hehe.

alex -- thanks so much. :)

stay_c said...

This was an awesome post. What it hard to share?

emeraldcite said...

anne:

this was great! i really enjoyed reading about how you made it into publishing. it shows, especially to new writers, that the industry isn't this big monster that is closed off to everyone but the select few. it shows that with hard work and determination, a writer can get their book into the hands of readers.

i can see why you suggested i get involved with a writing or critique group. i wouldn't mind running into some writers down this way who are agented and published. i'll have to keep my eyes peeled.

i'm sure it was exciting when you sold that first book. not to mention getting a contract two weeks later.

many newbies don't understand that writing is more or less a waiting game. if you're patient enough and work hard enough, you can break through.

thanks for posting your story. it's a real inspiration!

annefrasier said...

stacy, not hard as much as weird. i wondered if it would even be interesting to anybody, and it also seems so long ago that it's like a book i read. not really my life. so it's strange in that way. When my husband died ten years ago, the kids and I had to leave the farm (wasn't ours) and our lives are so different from that previous life. so it's almost like i'm talking about somebody else!!

emeraldcite -- you can probably guess that your earlier blog post inspired this! and you are so right about it being a waiting game. it takes time and patience. you have to be able to continue through disappointments.

emeraldcite said...

anne: that is perseverance. although many years late, i have to say that i'm sorry to hear about your husband. i don't think i could imagine how difficult that could be and how challenging it would be to raise your two children.

simply amazing.

anne frasier said...

thanks, emeraldcite.

not sure i should have mentioned that -- there i go again, probably saying too much. a lot of people write through hardships. my kids were teenagers, which definitely helped. the interesting things is that i probably wouldn't have been able to support myself and the kids if i hadn't started writing. something that was looked on as completely frivolous became our support. i've always liked that twist. :D

Mark Pettus said...

Thanks Anne. Kudos.

emeraldcite said...

anne: you're not saying too much. your story is impressive and demonstrates how courage and hard work pays off.

jason evans said...

Proud of you, Anne.

anne frasier said...

:)

R.J. Baker said...

Persistence seems to be a recurring theme. Great backstory. I've heard similar tales from other published writers. The journey continues.

anne frasier said...

yep. and even after the sale a writer has to persist.