Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Many Licks Does It Take To Get To the Center of a Tootsie Pop?


Remember the commercial? Well, it kind of reminds me of what we writer’s go through. How many times do we have to send out our beloved manuscripts only to be rejected before someone actually wants it? ***rolling me eye-brains*** I mean I’ve been doing this since 2008. Do I have twenty more years in lick-the-tootsie-pop-world?

So I decided to have Lorelei Bell write about how many times it took her. She’s the author of Vampire Ascending. Loved her book. Can hardly wait for the next one.

Her story is one of patience and major endurance. Enjoy.

It was the winter of 1983. I was, single—again—staying in this huge house—a mini mansion if you will—in Iowa, sitting at an 8 foot table with author, John T., and several other writers/author-hopefuls. I'm in my late 20's, and have been dreaming of becoming an author since high school. My English teacher, in high school encouraged me to choose another profession, since she told me straight out that my grasp on the English grammar was terrible, and my spelling worse. Did I listen? Of course not! What she failed to tell me was that I'm dyslexic. I was 40 when I figured that out.

Anyway, I've just joined John's writer's critique group (there's 3 levels/groups; novice, intermediate, advanced—I attended all 3), and since it is a 3 hour drive, and it's winter, I've paid a little extra for a small room in which to stay in John's house. Uh, he's married. Okay? Young adult kids still living in the house.

My manuscript, “Vampire Legacy”, is what I'm working on for this critique group where we each read one chapter a week—as we met once a week—and get a critique from others, and give back the same. At this point in my writing, I thought I would have a chance to become a published author by a year's time. I thought this would be my break. I had no idea how badly my writing sucked—I was still a neophyte.

Among the advanced group one woman, Linda McCormick (name is changed), had just had her manuscript accepted by John's agent. She's going to have her romance novel published by a major publisher, Zebra. Everyone's excited by this news, me included. All the attendees—except me, since I'd just joined—had had their finished, polished manuscript sent to John's agent. Linda's was the only one accepted. Wow. Goose bumps here.

I was very exciting to be included in this elite group rubbing elbows. I thought after getting some tips and help on whatever needed to be done on my manuscript, I'd be on my way, maybe I'd have a chance to get my manuscript to John's agent. That was my hope.

When I joined the critique group, John had read the first chapter of my book. I thought he'd be impressed. He told me, “It wasn't bad, the mechanics need help”, and that was all he really said about it. Of course, he had to have seen the grammar and spelling errors.

Also, I had no idea at the time—because I was basically naive—that John was hot for me. He was balding, paunchy, in his 50's had 5 children, 3 grandchildren, his wife who worked somewhere in an office was gone during the day, they had three kids still living at home, one still in high school. John was a professional writer, making money writing articles, and had two books published by then. He would call me downstairs and we'd talk in the kitchen about what we were working on. I didn't realize that his flirting would lead to him asking me to have sex. Sounds like a hot romance of forbidden lust, doesn't it?

Well, I didn't accept his proposal that one sunny winter day to “go upstairs” with him after he trapped me against the counter and kissed me. I said no and went to my room. I mean, give me a break! What a louse #1. And #2: I was staying under their roof, his wife would know eventually he's getting something on the side, and I simply couldn't do that to her and was really astonished he would. But sounded like he did it all the time, from the things he told me about his past affairs. Jerk!

I was angry about it, then and later on. I also was conflicted, wondering—years later—if I had gone along with this would I have been able to get something out of it in return? You know? You've heard of people doing such things in order to get ahead, or gain a footing in their desired field. I'm not saying I would have done this if I had it all over to do again.

An interesting aside: I did catch Linda and John in each other's arms one day when I went into the kitchen, and they didn't expect me to pop in, and they backed away from each other as though I'd caught them at something they shouldn't be doing. I guess I wasn't his only honey.

Don't get me wrong. Linda was an excellent writer. She deserved to have her novel published, and to be fair, I don't know if she did the nasty with John, or was just smooching with him.

At the time I felt I would never attain Linda's level of writing.

Years after I kept writing and sending my novels into agents, and publishers who still took manuscripts. I came close with a Native American romance, but it didn't pop for them. All these years I thought—I really thought—there was something wrong with my writing. That it must really suck. I kept on “practicing” working at my writing, trying to attain that level that I felt Linda was at, until I was sure I had perfected it. It takes years to find your “voice” in writing. It took me about 30 years, that's all.

By age 50, having gone through the traditional route, and being pummeled by rejections, I simply could not do it any more. Thus, my light fantasy Spell of the Black Unicorn went to Infinity Publishing. I paid $400 for the opportunity to have a book of mine in print. I had a great book signing, had people tell me they loved it and want to read the next book. Alas, I wasn't going to pay another $400 just to make even money.

But was it worth it? I think so. I made back the $400, but unfortunately I still have a dozen or so books I'd bought and have not sold, and it's not selling through Amazon at all.

The trick is in marketing. If you don't have the money, the time, the ability to market your book you are better off taking a chance with a small publisher, or an eBook publisher who will do some advertising, get it on Amazon and so forth. But if you do have a stable fan base, and a following, you should be able to swing some sort of self-publishing route. Do the homework first. Test your manuscript with agents. Get feedback, and make sure you check out whoever you go with as to whether anyone has any gripes about the one's you are considering. Stop by and join Writer's Digest on-line, if you haven't as yet.

I'm glad that I'd had the chance to be in a critique group, years ago, but I left for more than just the obvious. I didn't have the money, nor the time to drive all the way out to Dubuque for an hour of critique for possibly years—as that's how long many of them had been in this group—and get something off the ground. Plus, I began getting conflicting feedback. I nearly quit writing because of it.

Vampire Ascending is my first vampire novel that was picked up by a small publisher, Copperhill Media. The publisher, Wilfried Voss invited me to send it to him after seeing a first chapter, last year when I was sending this out to a bunch of places—including agents. It is now in both an eBook format as well as in softbound. Vampire's Trill, I'm told, will be a late summer release.

Thank you Shelly for allowing me to share my little story with your readers. I hope they got something out of this. A last thought to all: Stick with it. Don't give up. You'll find a way to get your manuscript polished, and in the hands of someone who wants it. Don't get discouraged if you can help it. Find the people who will give you good, honest feedback, and take away what you feel will help your writing, and read, read, read.


  1. Wow, Lorilei, that was an interesting story, a book all it's own. Lol

  2. Congrats on Vampire Ascending! And that you so much for sharing your journey- a real tribute to what it means to be a writer and never let go of the dream! Very aspiring!

  3. Congratulations for persevering. I tried the "query the agent" thing, but gave up when I realized that I could get my stories (which I knew were good) out there for others to see instead of being stuck on my computer. I'm not making millions, but I can appreciate the sales I have gotten. Thanks for your story, Lorelei.

  4. @Miranda, Creepy, and Beth: She's great. You guys should really read her book Vampire Ascending. OMG. She gets Shelly's twenty stars for sure.

  5. Wow, definitely patience and endurance. Kudos on sticking with it, Lorelei! Thanks for sharing this, shelly. :)

  6. Yeah Shelly, it's a tootsie pop world. Cute analogy and you are very creative. I'm sure all your dreams will come true if you stick to your guns--and I don't mean the hairdryers you have
    hanging off your belt loops! LOL.

  7. Dear Lesley and Eve: Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I understand your frustration.

    Aw, what a terrible thing for an English teacher to say to her. OMG...I can not believe John's audacity! Thank you for sharing this experience and for the words of wisdom. It's good to once in a while receive a friendly don't give up nudge.

    Great post!

  9. Yep. Just glad I didn't choose modeling as a carere.
    Miranda, once again, thank you for your support.
    Ms. Creepy Query Girl, Shelly, Lila,Lesleylsmith: this is just a sample of what I've gone through. HOpefully none of you need to wait more than 20 years to find yourself published one way or another.
    And Beth, good for you for taking the bull by the horns. I could do another post about doing it your way.
    Thanks to all who dropped by. And BIG KISSES TO SHELLY for having me guest post. I was hopeful no one got bored to tears with this. I guess not.

    ~Lorelei Bell of Lorelei's Muse

  10. What a story! Congratulations on making it!

  11. Wow! What a fascinating story! Definitely goes to show that everyone's journey is different.


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