In June 2011 my book “From Agoraphobia to Zen” was published by a small press in the UK. I was happy, I was amazed, I was asked how I accomplished this feat. I had no clue. But after a book tour that took me to London via Minneapolis and New York, I was asked this question so many time that I decided to ruminate on it. I love the word ruminate. Anyway, since I am supposedly in or near “Zen”, I thought I would tackle this question the way I tackled my panic disorder, first looking at it from a place within instead of reciting platitudes (I always wanted to use that word too) from the internet and various books on the subject. For the record, Zen, to me is a place of peace living in the present; a place I never knew existed in my former life because I always lived either in the chaos of the past or the fear of the future. At one book tour stop in London, there was a fight between a Buddhist and a recovering anxious woman. well it wasn’t a fight, as the Buddhist was just asking me questions about my personal Buddhist philosophy and the woman turned on him, with ” look in your dictionary, Zen means living in the present moment.” The Budhist was surprised at such anger but he took it well under the circumstance and I know that my memoir with its curious title tends to gather either people with mental health issues (which is what my book is about) or people who are into the religion or philosophy of Buddhism which is one of the healing tools I used to heal from my anxiety disorder. So, here are my truths as I see them. A wise Rabbi told a Bas Chana (ask if you want) group I was attending that facts are not the same as truth. A fact might be that I’m depressed, a truth might be; I have gone through trauma and this depression is a short stop through my journey to functionality and happiness. A fact might be “I’m broke” but the truth might be that I’ll win the lottery tomorrow. I love this particular truth but as there is no lottery in Hawaii , I will say my daughter in Minnesota who loves the lottery might win. But I digress. These are my truths, not facts so the five truths I am writing about might or might not be your truth. But I think they are worthwhile to share because they come from my experience of deep pain and grateful healing.
1st truth-.know your purpose
Know your purpose for writing the book and be able to communicate that with agents, publishers but especially with yourself. I’m not just talking about the “elevator pitch” which is a communicative tool that articulates what your book is about and why the publisher should buy it in about 60 seconds are less. This is good to define your purpose to others but I believe the truth is stronger. It is a deep conviction that your book has a place in the world and having a certainty of what that purpose is. Getting published is not easy and knowing your reasons will give you the passion and strength to get through the fire. I believe it is vital.
I have said this at every talk I’ve given and received blank looks or questions or both on this truth of mine but it is simple. You respect your reader by making your book as readable as possible. You edit as many times as it takes and this includes your query letters to the agents or presses. You leave out the big or “your darlings” like my former “ruminate and platitude.” You know your niche and you write with that in mind. If you are a romance writer you won’t query to a fantasy agent. You will not only waste your time but you will get weary fast. Respect your audience with smallness. Substitute all your words for vivid images and intriguing hooks. How about starting a query to an agent with a question that you can answer with clarity? If you want to get published, do your job in making your book as saleable as possible. Make it easy for the reader; be it the agent, publisher bookseller and finally book buyer. You do that by respecting your audience with your writing.
3rd truth. Don’t buy into the lies.
I just read on an internet site that there are more writers and bookseller’s than readers. I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that. Another lie is that small publishers, niche publishers or even self publishing is either all bad or all good. You have choices and don’t have to take the first offer (yes, if your book is good there will be an offer of some kind) Publishing methods are a crap shoot. I have bought books that were full of errors and were obviously written in a week by all types of publishers. For example, someone gets famous in a hurry and is pressured or wants to write a book and cash in on his or her fifteen minutes. The book is often terrible even if it has a large publishing house. I’ve read a few self published books that were impeccable and a few that I wanted to toss in the rubbish because I felt so cheated. To sum up, the truth about today’s publishing is fluid, and there are many facts, lies and half-truths out there. There are also unscrupulous agents, publishers and people out there so beware. The upside is that there are also good people and those that are going to be helpful in your quest for a publisher. For me some writing groups online gave me wonderful advice and support. But I had to weed out the ones that were hateful and competitive. Find the support you need but don’t believe everything you find.
4th truth A platform is useful,
I didn’t buy into this truth and found out the hard way that having a platform is a great thing. I just went blindly into my first offer, the first contract not realizing that I was going to be the best representative for my book and having a presence in the literary or blogosphere would be helpful. I started my blog because my publisher gave me a to do list. I thought if my book was good it would be found. There are many good books lost before they are even bought because of the writer not being at all known. I am not saying you have to be famous but it would help if an agent could google your name and see something you’ve written or something you’ve done to make your book stand out. I thought it was the publisher’s job to sell my book and I thought if my query and sample chapter were good the book would be snapped up. You must be ready to sell yourself, your premise and your book and that takes stamina. So, get ready to build that platform and stand proudly on it
5th truth Never give up
I’ve always believed in my book because it was the truth that set me free from my lifelong bondage of confusion. Writing this book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and there was no way I was giving up my quest for publication. I would have walked a thousand miles to send my message out. I knew it would help others who suffered from a mental illness.
I remember when I first told my writers group I found a publisher, one woman who always had a sour look when I read blurted out ” You found a publisher for that depressing book?” She only heard a chapter. At first my bubble burst a bit. I thought everyone would be happy for me. Let’s just say the people who were happiest were not the people whom I thought would be. But it never stopped me from going forward. Writing and getting published brought me to supportive people and to places I never thought I would be or deserved to be. To be successful you must love yourself enough to keep going when the rejection letters start piling up. You will make it. If I did anyone can. Peace and truth out