InspirationEditor's note: In this section Voices from My Retreat presents words of inspiration from published writers.
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The joys and pains of getting publishedBy Louise Albert
This is a story with a message and a happy ending.
I've been writing novels for about thirty years and during that time many published authors have told me that the real joy is in the writing. For the most part, I've found this to be true. Writing is the best thing you can do for feelings of depression. Sure, there are days when the writing is frustrating, sometimes downright awful, and sometimes it won't come at all. But most days, it's a wonderful time for connecting with your deepest feelings, a time when you can put to work all you've learned about the craft of writing, when you can experiment with form, and do many, many other things that are so satisfying to the soul. When the writing flows, you feel that life is good and you've done something important.
Getting published? That's wonderful, too, and something that most writers certainly want very much. But the process of getting published can be long and painful. Rejections hurt, and most of us face many rejections before we finally find the right editor who appreciates what we've written. This is my story of how I got two novels accepted by two different publishing houses.
My first book was a practice book. I wrote about the death of my older sister when she and I were children. It was something I needed to write about. But being a beginner at writing a novel, it turned out to be half lamb and half sheep; neither a proper book for children nor for adults. Its first rejection hurt more than almost anything I can remember. But luckily, when I later sent it to Harper and Row, the editor said it didn't work for them, but I was a talented writer and they'd like to see anything else I wrote.
By that time I had taken the advice that a writer friend gave me: start writing something else while you're waiting to hear about the book you've sent out. I did that and eventually sent another Young Adult novel to the same editor. It was about a teenage girl with learning disabilities — the first novel for kids on this subject. It was also something I needed to write about as it was loosely based on my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was struggling with learning disabilities. Harper and Row was interested in the book, but wanted me to change it from first person (it was written in diary form) to third person. Because Elizabeth was a good reader, I didn't want to do this, as I was afraid that when she read the book she would feel that I was judging her. I sent it out again and it finally ended up at Bradbury Press, where the editor there also said it didn't work in first person. By that time I was desperate to get it published, and I also felt that if two good editors said I should write it in third person, they were probably right. So, I rewrote the book, with a lot of input from the editor, and But I'm Ready To Go was published in 1976. Elizabeth loved the book, and other people did too, for it sold 30,000 copies in hard cover, and 125,000 copies in Dell's Laurel Leaf paperback. Both editions went into three printings. The book received uniformly excellent reviews, including a starred review in School Library Journal.
Two years after the book was published, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy and 18 months of chemotherapy. One day, two friends who had also had mastectomies told me that I should write a book for kids about my daughters' reaction to my breast cancer. They said it had been so difficult for them to know what to say to their own frightened daughters who had trouble talking about their feelings.
The idea appealed to me. I needed to write about what I was going through, and I knew that although there were many books for adults about breast cancer, there were none for kids. I worked for four years writing the book, which is also a love story. (I knew that no one, especially kids, would want to read a novel entirely about breast cancer.) Having successfully published my first Young Adult novel, I thought it would be easy to interest a publisher in my new book. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I could write a whole book about my search for a publisher and the many, many revisions I made until, after 16 years, I finally found an editor who wanted the book. During this time, I showed the manuscript to countless helpful friends, to one professional editorial group, and finally to an editor at a prestigious publishing house. After a year of having the book, he met with me and said he was very interested in it. He suggested changes that made sense to me, and I was glad to make them. I sent the revision to him four months later. Another year and a half went by. Despite endless phone calls, only getting his voice mail, and writing him a number of polite letters, I still didn't get a word from him. Finally he wrote me a letter. He apologized for the "delay" and said that the book didn't work for him for reasons that he had never mentioned when we had met. I wished him every bad thing. Not for turning the book down, but for treating me in such a disgusting way. My wish did not come true. He is now the American publisher of all the Harry Potter books.
So much for the behavior of some people in the publishing business. (To be fair, I did get some encouraging rejection letters from appreciative editors who I suspect, turned the book down because they thought it wouldn't sell.) But more important is what sustained me all these years. The main thing was that I believed in the book. I knew it wasn't perfect, and I was helped by almost all the suggestions people made for changes that I was very willing to make. (Some of the changes suggested had to do with the teenagers' dialogue. The way young people spoke during the many years I had been sending the book out had changed quite a bit, and my own kids had grown up and left home, so I needed help with this.) Besides writing many revisions, all of which made it a much stronger book, I was helped by the change in attitudes about breast cancer. Hardly a week by goes when it is not the subject of a major story in the media. The taboo has disappeared, even in books for kids. I sent the book out again (and again,) and finally, finally, found the editor and publisher who wanted it.
My message should now be clear. If you believe in your writing, don't ever give up. Be willing to revise and revise. Harden yourself to countless rejections. (After a while you develop scar tissue and they don't hurt as much as they do at first.) Your day will come. My day is coming. I'm scheduled to be published in the spring of 2002. A long way off, but I can wait. At the moment the title is Laura and Paul but it has changed many times, so who knows what it will be when it comes out. But look for a book by Louise Albert, published by Holiday House.
How's that for a happy ending?
(I haven't been idle during all those years of sending the book out. I've written another novel, this time for adults. Part of its story is about the death of a sister when the protagonist was a young girl. I still had to write about that. I sure hope it won't take as long for this book to find a home. But I believe in this book, so I won't give up on it either.)
Louise Albert has a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. Besides being a writer, she has been teaching Creative Writing workshops for 18 years in Westchester County in New York, where she lives. For twelve years she taught workshops at Manhattanville College, and has also taught at Iona College, SUNY's Empire State College, and the Adult Schools of Scarsdale, and Mamaroneck/Larchmont. During the many years she has been teaching, three books by her students have been published and more than 250 pieces have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals and the opinion pages of newspapers. For her achievements as a writer and a teacher, she received the Matrix Award of the Westchester Chapter of Women in Communication.
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