My third book, The Blue Bicycle, proved to be a turning point, both in writing and in publishing. As I wrote in my last post, while there’s always something to learn, voice and style to smooth out in a piece of creative writing, I was beginning to doubt whether I could compete with accomplished writers in attracting publishing contracts. So I set out to find out whether my writerly chops showed promise or not.
I spent the better part of six months writing a novella consisting of four parts, about a young boy abandoned by his parents and living with a colorful old man – his great-grandfather – who proved to be both enlightening and dangerous. Each of the four sections was written in a different tense and varying point of view. My logic here was that in writing something as complex as this, any holes in my writing ability would be glaringly obvious.
With the novella finished, I decided to submit it to a professional editor to see just what I and it were made of. A month or so following my submittal, the editor called, asked me to visit her and we could go over the manuscript face to face. She lived in another North Carolina town not far away, so I swallowed hard and agreed. In short, she only had three major complaints with the manuscript (I say “major” in a relative sense), which were easy enough to fix. Most of her comments, however, were laden with praise.
At about this time, I was awarded a gift – a summer-long writer in residence position to work with the famed Doris Betts. Over that summer, with her critiquing both short and long fiction projects I was working on, I gained from her enough insight into fiction writing to to eclipse a full decade of struggling to learn how to write on my own.
But back to The Blue Bicycle.
I accommodated the editor’s few comments, cleaned up the manuscript, and decided to hit a few agents with it. My second or third submittal brought a response back from a widely known New York agent. He really liked the story and was sorely tempted to represent me. But, he said, its complex structure would make it very hard to sell. And novellas were looked at by traditional publishers during that time with jaundiced eyes. So no, he wouldn’t represent me. Sorry.
A month or so later my good friend, songwriter and performer Eric Taylor, hit town and while we had a beer, we talked shop. I told him of the near miss with The Blue Bicycle. The trials of music publishing apparently aren’t that far removed from those of books -Eric’s comment: “So this guy told you that you’ve done your job with this manuscript, but he couldn’t do his.” A unique perspective that, and bitingly humorous.
I shopped the manuscript around some more and eventually decided to do the
CreateSpeace thing again. Not an especially good choice, I subsequently discovered, but the readers who have found The Blue Bicycle loved it. In fact, it’s been my bestselling book world-wide.
Oh, and by the way, American publishers may not like novellas, but European and British readers do.
Next, my writing bears fruit. Serendipity prevails in my favor.
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