Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Drive a Dogsled (or Journey of a Manuscript)

Have you ever tried to drive a dogsled? Me, neither, but I think I’m learning.

It’s been over a year since I finished Jihad: The Breath of God. Here’s what I’ve discovered.

I spent a month obtaining reviews by some wonderful beta readers who gave me valuable feedback. They include a published author/English teacher, several genre-specific readers, a book club member and my wife who consumes novels like most women devour chocolates. These people provided honest feedback and I incorporated much of their suggested changes. A story that I thought was great, got even better. Thank you to my friends.

At this point, I felt the story was ready for the bright lights...just one more thing to check out. Since my story might have national security implications, I submitted portions of it to the FBI’s Office of Pre-Publication Review. They were cordial at first, but suddenly became distant. I sensed possible homeland security complications, so I went one step further and engaged the services of a literary attorney to protect me in case of trouble. She reviewed questionable excerpts and felt my story could withstand legal challenges. Still, I worried about government reaction to my story, but I have no control over that.

On a whim, I sent a copy of the “finished” manuscript to a friend who owns a video production company. He loved the it in one weekend...and said it would make a great movie. I authorized his company to develop the screenplay. He also has access to a Hollywood director who was the first assistant director on Titanic. According to my friend, this up-and-coming director is looking for the right story to direct for his first break-out movie and Jihad just might fit the bill. It’s been tough to see my baby dissected, repositioned and turned into a Frankenstein version with parts moved around to suit movie demands, but the screenwriter assures me that the changes are necessary. I discovered that the screenplay for the original Godfather movie is only 150 pages, (it’s one of my all time favorites) so who am I to question the process? I’m learning that screenwriting is like sausage making, best not viewed until it’s done. Besides, I am not in control of such things, so why worry about it?

At this point, I started the self-punishing stage of publication...querying literary agents. My first two queries got no interest, which did not bother me, because I did not begin my search for representation with my top choices...figured it would be best to swing the bat a few times before trying to hit a home run in my search for literary representation. I then decided to get some legal disclosure language for the beginning of my story, and during a conversation with my literary attorney, she expressed interest in my story...not a little interest, but strong interest. Turns out, she’s also a highly regarded literary agent. I suspended my query efforts to give her a chance to review the entire manuscript. She’s so busy that she uses sub-agents and technical readers who provide her with initial impressions. My manuscript hit a homerun with both her assistants. After her personal review, she offered me a contract. We signed about three weeks ago, and I have been completing a list of requirements for her that will help to build the best possible “pitch package” for publishers. I’m working for her now, jumping through hoops like a circus animal hoping for a reward treat. She’s in control of my future and my role is to help her achieve our goals in any way I can.

Last night, she called me at home to discuss where “we” are at in the process. She mentioned that two of her publishers have expressed a desire for fresh “thriller” material. She told them she has just what they need in my story and promised to contact them shortly. I AM SO HOPEFUL! But, I am again completely and utterly dependent on someone else for success. I feel like I’m barely hanging on to a wildly bouncing dogsled while the tough lead dog sets a blistering pace along a trail that I can barely see. I can only hang on and hope we get to the destination as fast as possible.

Have you picked up on the central theme yet to this blog?  CONTROL.  There comes a time when the writer surrenders control to the team. It's tough to do, after giving life to the story as a solitary accomplishment.

I’ve never driven a dogsled, but I suspect this publishing process might be pretty much the same. You, as an author, build your sled. Then you find the best dogs and tie them together, but everything depends on getting that special lead dog that knows the way. Finally, you shout “Mush” and hang on for dear life!

At this point in my journey, my lead dog is digging, the team is pulling and my sled seems sturdy enough to reach the destination village...the one that signifies my book is about to be released. When I step off those sturdy sled rails, knuckles white from clutching the dream, I’ll watch my great team enjoy the rewards for a completed journey. Lord, I hope there are no cracks in the ice ahead! LOL

1 comment:

  1. Yes, in the end it's a team effort where the author loses some immediate control.

    Continuing to wish you the best of luck!


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