Picture a hungry writer sitting in an unheated attic, wearing a ragged head scarf and moth-eaten sweater over shabby clothes. She’s blowing on her fingers, warming them just enough to dip the pen into the ink well again. Then she scribbles a final sentence “the end” on a page of cheap paper, lays it reverently atop a pile of similar paper, and sighs, knowing she has written a book of aching genius that will make her fortune.
At least that’s the romantic image I grew up with. Most of my young life I envisioned myself being like Louisa Mae Alcott’s heroine, “Jo.” A writer suffering for her art.
Being a writer in America in the 21st Century is nothing like that.
The glut of manuscripts, thanks to the ease with which one can churn out thousands of words a day on a computer—readable or not–has made publishers very suspicious of unsolicited manuscripts. Slush piles grow to towering stacks. Endless on-line submissions queue up in an editor’s in-box. Few editors have the time or manpower to skim through all of them.
For those of us who first published during the days of hoping to be picked up by a traditional, royalty-paying publishing house (before the Kindle was invented and getting published through Amazon made self-publishing a viable venue) the struggle to get noticed was real.
I completed manuscripts and sent them to publishers. After a while felt like I was tossing them into a black hole. Then I joined Romance Writers of America and was told about the Catch 22 of publishing. The more experienced writers said that publishers didn’t want to look at a manuscript unless it was first vetted by a literary agent. Literary agents preferred not to look at a manuscript until an author was already published.
It was like being told as a child that I could not go near the water until I could swim.
Eventually I learned about and joined Romance Writers of America, where I learned that the only way to break through this invisible fence was to 1) write a good book 2) go to writer’s conferences where the admission price bought us wannabes a whole fifteen minutes to make a pitch to a literary agent or editor.
Problem was—writing conferences cost hundreds of dollars and my husband and I did not have deep pockets. We were trying to raise three sons on a country preacher’s pay.
Things changed when a friend called and offered to give me a part-time job of stocking Hallmark cards in area grocery stores. I jumped at it. The hours were flexible, the money was decent, and the work was pleasant. Best of all, I made enough to pay for several conferences and workshops, where I sweated my way through interview after interview until a literary agent finally decided to take a gamble on me.
That gamble paid off for both of us.
A lot of wonderful things have happened since then career-wise. I’m a full-time writer these days. I gave the Hallmark job to a friend who needed it.
Even though I no longer work for Hallmark, I have a big soft spot in my heart for that company. They unknowingly helped me sell my first book.
I doubt the company is aware that the author of one of their latest movies once worked for them. I was a teeny-tiny cog in a huge company.
But here’s the big news. One of my Amish books, An Uncommon Grace, has been turned into a movie and will air February 12, 2017 at 9:00 pm EST on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.
I think this is called coming full circle…and I am so very grateful.