Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Writer's Education: Janna's Path to Publication

Today, I'm re-sposting another blogshop from TLCG greatest hits. Author Janna Cawrse Esarey's path to publication story is truly inspiring. If you haven't yet read this one, see how you too can write a book and try to get in published whilst on a small boat in the middle of the ocean! And you gotta check out her book trailer!

Read this one? Pass it on to your friends - it's a great story! This would be the perfect book to give for the holidays.

Oftentimes the best way to learn how to get your book published is by listening to those who've already walked the path successfully. And Janna Cawrse Esarey's story is an extraordinary one. I became familiar with Janna through her fabulous editor at Simon and Schuster, Michelle Howry. When I invited Michelle onto this blog to talk about Confidence in a writer's life a few months ago, she focused on her author Janna and how Janna confidently approached her market to sell her book, The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers & a Woman's Search for The Meaning of Wife. After hearing this and reading through Janna's website, I had to know more about her path, because let's face it - writing a book, finding an agent and publisher is not for the faint of heart. Doing most of that on a small boat in the middle of an ocean takes an absolute belief in self and iron clad persistence - both of which are must-have necessities along your path to publication.

Here's Janna's story:


Before I became a writer, I was a high school English teacher who always enjoyed writing but never. Found. The time. (Sound familiar?) So when I quit my job and set sail on what was supposed to be the most romantic honeymoon ever (two years across the Pacific in a very small boat), I began writing in earnest: journals, blogs, S.O.S. notes—and a novel of which I have 129 versions of the first paragraph. I quickly realized I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. And, being in the middle of the ocean, I had no access to writing classes, writing books, online resources, or, most important, a writing group. (Hint: writers need these.) So I decided to follow that old adage—write what you know; I wrote about our voyage for magazines and anthologies.

I make this sound easy. It wasn’t. I got many rejections. But I kept writing, kept sending out my work from our boat’s high-pitched radio modem (dee-DEEDLEE-dee), and once we reached Hong Kong, I joined a writing group. Over time, I built that writerly thing called my platform, a.k.a. the ways in which one reaches an audience. And I discovered who my true audience was: smart, can-do women who were dealing with the same issues ashore that I was afloat—marriage, sex, ticking clocks, balance, self, love. Enter the idea for The Motion of the Ocean, a story of love and romance, culture and identity, set against the backdrop of sailing the world.

So I wrote a nonfiction book proposal (hint: this is how you sell nonfiction), pitched my idea at several writers’ conferences (hint: this is how you avoid the slush pile), and found an agent (hint: this involved many more rejections). My lovely agent sold my book idea to a lovely editor at Simon & Schuster, who gave me seven months to write the dang thing. Yikes! I rallied the granny-nannies, went into my writer’s cave, and wrote a chapter a week, plus time for revision. I delivered the manuscript a month before my second daughter was born, and about a year later The Motion of the Ocean was born. It’s now happily in its second printing.

TLC: Janna gives us lots of great learning points here, but most importantly she points out that over time and failed pieces, she discovered who her true audience was and how to reach them. This is key, writers. Before you sit down to write your heart out, know who you want to connect with. Who is your audience? How do you identify with them and what will they learn from you? Is your work so compelling/thoughtful/entertaining/informative that thousands will want to read it?

I recently attended a lit festival in my city and listened to a very successful author suggest "the word 'genre' is all marketing." I know as a writer and literature lover some of you may hate to be forced to classify the books you love and write under certain categories. Categorizing your audience may seem even more ridiculous. It may seem limiting...but look at it this way, we've been cataloging "stuff" to make sense of whatever it is for a very long time. We put a name on this stuff so we can identify it. Become familiar with it. It's not just about a group of overworked publishing marketing execs sitting high above the hustle of Manhattan plotting how they're going to diminish the true breadth of your literary masterpiece by pigeonholing it.

When you write, listen to your heart. Be passionate about your story or information you wish to impart. Craft it like a true artisan. But also consider your audience. Knowing WHO they are and WHAT they like is your first step toward creating something truly viable in a sea of commercial fiction and nonfiction published annually.

Your Exercise This Week: Janna mentions pitching her book at writers' conferences was key to her success. Pitching your novel at conferences to real, live agents and emailing your pitch letter from the safety of your own home are two totally different experiences. Take the anxiety you may feel out of the conference situation by knowing you're there to make friends. Agents will remember the personable writers...those who are relaxed yet professional...and most of all, confident! Sure, you're going to come across prickly agents who will totally unnerve you despite your best efforts...don't take their character flaws personally, my dears. Move on.

Do you have your in-person pitch ready? Is it under a minute? Does it hook the listener? Think of lit agent, Kristin Nelson's spot on pitch paragraph advice from last week...can you translate that into a comfortable, confident in-person pitch? Try it!

Of course, let me know how it goes!

Any pitch success stories you want to share? Do tell!

Have an enlightening week, writers! Thank you for joining us.

Janna Cawrse Esarey is the author of the Indie-bestselling memoir, The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, & a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife (Simon & Schuster). Recommended on “The Today Show,” it’s the humorous, true story of a woman who sets sail on a very small boat with a very new husband—only to find their relationship heading for the rocks. Or, as Library Journal put it, it’s “a well-written, rollicking high-seas adventure [for] anyone who enjoys a good love story.” Janna was selected as a 2008 Jack Straw writer and blogs about work-life-love balance for the Seattle P-I at “Happily Even After.” Watch her book trailer at www.byjanna.com.

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