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Write the Darn Book – an excerpt

April 17, 2013

Write the Darn Book – an excerpt

Books by Mike Reuther

Return to Dead City

Nothing Down

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write the Darn Book

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Reuther

Copyright © 2012 by Mike Reuther

ISBN 9781475249521

This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever wanted to write a book. Keep the faith and don’t give up. Your dreams can come true.


 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1     Have You Always Wanted to Write a Book?

Chapter 2     Writing with a Purpose

Chapter 3     Tap into the Flow

Chapter 4     How Fast Can I Write?

Chapter 5     Yes, There’s Editing Too

Chapter 6     Sending Your Baby Out to the World

Chapter 7     Do I Really Want to Write?

Chapter 8     Those Second Thoughts

Chapter 9     We All Have Something to Say

Chapter10    Have Fun

Chapter11    Just Do It

Chapter12    More on Agents

Chapter13    Have Faith, You Can Do It

Chapter14    Stories Are All Around You

Chapter15    Get in the Rhythm Man

Chapter16    The Writer’s Test

Chapter17    A Final Word on Agents and Everything Else

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Chapter 1 … Have You Always Wanted to Write a Book?

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book and having it published? If so, you have no idea what you’re up against. Welcome to a roller coaster ride of hope and ultimately frustration that leads nowhere. If you’re not famous, a published writer or a genius, you better forget this silly notion of writing a book. You’ll have about as easy a time of seeing your precious words published as winning a billion dollar lottery. I don’t recommend writing a book to anyone of sane mind. But if you must write, do so. The urge to get your words on paper is likely one you can’t fight.

So write the darn book.

Are you still there? Hopefully, you haven’t stopped reading. That rather uninspiring opening to this book is not what it’s about. Rather, this book offers hope, inspiration, but most of all, an answer to those of you out there struggling to write a book or who have ever thought long and hard about doing so.

It’s my contention that too many people who’ve given up plans to write a book or quit writing one do so for no other reason than they feel it’s too difficult.

So why do you want to write? Perhaps that’s a question you need to ask yourself. Then again, maybe not. I mean, it’s not all that mysterious. We all have this need to make ourselves heard. So let it be a given that you have to write, that the overwhelming urge is present.

Maybe it’s your never-told before memoir of a horrible upbringing in poor Appalachia, or your shattered childhood with an alcoholic father and crack-addicted mother in the inner city, or your story fighting the Viet Cong and the men you saw killed.

Maybe you have a happy story to tell. You want to write. Never mind the reason.

You’ve been burning to get your story out there. That coming-of- age-novel, that mystery, that bodice ripper filled with sex and love and happy endings for the girl from Peoria. Great.

Keep in mind you’re not insane. Plenty of people out there share your dream. Even if you think you’re unique in your desire to write and be published and perhaps become a best-selling author, you’re hardly the first to dream such dreams. The fact is, there are so many like you in small towns and big cities, in the halls of academia and in corporate America, in unemployment lines and God knows where else‒dying to write.

The competition to be published, make no mistake about it, is fierce. Of course, you can find this out the hard way, as did I, and so many aspiring writers before me, some of them famous, some them the most obscure scribblers of the ages. Everyone, it seems, wants to write. It’s what you find out from literary agents and publishers that reject your manuscripts.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about my story. For I think, while it is somewhat unique, it’s likely not altogether different from those of many others out there trying to write and get published. Without question, many people would love to say good-bye to the day job and become writers. In short, there are many folks who want to be writers.

In 1987 I was writing for a small town newspaper in central Pennsylvania. What I was, in fact, was a reporter. For anyone who knows anything about newspapers serving rural areas, I don’t have to tell you it was far from a glamorous job. Oh, I was writing all right, and putting words to paper, but it wasn’t what I aspired to do. The small daily that employed me had me doing general assignment articles‒covering school boards, municipal meetings, on-the-spot news stories such as fires and vehicle accidents. Much of the time, I was pretty miserable, a very unhappy camper.

I was thirty years old, with a master’s degree in journalism, and pretty damn sure that if I did this kind of work for more than a few years, I would either go completely bonkers, or be forced to blow off my head. As if being uninspired over the school boards and what passed for news in the small communities surrounding that newspaper wasn’t intolerable enough, the hours were long and the pay was miserable.

In the back of my mind, but not too far into the recesses of that brain, I pictured myself scribbling out that novel I was sure I could write. Of course, I had no idea how I was going to do this while working ten to twelve hours a day at a job I loathed to the bottom of my soul.

Disliking the job hardly boded well for me. I was on a journey of self-destruction from a conventional career standpoint. I was barely hired when the paper was taken over by another company intent on making wholesale changes. Survivors from the old guard were on a kind of death watch, going about their daily duties wondering when the ax was going to fall on them. Everything was in an uproar. It was not a pleasant time.

The big boss the new company brought in was there seemingly for one purpose‒to lop off heads. The company wanted its own people and to start anew. I was let go on an early November day. The reasons for my dismissal were vague. I had been warned in the months up to this ill-fated day that I was in need of an attitude adjustment. At any rate, I was fired, canned, thrown to the unemployment lines. It’s never uplifting to be fired from a job‒any job. My self-esteem, to put it mildly, took a real hit, you might say.

What to do?

I remember composing a letter the day after being fired and sending it off to the company headquarters, complaining about the very man who fired me, at the same time realizing that the task of targeting me and others for dismissal was precisely his job. And yet, writing the letter had felt somehow liberating.

And then, as the dismal days of November marched on, a depression began to pull me downward. An anxiety problem I had struggled with for ten years, which spiraled into panic attacks, left me floundering in a whirlpool of confusion. I was an unemployed young man with too much time on his hands, with no place to go every day. Not a good state of affairs at all.

And so I struggled, with my sanity, with my career plans. What would happen to me? When you get fired from a job, you can’t help but search for reasons for the dismissal. What could you have done to keep a job that you didn’t like? Become a better a team player? Worked a bit harder? Smiled more at the boss?

Struggling with fear can be a bewildering, hopeless state, and when it’s coupled with unemployment and your days are filled with nothing but wondering what’s next, it can become overwhelming. I desperately needed a lifeline.

I had nothing but time in those weeks after I lost my job, the one I hated, the one I felt so ill-suited for. I had always wanted to write that novel, the one burning in me for all these years. As I mentioned, by now I was thirty and becoming very much aware of the march of time, of the need to begin banging out that book. After all, some of my literary heroes‒Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, those giants of the novel‒were still in their twenties when they’d published their first works, and not just any books, but their master works. Time was slipping away.

And so, on Thanksgiving night 1987, I scribbled out my initial words in long hand: “The first time I saw Jack he was sitting in the reserve room of …”

The words were the description of an old Air Force friend, the central character in my novel, a book loosely based on my years in the military, a coming-of-age story like no other. My book would be like no other. I was sure of it. After all, it was my story, my thoughts. Whether I could get my book published, or not, was the question.

Unlike many young writers eyeing publication, I had a good idea of what I was up against. I was fairly well read and knew the biographies of famous authors who had knocked hard for years on the impenetrable doors of publishing houses before gaining entry. I figured to give it ten years. I vowed to myself that I would do what so many writers before me had done and who had advised those coming after them to do: write every day. Maybe, just maybe, through sheer grit and determination, I could be published, and not in ten years, but quite soon. As a jobless young man, with few if any prospects, it was easy to write daily in those late fall days that eventually gave way to winter. And so, I wrote.

Eventually, I found work, but I kept writing. I was determined. I was going to make it, to be a real writer. For a short time I sold janitorial supplies, and then l found work on another small town paper. For four years I stayed there, covering the same dreary municipal meetings and reporting on vehicle accidents and other happenings of small town life. The next thing I knew, I was thirty-five, still writing and now wondering, after several years of determined scribbling, if I was ever going to realize my dreams of being published. Sure, I had given myself ten years, but did I really want to wait that long?

My coming-of-age novel was eventually rejected by quite a number of literary agents. For many years I kept those rejection letters in a drawer. By 1991 I was writing the first draft of a second book. I remember so clearly those desperate days, putting into action so many of the things that writers looking to break in were supposed to do. I attended writers conferences where I’d listen to published authors describe the nuts and bolts, the tricks, of getting noticed by a literary agent. I devoured every book on writing and getting published I could find. Writer’s Digest magazine became my Bible.

I entered a few writers’ contests, sending out short stories, even a novella. I got none of my stories published. I was, I knew, not getting any younger. I was a father by now, and feeling the weight of family responsibilities more acutely. And while I had a loving and understanding wife who did nothing to discourage my literary pretensions, I was eager to prove to myself that I could find success. That I eventually would find that success wasn’t the big question. No. The real question was when. I wanted it soon. Did I really want to be, say fifty, when I realized my dream? Would I even harbor such thoughts of literary success, even modest ones, at that advanced age?

And so I kept at it. By 1992 I had pretty much had enough of that small town newspaper. In fact, I had pretty much had enough of central Pennsylvania. And so, in 1992, with the blessing, but reservations of my wife, we moved back to her hometown in the western part of the state. The plan, while not well conceived, was to get a part-time gig at yet another newspaper and do freelance writing. By now I was able to accept the fact that getting my fiction published really was no easy deal. I was willing, for now at least, to look for freelance work I wanted to do, away from bosses, free of the daily grind of a regular job. In effect, I wanted to live life on my own terms, or something like that, even if I was still employed part time at a newspaper. The novel I could still bang out in my spare hours.

Some people need a kick in the butt, and while it pains me to admit it, I was perhaps one of those creatures. It explained how I managed to secure very few freelancing gigs, how I ended up, at various times, working as a telemarketer, doing mindless temporary work in factories, and working in sales, before gladly accepting part-time employment with yet another daily newspaper.

Oh, I wrote fiction in those days. I started a baseball novel with echoes of Field of Dreams. It had some of the same mystical elements. I thought it was a pretty good story. One Los Angeles-based agent wrote me that it sounded like just the type of thing he was looking for. I somewhat reluctantly sent this unnamed man sixty-five dollars for the opportunity to represent me. Weeks turned to months waiting to hear back from him. Eventually, I was informed the project was not for him after all. I later heard this agent was quite adept at duping eager writers for upfront fees, taking their money and giving them nothing in return.

When this didn’t work out, I was a little too willing to surrender to the sales pitch of a man from another agency who requested I send him several hundred dollars for the chance to read and then critique my precious baseball book.

“It’s impossible to get published,” the man told me. “You can’t just send out query letters and manuscripts and wait for someone to represent you.” Why not try it our way?

He sounded convincing. He was convincing, at least to someone like me, who, while leery, wanted to believe the next best way to get published was right out there waiting for me. And so, I sent chapters of the book and money. I think it was three hundred and fifty dollars. A nice letter came back in a few weeks. I believe it might have been all of two pages, with some brief suggestions about what to take out of the chapters. Not much else. Rework it and send it back, the man wrote.

Did that mean he wanted more money? Without question, he responded in a follow-up phone call I made to him. Very reluctantly I sent more money. And I never heard back from the man. Years later, I heard he ran this scam with many writers.

I point out these stories not to show what an utter fool I was, but to demonstrate how easily an unpublished writer can fall prey to such schemes. And yet, it was not the last time I would hand over money to agents. In the meantime, I decided to change my strategy. Perhaps the mainstream novels I was writing were the problem. After all, weren’t they harder to sell? I decided to write a mystery about a murdered ballplayer. At the time I had been reading and enjoying mysteries by authors such as Lawrence Block. I liked the spare writing, the hard-boiled characters, and I knew that there was quite a market for mysteries and suspense.

The writing of my baseball murder mystery went well; the words seemed to flow. For whatever reason, however, it remained uncompleted, and I stuck it in a drawer along with some of my other aborted works. I stopped writing for a while. With the part-time job at the newspaper, which seemed in many ways to be full time given the hours I was putting in, my fiction simply got put on hold.

Suddenly it was 1999. I had a few novels, and parts of a couple of others in my filing cabinet, and also some short stores. I took inventory of my life. I was past forty, working part time, with a wife and two kids. My wife had been, for the good part of six-plus years, the principal breadwinner, while I had my newspaper gig and occasional freelance assignments and worked sporadically at trying to become a published author.

I polished the mystery, making it as good as I possibly could. I vividly recall staying home with my youngest son, then less than a year old, rocking him to sleep, and using the hour or so while he napped to edit my book. Late in the afternoon I’d head off to my newspaper gig.

The usual rejections from literary agents started coming back in the spring of 1999. I decided once again to bite the bullet. This time I plunked down one hundred and fifty dollars for an agent to represent me but not without plenty of soul searching and consideration. With some research I found she had at least a few clients who were published authors, although no one I’d ever heard of. I called this agent on the phone, querying her about the real necessity of having to hand over to her money. Yes. She liked my book, felt it was marketable, but it was a tough job, this whole business of selling books to publishers. She argued that the money was really a small investment. How long had I been trying to get published? What did I have to lose? She convinced me to part with the money.

As the months rolled by I received regular updates from her about publishers who rejected my book. Okay. She was apparently doing the job I paid her to do. Still, I wondered. How much clout did this agent have in the publishing world? Perhaps the upfront fee was needed because she couldn’t sell books. Wasn’t that what fees-charging agents did? But as a still-unpublished writer, who would kill to be in print, I had been willing to sign on with her.

More time passed. I received a letter from her, informing me that while my book did not sell in the first go-round of publishers, she would need another one hundred and fifty dollars for her to keep on marketing my book. Did I want to continue? After all, there were more publishers out there who had not seen my work. I was hesitant. I was apprehensive. I was also dying to get published.

I sent her another check and received the same results for my money.

So there you have it: a writer, or would-be writer, desperately trying for years to get published. There are surely better things to do with one’s time, one might well conclude. On the other hand, so many of you out there tapping madly away on keyboards can surely understand. You want so badly to be published, to be a real writer, to have that validation from yourself and others about your work.

You are a writer, an artist. You don’t want to be a doctor, or lawyer, or a business person. For others, that’s fine. More conventional routes, easier paths to success, of even making a buck, are out there. Perhaps you’ve been hearing that from friends and other well-meaning folks all your life. The fact that you might still be at this frustrating deal of writing is a testament, to more than just stubbornness, staying power, what have you. You are a writer, even if you haven’t seen your books among those of real authors lining the shelves of Barnes & Noble‒your dream of dreams.

So you keep toiling away, feeling deep within your soul that you’ll be published. There’s an old saying in publishing: It only takes that one agent or publisher for publication to happen for a writer. And it’s true. I could go on and on about the many writers, famous and not-so famous, who spent years facing rejections for their toil and sweat.

I’m sure you’ve heard some of the stories. As uplifting and inspiring as they are, they also can prompt one to conclude: “Well, gee, if it took those great talents that long to be published, where does that leave me?”

A good friend of mine, a journalist, fine writer and well-read man, once said to me, “You know, there’s an awful lot of bad books out there.” As a lifelong voracious reader, I know this to be true. How do some of the books out there get into print? Do their manuscripts fall into the hands of that single, deranged, drug-addled, misguided individual overwhelmed with manuscripts and under pressure to publish a writer’s book? Any writer’s book?

Sure. It often comes down to reader tastes, to supply and demand. I don’t read science fiction or romance novels, but that hardly means there aren’t plenty of folks out there devouring these types of books. Publishing, like so many things in life, is a matter of marketing‒tapping those people willing to plunk down good hard-earned money for the sake of being entertained, enlightened, moved, educated. It’s not rocket science, or really, much of any kind of science. It’s a numbers game, finding enough people out there to buy a book. The tricky part for publishers is in knowing what will sell. No easy concept for even the most seasoned of publishers.

Why, for example, did a book such as The DaVinci Code find such a willing and eager audience? Timing? The scintillating prose of the author? Who can predict that a book such as Shoeless Joe would ever get into the hands of the reading public‒a story about phantom ballplayers emerging from a cornfield to replay games on a field created by the loving hands of a farmer who had a vision, a book later made into the hit film, Field of Dreams.

For many people, Shoeless Joe may be the silliest story imaginable. For others, it’s an entertaining and moving tale, with universal themes of love and the pursuit of dreams, and in the hands of a wonderful storyteller and wordsmith like W.P. Kinsella, one worth reading. But what of the DaVinci Code, a book many critics lambasted for its pedestrian prose? Does one really have to be a master craftsman to publish a book, to be a best-selling author? Of course not.

The publishing world, as one can see, is unpredictable, a world of seemingly whimsical decisions by editors. Often, it’s a matter of the book and an author’s time. So why give up? If one’s dream really is to write and get published and go on to a success, why not keep at it?

~ ~ ~

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2 Comments
  1. Very thoughtful post. Your story was similar to my own. I just self published on createspace (Amazon). It’s a great feeling! I’m hoping when I finish the second novel, an agent will pick me up and pitch me to a publishing house, but I’m not holding my breath. It felt great to fulfill a personal goal. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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