Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Untangling Knots

by Clare O'Donohue

Question: How did your first novel come about and how long did it take to get published?

Book coverDuring the first half of 2006, I worked on a television show and it was a nightmare. Not the show itself, the production company. We've all worked in places that are disorganized, or mean to employees, or cheap. This was all of them. When the show was(mercifully) over, I got in my car and drove as far away from New York City as I could. I figured that way if the production company called me, asking to extend my contract, I could say, "Gee, I would, but I've left the state."

I ended up in Tennessee. I sat and stared at the beautiful Smoky Mountains for a few days, asking myself what else I could do for a living besides work in television. I knew in the back of my mind that not all production companies were as awful as that one, but just in case... I wanted an out.

And it came to me. Write a novel.

It sounds like I must be a fool or a romantic, and I might be both, but that wasn't the reason I thought of it. Truth is, I have few marketable skills. I've been writing professionally since I got out of college - first in newspapers, then in TV. I've written magazine articles, speeches, ad copy... everything but obituaries. I couldn't imagine going back to school for another degree, or getting my real estate license, and I though I briefly considered robbing banks I decided against it.  If I was going to do something else for a living, it would have to involve writing. And writing a novel was one of the few writing-related things I hadn't tried.

Besides, it sounded fun. I'd always written in someone else's voice - the newspaper, or the style of the show, the host, or the speaker whose speech I was writing. I was itching to see if I had my own voice.

When I got back from Tennessee, I started on my novel with absolutely no idea what I was doing. That was September 2006. What I lacked in planning and skill, I made up for in dedication. I wrote everyday for hours, working part time on another show rather than going back to work full time. By April I was done, and ready to look for an agent. That might seem fast - but remember years and years of professional writing experience.  Years of deadlines. Years of editing. 

I did the usual thing of sending out letters to agents, but I also sent an email out to friends. We never know who people know - your neighbor's college roommate might now be an agent, or your cousin's new boyfriend... I figured it didn't hurt to ask. "Does anyone know anyone who is a literary agent?" I sent in an email to about 20 friends. And, sure enough, someone did. That's how I got my agent, a month after I started my search, in May of 2007.

She sent it around and we got a bite over the summer and closed the deal that September, a year after I'd started writing. The Lover's Knot came out a year after that, in September of 2008.

And then I quit my job in TV, retired on my royalties, and bought an island in the South Pacific where I lie on the beach surrounded by minions who do my bidding.... Okay, that last part hasn't happened.

But it was fast, I know. And I think it was fast because of two things:

1) I got feedback in the writing process from several people, and I took their comments to heart. There's no crying in baseball, if you get my meaning. You ask people for their honest opinion and you listen to it.

2) I knew who my audience was, and I had a plan on how to reach them. Before I'd even reached out to agents, I asked someone well known in the quilt company if she would blurb my book. I brought that marketing plan to my agent, who shared it with potential publishers. Demonstrating that I understood that there was a business behind all the writing, helped publishers take me more seriously.

So now book 8 is done, and book 9 is pretty much done, and book 10 is an outline and a research project. I still work in TV. I still wonder how hard it would be to rob a bank, and I still write for hours at a time, every day. It turns out my writing boss is disorganized, mean to employees, and cheap, but since it's me, employing only me, I guess that's something I have to live with.



Catriona McPherson said...

I love this! Inspiring - just shading into sickening - but with great advice.

Clare O'Donohue said...

Thanks Catriona. I think.

Susan C Shea said...

Great story and a true working blueprint for anyone serious about getting to publication. It's a good reminder for me even now that you can't play at this business - it's a job, and a job means sitting down in front of the computer and putting in the time. Can't hear it too often!

Lori Rader-Day said...

Awesome. Here's an interesting tidbit. You and I started taking writing seriously the same month, the same year. I definitely went the slow route, I guess.

Clare O'Donohue said...

Lori - That is weird. I guess we were fated to meet!

And Susan - Absolutely. I have to remind myself of that from time to time too!