Author Olivia Boler

writing is fun
August 3rd, 2011

Once upon an agent

Yes, at one point in my life, I had an agent. It was an amazing feeling when this complete stranger said she would like to represent my first novel. I was about 26 or 27 years old at the time, and it seemed like the work I’d done in grad school, despite my extremely yeasty doubts and insecurities, actually had some merit. I had found her in a heavy tome my thesis adviser had recommended, along with the advice to look for younger, newer agents, because they are “hungry” and more likely to take on an unknown writer. Plus, they will work really hard for you.

My agent was in Colorado. Not the hot bed of publishing, but I wasn’t prejudiced. She also wasn’t a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives), saying she had the qualifications, so why pay the big fees? Fine, fine. I understood about that. She asked for $600 to cover expenses like photocopies and postage. Red flag: all my grad school professors (at the time, these were the only published people I knew personally) said this was a big no-no. NEVER give money to an agent. They should make their money on the commission only. But I had a good job as a paralegal and could spare the bucks. Plus, she was the only agent, out of those I’d so far queried, who had said she wanted to represent me. What can I say? I was in love. Head over heels.

We had lunch once. She was in San Francisco for some reason. And I won’t give any specific personal details, but that meeting planted the seeds of doubt about her commitment to my work. She had not actually read the whole novel, she said. Well, I wondered, how did she know it was any good? But I shook it off. We went dutch on the lunch.

Rejection, rejection, rejection. One big nibble from St. Martin’s Press, but in the end, no thanks, the editor said.

Every day, I waited for my agent to call with news. Sometimes, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I called her for an update. It was like being in a relationship with a boyfriend who ignores you most of the time, and you wait by the phone, can’t eat, can’t sleep…you get the idea.

At the end of our year contract, she gave me a 3-month extension. But about a month in, she called me and said, not at all kindly, “I don’t want to work on this project anymore. No one is interested, and the writing isn’t very good, and I just don’t want to spend any time on it anymore.”

Was I devastated? Hell, yeah! All of my insecurities were totally validated! I let it sink it, numb me, then went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My agent broke up with me!”

I called her a few days later. She was polite. I asked her if I rewrote the book, would she consider representing it? She said she’d take a look if I had something in a few months, but she didn’t have any specific advice for changes, or maybe I was too dumb to ask.

But instead of calling her back, I went into hibernation. After a while, I might have done some editing of the book on my own. Maybe not. But I did decide not to go back to the agents. I went back to the heavy tome and looked for small publishing houses. And  that’s how I found Dry Bones Press.

July 30th, 2011

Should Olivia Give Up on Traditional Publishing?

To e-book or not to e-book? That is the question.

Okay. Let’s back up a sec. *sigh*

Discussing my struggles with writing is not one of my favorite pastimes, but I also feel I have to be honest when people ask about my latest endeavors. I can’t just say, “Great! Everything’s great!” They want proof. Those not in “the game” seem to think finding an agent is as easy as going to the Yellow Pages (or Google), calling the agent of your choice, and having them sign you up. No. Not a bit. I’ve had introductions to agents from friends who are their clients. No cigar. I’ve sent out more queries (that’s a one-page letter telling a bit about your book and yourself) than I want to admit (in the dozens, people, in the dozens). I’ve come soooooo close, with agents asking for sample chapters or even the whole manuscript, only to tell me that the writing is good but the story isn’t compelling/special/great. Or, they might think the novel’s idea is fantastic, but the execution in too plodding, etc. Or, they think the market is too saturated with the kind of story I’ve written. What it comes down to for agents—can they sell this thing?

I guess I thought success would come a little faster—or at all—when I published my first novel Year of the Smoke Girl with a small press. This was back in 2000, and the publisher, Dry Bones Press, Inc., consisted of one guy, Jim Rankin, who was using his disability money and some incentives from Lightning Source—a print on demand printer owned by Ingram—to publish books, first in nursing, then in other genres. I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me a break, although the whole process was rather frustrating. But I’ll save that for another post.

Back to success, or lack of it.  I had hoped with my next novel I’d move on from the small indie press world to a larger, mid-sized press, perhaps with the help of an agent, but that didn’t happen. In 2003, I told one of my writer friends that I was thinking of giving up. She said helpfully, “Maybe writing can just be your hobby.” She wasn’t the greatest at pep talks. But maybe she was right, I thought. Maybe I should just slap that L on my forehead and admit I’m a big old LOSER.

About a year later, however,  I started to draft another book (my fourth), because you see, writing for me is like some kind of disease, even if it’s bad writing. What was my subject? Well, I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (high school angst combined with the supernatural–awesome combo!), although at the time I hadn’t read any adult supernatural stuff and had only read YA horror when I was actually a YA (remember, when I started writing my novel, this was pre Twilight). Of course, like most people, I’d read the Harry Potter series and loved it. I had done some research on modern Wiccans, and I thought it would be funny if a witch who had been raised in this religion actually had superpowers and didn’t know what to do with them. As a person who is half-Chinese, half-white, I thought it would be even more interesting if she was biracial. I had once attended a Samhain potluck, where basically everyone was white except one Asian woman, and I thought, What the hell is she doing here? I’d love to know her story. So that’s how my character Memphis Zhang was born.

Here’s another little tidbit about me: This fall, I turn 40. I have always been blase about getting older, but as I actually do add on the years, I’m taking aging more seriously. I had hoped to be further along in my fiction writing career by this point. Some of my writing friends have started to encourage me to self-publish—excuse me, I think the term used today is independently publish or indie publish—my book as an e-book and hope for the success of Amanda Hocking. Maybe as a birthday gift to myself, I will. Come along for the ride—it’ll be fun!

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