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  • Marlena Frank

Writer Wednesday: Don't Give Up On Your Dreams

Writing takes time. Everybody understands that, but few have the diligence and determination to finish a piece of writing. Even fewer seek publication, and then there’s the small percentage that not only find a publisher, they find a good one.

I’ll agree that I’ve been fortunate to have my work picked up by two excellent small publishers: Radiant Crown Publishing and The Parliament House Press. However it wasn’t all just luck. It took years of rejection, negotiations, and broken dreams before I finally got that elusive publishing contract. I’ve been writing short stories for years, and the contracts for those anthologies are fairly straight-forward and concise. They only last for a few years at most and are fairly easy to read and work with. One contract I came across had a strange clause though: requiring a first look at my next novel. I agreed to it, thinking that it was great to have a already place interested in my debut novel. In practice, however, it put me in an odd place. I was hoping to have an agent before publishing, and I had to include the clause in my queries to potential agents about the required first look. That’s a bit frustrating for an agent because that means their preferred publishers may not be able to even look at the piece. After a year or two searching for representation on a couple of books, I got no interest. I was told my books were interesting, but wouldn’t fit into their portfolio. Some of them outwardly said they didn’t like my LGBTQIA characters for indescribable reasons. Later I found out that in many circles that’s considered a form of discrimination. I didn’t know that at the time though, I thought there was just something wrong with my writing. Finally I returned to that publisher and submitted a manuscript myself. It took months to hear back, but they were interested. Next I knew, they sent me a contract. I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to have my novel available to readers. Only... the contract was far longer than any I had seen, and in fact longer than most novel contracts. It was also filled with legalese that made no sense to me. So I did what I’ve always done when faced with a challenge: I researched. It turns out that each state in the US has a Lawyers for the Arts group. You send a minimal payment and they’ll get you in touch with legal representation for advice. I was willing to pay hopefully not a huge amount to get the contract reviewed. The lawyer I reached was willing to look it over for free in exchange for a copy of the book. I was so thrilled! What I learned through talking with her was that the contract that made me uneasy was far worse than I had assumed. There were clauses in it that were known as “unfriendly for authors” that she recommended striking completely. Later I would learn that these clauses have been red flagged by authors since the 1980s, however they’re still just as much in use today. Meanwhile the publisher was anxiously waiting for my feedback. When I finally approached them with the changes I required, they disagreed and offered a counter offer. I walked away from it, as difficult as it was to do. I second-guessed myself. I wondered if I would ever have a publisher willing to take on my work again. This was back in 2016 and I had been trying to get a novel published or agented for 4 years. It took a while for me to submit my novels out again. I was wary of many small publishers after my first experience and did a ton of research into them before submitting anything. I felt burned and discouraged. Writing at all felt like a chore. Then I came across the publishing houses I’m with today. Both Olivia and Shayne have been wonderful to work with, and I’m so thankful to have walked away from the offer I got previously. It’s true what they say: every time a door gets slammed in your face, another one opens. I’m glad I didn’t lose my motivation in my writing completely and that I persevered. Today I have a YA dark fantasy novella coming out in April 2018, and my debut YA fantasy novel with Parliament House Press coming out in January 2019. I never would have gotten to this point if I had given up like I had been so tempted to do.

When it came time to negotiate the far more “author friendly” contracts from these two publishing houses, I had learned so much that I felt confident in being able to negotiate them myself. As for my lawyer, I’ll still send her copies of the books because I benefited from the brief conversation we had. I feel like all that stress was worth it at least to get to this point. I guess the lesson for this is to not give up, even if you feel like it’s too hard to keep going. Believe in yourself and in your writing. There are people out there who will love your work, you just need to stay strong. Don’t give up on your dreams. Just wait for that next door to open.

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