Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Road to Dik-Dik

A lot of people have been asking me how I found an agent, and how I got published.

My story is far from encouraging, but I don't think it's unusual.

First, I don't have an agent. Second, being published by a small press doesn't pay much at all, so unless you are married to someone with a good job or have loads of down time at your day job, it's hard to make time to write. I wrote the bulk of Dik-Dik in the evenings while editing comic books by day in Kuwait.

I worked on my book proposal--Slow Boat to Everywhere, about going around the world by local transport for MariesWorldTour--in Australia in early 2002, at Turbo's house in Australia. I kept working on it during the next three months as we drove and camped our way across the US in Henry the Ford Taurus. Turbo took photos of the arches in Arches National Park for me since I spent the day writing in the Moab, Utah public library. (Not as bad as it sounds as I'd been to Arches twice before.)

I researched literary agents through Jeff Herman's book of agents, by reading acknowledgments in books similar to mine, and by asking friends for recommendations. I sent my proposal off to some agents I'd targeted.

Then I sat back and let the rejection letters roll in. Many were poorly photocopied form letters. A few notes were hand-scrawled in the margins of my cover letter. One agent liked my proposal. But she'd been reading a lot about graphic novels. I was a comic book person. "Wouldn't it make more sense to do the book as a graphic novel?"

"Not really," I said. I explained the costs of paying an artist. She suggested we get a student artist. I nixed that, but I sat down with my friend Joey Cavalieri, an editor at DC Comics. We came up with a scheme where friends of mine--professional working comic book artists--would each draw a different continent, so no one was taking too much of a financial hit. Still we'd need a high advance.

I knew it was nearly impossible, but no other agent was interested.

After about a year of publishers being excited about the project until they did the math, she gave up.

"Why don't you try it as a prose novel?"

"You mean like what I first sent you?"

It didn't speak to her as a prose novel. She only like the uniqueness of the graphic novel. We parted ways.

I tried some British publishers next, and met with positive feedback--but they all wanted a finished book in front of them, because I was a first-time novelist. All I had was a proposal and two sample chapters. And a huge website.

Then, in April of 2005, I saw a mention somewhere that Seal Press was looking for women's travel narratives. I sent it off, including an SASE as I fully expected rejection. Herr Marlboro was here with me at the time, and I was working at Scholastic during the day while he wrote his final undergraduate paper at my place (his previous degree was in auto mechanics, this one was in sustainable environment). The editor called two days later and asked if I'd consider making the book only about the Africa part of my trip. "Sure. Easier for me to research Africa than to research the entire world."

Herr Marlboro and I celebrated at the Cuban place that night. I practically hopped down the street, and he laughed at me. He'd seldom seen me so playful.

"I will go to Africa to write it! I will spend half the time in East Africa and half the time in the south."

"Well, maybe I can get another job in Uganda this summer. We will see, but I will not know for a while." He was always careful not to commit to anything. Me included.

He was nearly sent to Arua, but I was glad when he got sent back to Murchison Falls. If I'd gone to Arua, maybe I'd know Pernille, but in Murchison, I had the wonderful experience of living among African safari wildlife.

The rest of the story? It starts here.


Marie Javins said...

Did I really write that at 4:35 a.m.? Why, yes. A fun little trick I learned in Namibia last year... if you have too much on your mind, and you can't sleep, then just quit trying.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog & your "story"...i always learn a little more...
I'm fascinated, intrigued and even sometimes entralled and (YES) Inspired!
keep on blogging!!!