"Sometimes Things Don’t Go as Planned"
For close to 20 years I worked on creative teams in churches helping to write full-length dramas as well as 5-minute sketches. That process led to a nagging question that just wouldn’t go away; “I wonder if I could write a novel?” After doubts and procrastination, I finally decided to give it a go in January 2015. I worked full time during the day, so writing would be late in the evening and on weekends. I found writing difficult but rewarding. I was surprised to find that after two months I had written 75 pages.
In late February 2015 a death in the family put the writing on pause for a couple of months, but I resumed the process in May. Another 75 pages seemed to come more smoothly. I was feeling encouraged. The story was starting to take shape. But then my own personal story took an unexpected turn. I got to hear the three words no one wants to hear; “You have cancer.”
The cancer would involve surgery, a six-week recovery, and six months of chemo. After the usual range of emotions that a cancer diagnosis brings, I thought, at least this would give me more time to write. I was wrong. Cancer and chemo are physically and emotionally draining. I was surprised to find how much energy and focus it takes to write. As many times as I tried to sit in front of the keyboard, the words just would not come.
For those dealing with a cancer diagnosis or who have a loved one dealing with cancer, I wrote occasional Facebook posts to friends and family while I was going through the process. If you are interested in reading those posts they are here.
Surgery and chemo filled in the time from June 2015 to January 2016. After a few months of regaining my strength, my wife and I took a trip in April of 2016 to our usual spring destination, Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Although I hadn’t written in close to a year, my unfinished manuscript was always in the back of my mind. I had almost concluded that I was going to put aside what I had written and start something different. During the trip I asked my wife to read the 150 pages just to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake by starting something new. I can always count on my wife for honest feedback. After reading the partial draft she was insistent that I resume this book and finish it. Not only did she think it was a fun read, she wanted to know how it would end. Frankly, so did I. Her encouragement lit the spark to get busy writing again.
I dusted off my manuscript and starting the writing process again in May 2016. Long nights and weekends led to progress, doubt, more progress, and more doubt. I was motivated by a handful of friends who I had asked to read as I was writing. Once a week I’d send out the latest chapters I had finished. I still recall getting a text from a friend after a less-than-productive week. The text simply read “Finish your dang book!” On August 13, 2016 I e-mailed my friends with the subject “The End”. It contained the last few chapters of the book. Although it was the end of the book, it would be far from the end of the process.
I spent the next few weeks re-reading the manuscript and making many edits. I then sent the finished work to professional editors to perform their magic. Wow, did they ever make me wish I had listened more intently in high school and college English classes. When their work was done I could start the process of trying to find a publisher.
For those unfamiliar with the publishing process (I was) here’s a very quick primer. To approach a publisher an author must go through a literary agent. Literary agents screen manuscripts through a process called a query. Queries typically involve a short cover letter and the first one to three chapters of the manuscript. The odds of an unpublished author who’s not already well-known (e.g. an actor, musician, sports star) are lottery-esque. Nevertheless, I would try.
In October 2016 I sent out around 20 queries. I got nothing back…I mean literally NOTHING. Most agents have a response protocol something like, “If you haven’t heard back from us in eight weeks, assume we’re not interested.”
There are many stories about well-known authors who have dealt with literary rejections. A google search of “famous author literary rejections” will turn up names like J. K. Rowling, Ernest Hemmingway, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, Dr. Seuss, and John Grisham. Rejections are part of every writer's publishing journey.
After getting no feedback on my initial queries I was faced with three options; 1) give up, 2) try self-publishing, 3) try another round of queries. All three options were given very serious consideration. In early 2017 option 3 won out. In April-May 2017 I sent out around 25 more queries. I actually got two responses, both “no’s”. I was back to the three options again.
Our family moved in the summer of 2017, so several months were spent packing and unpacking. In September 2017 after we were (somewhat) settled into the new home, I decided to give self-publishing a try. After researching several options, self-publishing through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, won out. With the self-publish option the success of the book comes down to the author/reader relationship. It is up to me to write, market and connect with you, the readers. I look forward to developing that relationship and to hearing your feedback.
About the Author:
John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball.
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