The Key to Getting Published: How I Found a Small Publisher for My Memoir, Part I [memoir series #7]

by Alissa Lukara

Publishing a book today is all about options – from traditional publishing to print-on-demand to eBooks and more. And authors have their own stories of creative ways they found a publisher for their books that

Photo Courtesy of Ben+Sam Courtesy via Creative Commons

Photo by Ben+Sam Courtesy of Creative Commons

often fly beyond the standard “query and wait.” Here is part one of my two part publishing story. It’s one of the series of blog posts at Transformational Writers on writing, publishing and promoting my memoir.

“May I read you a poem,” a young woman I knew asked when I saw her walking up the trail of a park I frequented. “I’m reading poems out loud to the trees, and I’d love to read one to you, too.” This shining light with a “yes” on her lips to all life had recently returned from traveling the world and was now pregnant with her first child.

“Sure,” I said, thinking how I loved living in a town where people read poems to trees.

And apropos, too, I told her. I was going for a hike to celebrate not only finishing my memoir, Riding Grace: A Triumph of the Soul, but also the query letter and book proposal for it. That day, I had mailed out the first batch of queries to agents. This was my “best bet” group to represent me with a traditional publisher – respected agents I already knew or to whom I had been referred.

Standing amongst the last of the fall leaves, turning from yellow to brown on the ground, she smiled, opened up the book she held to a random page and began.

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

 Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With Veracity
And love.
 
….This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
 
That there is anything
But Grace.

[Selection from Now is the Time from the The Gift – versions of the poems of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky – Read the whole poem here)

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Full blown synchronicity, message from the divine.

And so began my journey to publish my memoir, with this perfect poem chosen by the divine creative force in the form of this woman. This poem not only relayed a key message and transformation I had written about in my memoir, but foretold the one I had embarked upon that cloudy fall afternoon at the post office.

That poem has become one of my favorite. I posted it on my bathroom wall as an anchor for this publishing journey. And I was asked to trust that impossibility that there is anything but grace it spoke about over and over again on Riding Grace’s path to publication.

From that first round of query letters (oh yes, you do have to write a query and book proposal for memoirs), two of the agents responded favorably. The first agent I had ever had, who had represented me for a nonfiction book I sold to a traditional publisher, asked to see the proposal and the first 50 pages. The second wanted to read the whole manuscript.

Joy.

The rest turned it down flat.  All I need is one, I reminded myself.

Then those two turned it down. “Not enough market for memoirs on abuse and healing a chronic illness,” the first agent said.

The second mentioned a “momentum problem.” In another time and place, she wrote, in a less “bottom line” publishing world, agents had time and energy to work with promising writers to fix issues before they submitted them to publishers. “We could take a chance on a new memoir writer with a topic that was not guaranteed commercial.”

Then, she would have signed and worked with me. But today, with advances down and competition fierce, no. But thank you.

Later, I heard that agent had left her business to another agent and moved to Europe.

That was the end of most of the personal feedback on the rejections. I continued to send out queries, remembering how many dozen, even more than one hundred, times now famous authors had sent out their books before they found a publisher.

Persistence. Endurance. Both were qualities I knew about.

I did get a few hand-written notes. But, from then on, what I received back were form letters. Some cursory. Others thoughtful and respectful of the work writers had put into a book. But form letters of rejection nonetheless.

As months passed, I felt burdened by the process. It felt off somehow I could not understand, off in a way that had more behind it than feeling rejected.

Wasn’t this my dream? My calling? Didn’t I believe enough in my book?

I put the task of trying to find a publisher aside for a while. For the first time in 17 years, I lived my life without focusing on healing – either on the journey through illness or abuse or in the rehashing of it in the writing – and without focusing on publishing. For 18 months, I stopped sending the book out to agents and publishers. I did not explore self-publishing.

I rationalized to myself and friends, “Whew. Maybe it was enough to write the book for my own healing and for the healing that has come from sharing the manuscript with family and friends. It has already touched people in that way, and it has certainly transformed me in the writing of it. Maybe that is grace enough.”

Woo hoo, I thought to myself. Maybe I got away without having to face the fears of going to a public beyond my control with this vulnerable material.

Not.

A series of events unfolded. My father died, unleashing an unexpected wave of grief, but also freeing me from any conscious and unconscious fears of physical danger I had in releasing a book that dealt with father-daughter incest. It freed me to be able to use his real name and descriptions without fear of litigation.

And it freed the calling I had had first to write, and now to publish, this memoir to return. First, the calling to publish tapped me on the shoulder; then it screamed. Still I resisted.

Then, it dogged my every creative move. My creativity clogged up.

Forget that pesky momentum problem I knew I had to deal with in the memoir. All forward momentum in my creative life stopped up, too. My writing stopped flowing.

I could not ignore the clog. I knew what it was.

I had to return to the fray of the book journey, or I would never find the peace of knowing I had taken this book journey to completion – which included publication and sharing it with readers beyond friends and family, which included facing the fears of going public. Of knowing I had fulfilled the calling to write the book.

When you’re on a hero’s journey in life, like the one I wrote about, one step of that journey is sharing the gifts when you return. Publishing and promoting my book was part of my sharing those gifts.

That was my “yes” to my creative life and calling to write.

Mired in resistance, I was the one clamping down on my own creativity.

Okay, I said to myself in a tentative voice. I’ll re-edit the book and look to publish it again.

“Yes,” I told the writers in my writers’ group, speaking a little louder now, all of them encouraging me to move forward.

“Yes, I’ll do it,” I told the calling that had turned into a haunting. My soul quaking, I stood tall, looked that calling in the bloodshot hollow of its eyes, and said, “I will do whatever it takes. I will publish this book. I will birth it into the world. And each step of it, including this quaking, is grace.”

Next time: How I found my publisher. Part II of How I Published My Memoir

My gift to you for commenting and sharing. I  love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts on writing alone or with support. And if you like this article, please “like it” and share it on FB and Twitter. Each time you comment below or share this article on FB (or any other in the memoir series), you will be entered in a drawing to win a valuable prize. The drawing will be held at the end of this series.

What you can win: The winner can send me up to 10 double spaced pages of writing for feedback via email (Offer good for 60 days after winning it).

Want to read more of this series of articles related to my journey of writing a memoir? Click on Memoir Writing in the category section in the sidebar to access all the articles.

Sign up here for a complimentary writing ecourse for fiction and nonfiction- Write Your Book – Transform Your Life.  Alissa Lukara, the author of the poetic memoir, Riding Grace: A Triumph of the Soul, is as passionate about supporting you to write and share your stories as she is to write her own.  An acclaimed writing mentor, she supports you to write, publish and market your memoir, novel or creative nonfiction book through online writing workshops and retreats, writing coaching, developmental editing and speaking. Find out about her next memoir mentoring program by clicking here

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6 Responses to The Key to Getting Published: How I Found a Small Publisher for My Memoir, Part I [memoir series #7]

  1. Jonah says:

    NOW is the time Alissa. In fact it is the only time there is. If we get caught up in past memories of book rejections, or project National Book Awards for ourselves in the future, we are doing a disservice to our books. Yes it takes courage.Yes it takes perseverance. But in the end, it takes surrender to the Great Mystery, who never makes a mistake. Love the poem and love your book.
    Jonah

    • Alissa Lukara says:

      Thanks, Jonah. Yes, it’s all about staying present and doing what we can in the present to move our books forward and out into the world. And surrendering to all the mystery and wonders that happen along the way.

  2. Alissa, thanks for sharing honestly your experience to this point. I haven’t yet reached the query and proposal stage, but do know that traditional publishing isn’t always it he easy route. I look forward to reading Part 2.

    • Alissa Lukara says:

      You’re welcome, Sherrey. And in my experience — traditional, self publishing, small, large, none of it is the “easy” part. Each part of the writing process takes us out of our comfort zone but into a deep and true part of ourselves and our artistic vision and expression. So glad you are writing your own work and sharing your passion for memoir.

  3. Hi Alissa, thank you for sharing your story. It is an excellent reminder that writing is a creative process and that to be creative we need to honour our inner drives to complete books and other projects. Sometimes, getting a book published by a traditional publisher is seen as an act of vanity rather than a need or desire to share a learning or story, however risky that might be. Your article is a reminder that as writers we need to do things in our lives for reasons that go far beyond what is deemed rational by those who do not engage in a creative life.

    • You’re welcome, Deborah. I’m glad it served as that reminder. And you’re right, it’s so important to listen to those creative voices inside us prompting us forward on the path that is for your and your book’s highest good. To my mind, sharing our words, our voices as writers, being willing to take that risk to share remains an act of love, of service. Regardless of what path you take to publish or share with family and friends. I love that “reasons that go far beyond what is deemed rational.” So true. Thanks for your comments. (and thanks for sharing Kathleen’s article by the way. I appreciate it. Like what you’re doing and to make the connection here.)

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