Evolution: Poet to Novelist / Contest Chick to Indie Author

It's my pleasure to present a two-part guest post from poet and novelist Deborah Bogen. She is a poet–a successful, multi-contest-winning literary poet–who decided to write a novel. When agents refused to take that novel, she decided to break free of literary publishing, and release it herself on Amazon Direct. This is the story of that transition.

If you're a writer and / or reader yourself, I'm sure you'll have many questions about the Kindle-publishing world: leave comments, and we'll see if Deborah can answer them!

Evolution: Poet to Novelist / Contest Chick to Indie Author.

by Deborah Bogen

Part One

I was already old when I became – officially – a writer. At 47 I had a full-time job, a family with several kids ready for college and a rich life outside of work. But “just for fun” I took a community writing seminar with Doug Anderson, a terrific poet (now memoirist as well) and as full as my life already was, I could not let the writing go.

Or was it the writing that would not let me go? You know this feeling, this wild, almost irrational feeling that you have found something in the writing that you were looking for.

You have to have it, to make it, this word art. Your life changes.

Poetry was the form that called me, and newbie that I was I took direction. I’d been an avid reader for decades but now it was not just read, read, read. The direction was also to write, write, write – and eventually to send out the work. First there were poems in journals, then a big old stack of poems people referred to as my “manuscript” and finally a much refined version of that which became “Landscape with Silos”— my first full-length collection. Somewhere in there was a chapbook chosen by Edward Hirsch which was a lift, and along the way there were other blessings and anointings. These are important in the poetry world. Poets whose work I loved were kind enough to tell me that I too was actually a poet. Those were rich years of summer workshops (I had too many bills to pay to afford an MFA) and correspondence with generous busy professional poets and weekly writing group meetings with my pals. And of course there were the poems, opening me up, saving me in a way, keeping me company in places where I had once felt alone.

Eventually there was the second book, “Let Me Open You a Swan” and I started to feel rather official. Small-time, yes, but official. Not entirely unknown. A working contributing poet. The chapbook and the two long books had been published via contests and were put out by small literary presses (thank you, Elixir, for being the best.) I hope I am safe from ever finding out what I spent on entrance fees, but if you are a poet who uses contests as way to find publication you will know what I mean.

At some point I was even older, 58 maybe, and had started to think of myself as done with new literary horizons. Enter two 10 year old boys in a class I was teaching as a “poet-in-the schools.” One was named Billy, the other was Jacob. They were opposites in a way, one rambunctious, involved and talkative, one nearly silent and thoughtful. But they both got under my skin. One was intrigued by everything I told him about the Middle Ages (long story – for another day) and the other was suffering from a tear in his universe that I understood and wanted to speak to. That combination got me started on a book that takes place in the early 13th century in England. It’s a book for all ages – at least for 10 year olds on up, and those boys gave it to me. They made me write it.

I had never written a novel – or a novella – or a short story. I was a poet who wrote at a slant, elliptically. I had not tried to tell a story before. But now I did, or (as you novelists know) it told itself to me. Eventually I had a book, The Wych of Lepyr Cove, and no publisher. What to do?

I asked around, printed out lists of agents who might take a look at it. I wrote a pitch and a synopsis. I looked up the way each agent wished to be approached. And I sent out my stuff.

Many responded, some asked for chapters and most of those praised the writing and even the story, but they all told me no. No, they could not sell this book to a publisher. This book they said had three major problems: 1) it had three protagonists and “young adults” like one character that they can totally identify with; 2) it was too realistic – no real witches, no dragons or magic; and 3) young adults would not want to read about the struggle three young people had in thwarting a large institution, the Church, in 13th century England.

So what to do?

The second half of the story will be posted tomorrow. I'm hoping that if you have questions, you can leave comments, and Deborah will try to answer them. In the meantime, visit Deborah's site, and take a look at The Wych of Lepyr Cove, available on Kindle.

 

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