Samara O'Shea

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard…Is True

Twas December 2013 when I submitted the following essay to a website called Indie Book Week. Recently I clicked on the link and IBW was no more. Websites come and they go. C’est la vie. I’d like the essay to live somewhere, so I post it here.

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard…Is True

In early 2010 I attended an event called “Eat, Love, Write.” It was a fundraiser featuring bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert and her sister Catherine Gilbert Murdock as the keynote speakers. Catherine is a successful author in her own right—specializing in young adult novels. During the question and answer session, someone asked, “How do I get an agent?” Catherine began to respond practically but then she interrupted herself and said, “Focus on the writing. If a book is meant to be published it will find a way.” I rolled my eyes. If a book is meant to be published it will find a way. Don’t get me wrong; I am an advocate of everything happening for a reason, but come on! Agents don’t go knocking on doors asking if you happen to have a manuscript hanging around. You have to take your written work to the world. At the time, I dismissed it as one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard.

At that moment in my writing career, I had had some hits and many misses. The hits were my first two books. My first book—a modern guide to letter writing called For the Love of Letters—was the result of a whimsical idea I took to the web. In 2005, I launched an online letter-writing service—meaning people pay me to write letters on their behalf. A publisher saw the site and expressed interest in having me write a book on the topic. I teamed up with an agent, who I knew from church of all places, to guide me through the process, and it ended up being published. The first book led to the second book—another ode to the written word called Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

The many misses were the books I have tried to get published since my second book came out in 2008. Please know that I am incredibly grateful to have had two books published at all. I couldn’t help but hope, however, that writing books would become a regular occurrence for me. I even had dreams of living entirely off my writing, and I quickly realized that might not be in the realm of possibility. In early 2009, the imprint of HarperCollins (called Collins) that published my books shuttered, so I was without an editor to rally for me at the decision-making table.

Despite the setback, I was determined to write another book and thus I became a one-woman book-proposal factory. Nothing came to fruition. In some cases my agent liked the book idea, but we couldn’t find a publisher who was enthusiastic. In other cases my agent told me he couldn’t get behind an idea I had. But it just so happened that while I was at the Gilbert sisters’ event, I received an e-mail from my agent saying he would be happy to try and sell my latest proposal. It was for a book entitled Don’t Make Me Defriend You: How to Handle the Overly Emotional, Occasionally Irrational Side of Social Media. I left the event high on life and certain—to use Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s mantra—this book wanted to be published.

I was wrong. A few months went by and no publishers were biting. I was deflated but not ready to give up just yet. While working on the Don’t Make Me Defriend You proposal, I realized how much of our social media madness is motivated by relationships gone awry, which inspired me to attempt one final proposal for a book entitled He Loves Me Not: How to Survive (and Thrive!) in the Face of Unrequited Love. I gave it to my agent. To my dismay he didn’t like it, and we decided to go our separate ways.

I figured my book writing days were officially behind me now that I was without an agent, so I decided to trade creative writing for academic writing and go back to school to get my master’s degree. Although I was disappointed that things turned out this way, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll never stop writing—though I was uncertain as to what form it would now take. I wasn’t giving up but rather putting my craft on the back burner for a while. Of all the book proposals I had worked on, He Loves Me Not was the one I felt most strongly about. I thought perhaps I’d try to self publish it when I’m done with school.

In November 2012, I was finishing up my first semester of grad school when a woman who once worked at HarperCollins and did publicity for my books got in touch with me. She was now working for an indie publisher called February Books, and she said they were on the hunt for new projects. I immediately sent her the proposal for He Loves Me Not. By mid-January 2013, I signed with February Books and we agreed we’d have Loves Me…Not (title slightly altered) out by February 2014, which meant the manuscript had to be completed by May 2013. Not willing to give either endeavor up, I decided I would stay in school while writing the book. The beginning of this year was nothing short of madness, but I completed the book while getting As in all my classes.

February Books is owned by two former HarperCollins publicity veterans, and they hired my former publicist—previously mentioned—as they launched their boutique business. When the time came to hire an editor for Loves Me…Not, we were able to nab the extraordinary woman who had worked on my first two books with me. She became a freelance editor after Collins shuttered. It felt as if the group of us went indie together. There are a few stark differences between a corporate publisher and an indie publisher. The first is that indie asks my opinion on everything—from the cover design to the jacket copy to possible marketing methods. My input is essential, which is validating. Another less exciting difference is there’s no big advance that comes with an indie publisher, however, the royalty rate is much more generous. Therefore, if the gods of book sales are shining their light on me, I might do okay. It’s always a gamble, but one I enjoy.

As I was putting the final touches on Loves Me…Not, Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s words came to me: If a book is meant to be published it will find a way. She was absolutely right. I stand humbly corrected. This book proposal had been lying dormant on my desktop for over a year and a half and it woke up one day and decided it wanted to be a full-blown book, and soon it will be.

I have written seven book proposals and only three of them have gone on to become books. I don’t consider the proposals that didn’t become books to be a waste of time. I was honing my craft. I believe the reason I was able to write 70,000 words in five months is because of all the practice. It’s simple logic: Some of the books wanted to be written and others didn’t.