Victoria Mixon, Author & Editor Editing     Testimonials     Books     About     Contact       Copyright


Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    This is the story about what happened after that Writers Conference in 1996 at which I became friends with the brilliant novelists Lucia Orth and Sasha Troyan.

    Actually, a lot of things happened, one of them being that I went home and completely rewrote my current novel yet once again. Because we novelists do that. We rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

    You know why?

    Because we are practicing a craft that goes on unto infinity, and the joy of the craft lies in practicing it.

    Some other things happened too, though, and they’re pertinent to what you’re doing (I’m pretty sure), so I’m going to tell you about them this week.

    Step #1 THE WINDMILL

    1. I got my first literary agent

      I know—everyone says agents don’t get clients at writers conferences. But she did.

      So I did.

      It was great.

      I had a novel in early draft that she wanted very much to see, but what I had that was really worth something was a book already at the publisher’s, Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, for which unfortunately my co-author and I had prematurely signed the contract.

      For the record, I hadn’t wanted to just sign it blind. I wanted to have it vetted by an agent or at least someone who knew anything at all about publishing contracts. For heaven’s sake. But my co-author refused to involve an agent on the grounds that it might annoy our publisher’s editor. The book was riding on his name, so I went along with him.

      Later I showed the contract to my new agent.

      She said it was a travesty.

    2. I got to know my new literary agent

      That agent happens to have a last name that’s extremely well-known in publishing: Caen. As in: Herb Caen. She’s his ex-wife, and her son is Herb’s only child.

      She knows everybody in publishing.

      She was chock full o’ excellent stories about famous people with whom she had hobnobbed—Jim Morrison of the Doors and the poet Michael McClure, the Black-&-White Ball Truman Capote threw in NYC to which she flew with her mask on her knee—simply great fun to visit with.

      I was doing a couple of book-readings for my just-published book around the San Francisco Bay Area, getting excited about being a published author.

      Altogether, a pretty thrilling time.

    3. I started writing nonfiction book proposals

      My agent was happy to work with me on my fiction—having already read an early draft of the novel I’d brought to the Writers Conference—but she explained that she couldn’t get me any kind of reasonable advance on my next book unless it was in nonfiction, like my first. (My co-author had gotten us $750 apiece as an advance on Children and the Internet to attend some event he said we were going to attend, although he never actually told me the name of it.)

      So my agent and I were going to get the nonfiction ball rolling while I developed one of my novels into a polished manuscript.

    4. I was still writing fiction

      Because that’s what we fiction writers do: we write it.

      Because in those days—1996—the whole zeitgeist of quality and editing and publication had not yet morphed into what it is today. All novelists took years to write their first novels.

    5. Then I stopped doing anything

      I got pregnant and, in short order, sick up the wazoo with morning sickness, and I stopped doing book-readings and book proposals and writing of any kind and just lay on the couch a lot thinking about chucking my lunch. I was in love and newly-married and a published author, so that was all still wonderful.

      But morning sickness sucked.

    Step #2 THE WIND

    My agent and I were now spending only as much time talking as it took to deal with the fact that it turned out our publisher’s editor had:

    1. not edited our book before publishing it

    2. not read—or even had proofread by someone else—our final manuscript before publishing it

    3. not sent me galleys to proof before publishing it, with the result that

    4. it came out chock full to the eyeballs with typos

    No kidding—if you look on the page facing page 1 (page 0), you find a charming quote attributed to “Irish Murdoch.”

    Plus my co-author inserted various cartoons on his own authority, one of them making light of pedophilia, which he inserted into one of my chapters.

    This was a book about children, to be marketed to the parents and teachers and educational administrators of children.

    Apparently nobody on that project but me knew that pedophilia is not a joke to the people who care for children.

    Step #3 THE MILL

    So my agent was sending faxes and making phone calls, demanding some accountability from the publisher.

    All to no avail.

    Our editor ignored my agent. She was the head of her department at that publisher and apparently felt she could afford to. I’d met the editor and not particularly liked her, so I wasn’t surprised, but my agent and I were still both pretty bent.

    I wrote a letter to the editor threatening legal action after I found out she’d gone to press without sending me my galleys. That scared her, so she kind of made an effort to act a little more professional after that. . .for about a minute.

    Not much.

    Step #4 THE TANGLING

    Children and the Internet was published in September, 1996, and sank immediately without a trace.

    This was unfortunate and inexplicable in a number of ways:

    1. It was an extremely important book

      It was about how to handle the sudden accessibility of the Internet to those who teach children.

      Using the Internet for children’s education had never been possible before on anything but the most limited, exclusive scale. . .although now of course there are computers in every classroom.

      Also, my co-author had an international cult following as the author of the first easily-understood book for the average amateur on how to access the Internet.

      And I had been a Computer Science student for three years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California, a highly-technical university where we couldn’t even get an email address unless we could prove we were computer students, much less access the Internet. So I knew a little about the technology we were explaining. Also, I had become a professional tech writer in the computer industry.

      I had, in addition, years of experience working with and educating children across the board—from being Art Director at a cutting-edge alternative preschool for pacifist, non-sexist families in the early 1980s, to child advocacy for the abused children at a Battered Women’s Shelter, to Director of the Children’s Room at the Earthling Bookshop when it opened in San Luis Obispo.

    2. It was the first book of its kind

      Nobody had yet written a book about this phenomenon of using the Internet to educate children.

      This technological advance was so new and so exciting and so obviously going to change the entire future of education around the world forever.

      We checked constantly to make sure we weren’t being scooped.

      We weren’t.

    3. It was timed perfectly for its target market

      it came out the week Silicon Valley held their Computer Use in Education Conference—the first-ever conference on using the Internet to teach children.

      We were in Silicon Valley. We lived and worked there. The schools I visited and profiled for the book are in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Berkeley. This Computer Use in Education Conference was literally on our doorstep.

      But we didn’t know about it until it was too late. We were head-down in writing the book all those months, and our publisher’s marketing department apparently didn’t do a single lick of marketing research.

      I heard about the conference from one of the teachers I profiled in our book when he apologized for not being able to attend my book-reading the next night.

      “I’ll be at CUE,” he said. “You know about that, right? The big Computer Use in Education Conference the computer companies of Silicon Valley are holding for teachers all about NetDay 96? I’m so sorry.”

      I called the publisher’s marketing department in a panic.

      “I don’t know,” she said laconically. “If you want to get me the information, I’ll look into it.”

      “You can’t get us in now,” I cried. “It’s tomorrow night!”

      She was remarkably unconcerned.

    4. It was timed to coincide with a Presidential edict

      If that’s not too rich for you.

      President Clinton had pronounced 1996 the year to connect all schools in the US to the Internet. He’d declared a single Saturday in July NetDay 96. On this day, President Clinton encouraged parents, educators, and engineers across the country to volunteer to help their local schools connect to the Internet.

      Why?

      So teachers could use the Internet to teach children.

      My co-author and I had actually gone out on NetDay 96 to our local schools and spent the day personally helping pull wires and set up computers and, generally, create access to the Internet for the teachers of children. I wrote a chapter about it for the book.

      There was a real possibility we could have gotten a statement from the White House supporting us.

      The White House.

      But our publisher’s editor—yawn—couldn’t be bothered to ask.

    So Children and the Internet sank out of sight.

    (There are now zillions of books on this subject. The field is flooded. Naturally.)

    Step #5 THE AFTERMATH

    About a year and a half later, when my son was old enough to walk and I got a chance to go back to work, I finally gave up waiting for my agent to get results about the legal implications of what our publisher had done to our book (and was still doing, refusing to even re-issue an edition without all the typos and the pedophile cartoon.)

    I went to the National Writer’s Union, which my agent had advised me to join the minute she met me.

    They told me to collect all the information about her communications with the publisher and they’d help me write a letter to the top brass. I asked my agent to send me all her communications with the publisher on my behalf.

    “Thank you for everything. Sorry you couldn’t get results. That damn editor. I know you did your best. I’m ending this whole fracas now, so we can go on with our lives.'”

    Step #6 THE WHOLE POINT OF MY STORY

    So why am I telling you all this? Two reasons:

    1. The publishing industry is brutal

      It was brutal then, and it’s brutal now. There is nothing we writers can do about this.

    2. But you know what was worth it all?

      The day I gave my new agent my partial manuscript to read, she called me at about six-thirty in the evening.

      “I never call anyone after six,” she said. “Ever. But I had to call you. I love this. I love your novel.”

      And while I was standing there reeling—thinking of everything you practice saying for just this moment when a literary agent calls you up and says just exactly that—she started quoting me to myself.

      She did.

      She read my own words out loud to me over the phone.

    So now I can die happy. I didn’t sell that novel. I didn’t even get the publisher’s editor who screwed us over so badly on Children and the Internet to say, “I’m sorry.” I certainly didn’t get my one traditionally-published book published properly, without too many obvious typos or pedophilic jokes or with some teeny, tiny modicum of marketing by—oh, I don’t know—maybe the publisher’s marketing department.

    However, a literary agent with a famous name called me up and quoted me to myself.

    And the good things in life have got to be enough.

    Subscribe:

    19 Comments

    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    19 Comments

19 Responses to “6 Steps to Tangling with the Publishing Windmill”

  1. Victoria, I teared up reading this. Talk about an experience worth sharing. Seriously, what is all this writing about, anyway? What are we striving for? I am sick and tired of hearing people scrambling to get an agent so they can publish their book and make it to the shelves and signings and have people oogle and gaggle and fall down at their feet because they’re such a wonderful writer and they want to be just like them and read all their books and worship every sentence they’ve ever written.

    That’s how it all feels to me.

    What are people after, anyway? I’m not sure, but I know I want what you got. Not even a call from an agent – just something that helps me know without a doubt that I’m good. Really. Good. I got it in college from my professors, and I’ll get it again from somebody else I admire.

    In the end, we set our own hype, our own misery, our own happiness. And that’s all it amounts to.

    I think I can rest after that.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’ve BEEN one of those people scrambling to get an agent and all that validation and glory. It seems so spectacular and wonderful, but I’m beginning to see that it might be overrated, or at least exaggerated. I have to write because I love to write, not because I have to get published or perish.

    Thank you for a great post!

  3. Yes, that’s all it amounts to. We write because it makes us happy.

    John Crowley said in his 1980s bildungsroman, Little, Big, “The things that make us happy make us wise.”

    Victoria

  4. That’s a great quote, thank you!

  5. You’re welcome! That quote was the only thing I remembered about the book for twenty-five years.

    Of course, it’s bull. Chocolate makes me happy as heck, but the hangover makes me hyperactive and cranky. As my husband said so lovingly yesterday evening, after being forced to share his carmel-chocolate-waffle-vanilla ice cream with me in the golden, falling light of sunset in the forest, “You’re going to be a nightmare later.”

    Victoria

  6. For the record, I was totally wrong about the nightmare part.

  7. 🙂

  8. Victoria,

    The thing I like best about your editing of my work, is that you always spot the false notes.

    I wouldn’t expect anything less of your blog.

    Kathryn

  9. Chocolate makes me happy too. I’m about to go eat some. Not sure if that’s wise, but who the heck cares!

  10. Normally I love reading this blog just before a long writing session.

    NOT this time.

    Harrumph. I need my carrots, dammit! How am I supposed to keep plodding on without the proper CARROTS?! Someone saying they like my writing…hail no, that’s not going to cut it. Call me crass. Call me one of the scrabbling masses. FINE. See ya on the bookshelves.

    🙂

  11. Hey Maureen,

    I do the same thing. I read VM’s blog for inspiration (and education) before starting to write.

    I have seen on different websites where the first ten pages of Pulitzer Prize winning novels were resubmitted and then rejected, sometimes harshly, by agents or publishers.

    It is good to be reminded that not all the folks who sit in economic judgment of our writing are infallible, or even competent.

    But you are right, the highest praise would be seeing your book on the shelf!

    Kathryn

  12. I’m sorry to throw cold water on you, guys, but the highest praise can’t possibly be your book on the shelf. Do you know about returns? Where they tear the covers off and send the poor, mutilated remains back to the publisher? You SO do not want to imagine your book going through that! And they all do.

    But don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and knock yourselves out fighting tooth and nail to get a book published. Then come on back two years later after you’ve re-read the book on the shelf and realized. . .you put your name on something you didn’t take the time to finish properly. And now it’s out there, and everyone can see it. All you can do is wait for the returns to eat it. And even then you can’t get second-hand copies out of circulation.

    Are you writing for the sake of the book on the shelf? For the sake of your reputation? For the sake of your good name? Or for the sake of writing something wonderful?

    These are all questions you must answer if you really want to be a writer.

    Victoria

  13. It can be all of the above, can’t it?

    How about two out of three? 🙂

    Kathryn

  14. Who are you now, Kathryn, Meatloaf??

    🙂

    Victoria

  15. I could be Meatloaf!

    K

  16. Well, you could. I’m not sure you’d want to. . .

    Victoria

  17. Well let’s just say I am already experienced at writing wonderful things. I won a poetry contest in the fourth grade, so I started young. And I have a novel under the bed somewhere, or it could be in the closet, not quite sure…

    …and now in my old age perhaps I’ve become delirious, greedy, maybe even stubborn but YES I am writing with publication in mind! Hell yes and I’m not ashamed.

    Returns, covers ripped off, whatever. I don’t really care. I want to be published. Rich and famous not included, sold separately.

  18. […] One of my roommates and I went up to an agent after an agents panel and introduced ourselves. My friend already had an agent so their conversation was kind of general, but I didn’t have an agent and I wanted one, so I was quite happy when the agent invited me to lunch the next day. (We had lunch, and after we got home I took her my manuscript, and she became my first agent.) […]

  19. […] Then last Friday I confessed what happened after that last writers conference, when I got my first agent and my first book published and my whole life turned into one, long, glamorous …. […]




FREE BESTSELLER!


Get your free collection
of my most popular posts
from deep within
the secret recesses of my blog
—viewed a quarter-million times—

11 posts. . .because this blog goes to 11



Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

Google