The only time I think of myself as small time is when I’m thinking about my writing. I’ve had two novels published by a small house, had a column for six years that appeared in a small newspaper, had another for four years on a small website, and most the time when I get published it's in small presses.
I have on several occasions made it into the big time. It's like dating a millionaire where he flies you to Paris for a dinner prepared by his personal chef. Going back to dating a regular guy who takes you to a nice restaurant may be nice, but can't compare. I wanted to know that feeling constantly, not sporadically. Not only do you get more street cred as a writer, but more money.
So I went to a mentor of mine, who I respect immensely and whose advice in the past has served me well. She's had many books published by big houses and gets published in big magazines and newspapers.
After listening to me whine a bit she gave me her shoot straight from the hip wisdom: step up your game. She told me “It's not necessarily your writing, but your process; telling me I send things out before they’re ready and that I should hire a ghost editor. This is something that she does even for 600 word essays. She said it has made all the difference and helped her get into the bigger time.
I found myself a ghost editor, one that had recently started a consulting firm after an illustrious editing career at fabulous women's glossies -- the ones who turn me down. My new collaborator is also an author.
My piece was about my 25th wedding anniversary. Because it was longer than 1500 words, I had to pay a little more than the usual fee, but I figured it was worth it if “Casper” could help me kick it up a notch to glossy magazine-worthy.
Casper did a line edit, which was very helpful, then wrote me a note at the end of the piece, which in essence said that she thought the story didn’t have legs. She kept telling me to “go darker.” I’m not Betty Draper, who has a black heart beating within her Barbie façade. I’m a pretty regular person. So much so that when I had my columns, the feedback I got was that people could relate to my stories that were about being a member of the Sandwich Generation, raising my children in Manhattan, and living and working in New York City in general. “That’s me. That’s my life,” was a common comment.
In my original essay that I submitted to Casper, I talked about how my husband and I weren't really party people, but for a fleeting moment I asked him if we should have one to mark our milestone and he looked at me as though I were asking for a divorce. Then I reminisced about our Ben Hur cast of thousands wedding that was more for our families than us, and how an anniversary party would only prove that after a quarter century we were still living our lives to appease others. Casper wanted more meat, like trouble in the marriage. Sorry, but no. That was why we were celebrating 25 years of it.
She kept digging. It got to the point where I didn’t exactly make anything up, but did put a negative spin on things to try and satisfy her need for there to be darkness to then come to see the light by the end of the piece.
I took her comments and suggestions into account as I rewrote the essay, which ended up being about how I hated my wedding and was resentful that my husband, Neil, and I didn’t elope.
During our final consultation phone call she broke the news that she still didn’t think it was ready to send out. I confessed that it would never be sent out because it was not my story or close to the one I wanted to tell, nor was it really true.
Casper seemed genuinely sorry things didn’t work out, partly because she wants her clients to succeed and partly because if they don’t it makes her look bad. I thanked her for her time.
I choose to look at the experience as money well spent because it showed me that having a ghost was not for me. It actually reminded me of when my son, Luke, was writing his college essay. Before the process began, I offered very excitedly that I had some great topic ideas to which he said, “I have my own ideas. I want to do it myself.” When he saw the look on my face that said, But what if you don't get into college because of that, he responded to my nonverbal question by adding, “I want them to see who I am. If they like it, they like it; if they don't, they don't.” I had to admire his sink or swim on his own merits attitude. I wish I had remembered that story before I laid out the money for Casper.
Neil chimed in with, “Why don't you just write what you want to write and then find someone who wants to publish it, instead of focusing on being published in a particular place?” Which is what I did with my original piece that got published on a small website. http://www.fiftyisthenewfifty.com/party-of-two/
I don't blame my mentor for giving me the advice that has brought her success or the editor who I believe earned her money even though I ended up where I started. I blame myself for not being grateful for all the times I have been published – anywhere or realizing that, with social media what it is, even if people never heard of the small press or would never ordinarily come across a website, tweeting, Facebooking and posting my work all over the place, gives me more than a ghost of a chance to get read.
Causes Lorraine Merkl Supports
The Legal Aid Society
The Inner-City Scholarship Fund