I listen to the hum of voices around me. People are everywhere - hauling bulging shoulder bags, talking shop, eyes searching for the next breakout author. The Jacob Javits Center buzzes with the sounds of readers, writers, and publishers. A young librarian, her hair pulled into a severe braid, stands in front of me. She glances at the sign, with my name and book title. Dr. Jeri Fink - signing her new book today I wait. She picks up a copy of Trees Cry For Rain, nodding at the colorful cover. Then she pages through it. I hold my breath. Satisfied, she hands it to me, like an offering. "Will you sign?" "My pleasure," I grin. And I begin. BEA - Book Expo America - is the largest book event in North America. I stand behind a desk piled high with my historical novel, Trees Cry For Rain. My eyes shine - like a little kid in Disney World. It has been a long road. There were twists and turns, trails that led from hard covers to paperbacks, major publishers to self publishing, agents and attorneys. Nothing was clear or well-defined. I meandered through the world of books, believing in myself and my work, waiting for the day I could call myself a novelist. "How long did it take you to write your book?" The librarian asks, watching me sign my name. "Four years," I beam. "And trips to Spain, Portugal, Israel, New York, New Mexico and California." Her eyes widen. She doesn't know what to say.
People often ask what inspired me. They don't get it. The answer is very simple: it's who I am. I remember the moment I discovered that fact, as if it happened yesterday. I was eight years old and it was long after my bedtime. Instead of sleeping, I held a flashlight over a notebook so I could write my next story. Then it hit me.
I was put on this planet to write.
"Didn't you get bored?" The librarian asks. "Didn't you want to give up?"
That was never an option.
I've done many things since that moment when I was eight years old. I've ventured into every corner of writing, publishing and promotion. Whether it was journalism, short stories, copywriting, adult nonfiction, books for children, or Trees Cry For Rain, I kept going. I never stopped reading and I never stopped writing, even when I was drowning in rejection letters. That wasn't an option.
As I stand there signing books at BEA, I recall my journey. Robert Frost's words, from The Road Not Taken, ring true:
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I began my official writing career as a copywriter for Prentice-Hall Publishing. I evolved into a free-lance journalist, eventually publishing hundreds of articles. My work appeared in local, regional and national publications like The New York Times, Redbook, Glamour and The Washington Post. There was one problem. The Beatles said it best in their lyrics:
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look . . . I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.
I wrote novels, but without any success. My first contracted book was a children's computer book, where I received a hefty advance. Then the book was "killed" when the market weakened. I kept my advance, but never saw the book in print.
I found my first agent, who was completely useless. She couldn't sell anything. Then I co-authored many children's book proposals with a well published author. No luck. One book was rejected after a year. Six months later the same book came out with a different title, under our editor's name. I was afraid to do anything because I didn't want to be blacklisted in the industry. As Robert Frost wrote,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
I chucked my agent and found a new one, who came along with a publicist. She had a fancy Manhattan address and a lot of promises. Nothing sold.
My first three books were sold without an agent. They were hardcover, nonfiction adult titles published by prominent companies: Cyberseduction, How To Use Computers and Cyberspace in The Clinical Practice of Psychotherapy, and The Pyschotherapist's Guide to Managed Care in the 21st Century. My fourth book, which I wrote on speculation, was "killed" because the publishers felt the market had disappeared. There was no advance to keep.
Angry at the entire industry, I self-published my first novel, Virtual Terror. Not knowing anything about promotion, the book languished on amazon.com . . . it's still there now.
The librarian is silent as I hand her a signed copy of Trees Cry For Rain.
"You know," she says flippantly, "I could write a book if I only had the time."
I shudder. Do I tell her about the hundreds of queries and proposals that languish in my files? Should I mention the ideas and characters that battle to be heard? Or maybe I should describe the piles of rejection letters that taunt me like bullies in a playground?
I wonder how many job interviewers rejected her?
Frustrated with publishing, another author and I decided to write books outside of the industry. We set up a collaborative educational program to teach kids about writing, editing, designing and publishing books. We called it Book Web. Our editors were school administrators, our readers were children, parents and teachers, and our publishers were corporate foundations. We used grants for funding, and received commendations from community leaders, politicians and educators. And we wrote books - merging our skills with thousands of creative children, who became co-authors, choosing subjects, researching, writing, and drawing pictures in a magical collaborative effort. We were wildly successful. Everyone learned what it was really like to write a book.
Book Web was in newspapers, magazines, on TV, and in educational book events. Distinction Magazine awarded us their 9th annual "Women of Distinction." They described our work as representing "a gush of fresh - but still literacy-laden - air [where] helping whole classes of children write their own books, guiding them from topic selection to copy-editing to a Borders book-signing, is their passion."
Charles Schumer, the U.S. Senator from New York, commended us for "accomplishing a tremendous feat" and our "commitment and dedication to all New Yorkers."
We were on a roll. Until twelve books later, the Great Recession began, and funding was gone. We left the classrooms and the kids.
I focused on Trees Cry For Rain. After endless rewrites and six "readers," it was ready to go. I tried to find an agent. I sent queries to nearly thirty agents - most never even responded, much less sent a rejection letter. Although I had eighteen books and hundreds of articles to my name, no one was interested. I decided to be my own agent and went to BEA with a sell-sheet and a lot of angst. I met Casey from Dailey Swan Publishing and the rest is history. During the two years between my contract and publication, I completed my next book, Jakob: The Perfect Psychological Storm, a psychological thriller. Casey is reviewing it now. And as I sign copies of Trees Cry For Rain, I'm working on another historical novel.
I nod at the librarian. "I never stop writing," I say quietly.
That is not an option.