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California DreamingÖ of an Agent and Book Deal
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
Iím writing this in a small hotel room in California. Corte Madera, to be exact. I finally made it out here, although Iíll be honest, I never really had a yen to go to California. Like a lot of people here, I eyed the Golden State with wonder and fear and a certain cynicism. How could a state be so huge? Isnít California mostly drive-by shootings, mudslides (well, not so much anymore), earthquakes, shallow airheads, plastic surgery addicts, techie types producing computer games and consoles that will keep thirtysomething men from attaining decent employment because theyíre so busy playing World of Warcraft?
Not to mention outrageously priced real estate, an ongoing drought and wildfires?
I planned to avoid California. I appreciate Hollywood for the entertainment factor, but itís sort of like sausage: I like it, but Iím not sure I want to see it being made.
The reason Iím here is because of a writing conference. I finished a novel, and I wanted, needed, to get some honest feedback and to meet people who know something about publishing. I wanted to go to the Midwest Writerís Workshop, but by the time I called about it, they were full.
So I gave this writing conference a try. I had to apply for it and send in some of my work; it wasnít like I could just pay my money and show up. I suppose being accepted was part of the incentive to go (writers crave validation almost as much as alcohol) but for some reason I couldnít fathom, I was terrified about this trip.
I waffled back and forth. Usually Iím excited about getting out of town, but this time was different. I felt guilty ó I would be missing two of my classes. This trip wouldnít be cheap. I was running out of money.
But I thought about how many years Iíd been writing, and the reaction my erotic fiction was getting. I thought about the novel Iíd completed, and considering that I really didnít know anything about the publishing world, felt like maybe this would be a good setting to learn. I found a great deal on a hotel room. I figured if I were flying all the way out here, and since Iíd never been, I should stick around a little while after the conference and experience San Francisco.
So I got on the plane and gawked at the prices for a lousy fruit plate ($8.79) and a small can of Pringles ($4). Thankfully, Iíd packed some snacks, and the soft drinks are still free. My room is not fancy, but I havenít seen any vermin. Thereís an urgent care place down the street, and thereís a Land Rover/Jaguar dealership next door. So if someone tries to murder me, I can get medical care, and I already have my new car (red Jaguar E-Type) picked out when I sue my attacker.
And here I am, tapping out this column. Itís been a very good trip so far: nice people, decent hotel room, okay food. A very comfy bed. Iím sleeping better than I am at home. I guess if I moved out here, Iíd cure my insomnia. All I have to do is pony up $810,000 and Iíll be able to buy a house. Or, I can do it on the cheap and rent two rooms for a mere $1300 a month.
I still havenít given my pitch yet. Iíve been put off twice, but I offered myself up as an example for one of our homework assignments. We were asked to list five characteristics that made our protagonist sympathetic and relatable. After lunch, I and three other people took seats up at the front of the room to read our lists. Since I hadnít given my pitch yet, I had to explain the context of my fiction and where my protagonist fit in. You know how right after lunch, youíre still a little tired? That vibe was there, but as soon as I very briefly summarized my novel, the room woke up. I really hadnít expected to talk about my erotic fiction in front of a room full of people. In front of a small group of three or four, okay. But in front of everyone? It was a bit awkward.
Still, my novel description brought some laughter to the room, and plenty of jokes after that. But they were good jokes. One thing really nice about this conference is that no matter who we were or what sort of experience we had or what kind of project we brought to the event, we were treated as writers. This is not to say that everyone was hugged and was patted on the head. Some writers had pitches that seemed to detail almost every single aspect of their novel (we were supposed to have a 250 word pitch, not a seven minute speech). But if the novel ideas didnít seem marketable, the writers werenít dismissed. They were advised to take a different approach with their work.
But as reluctant as I was to come, Iím glad I did. Iím learning some very sobering truths about the publishing industry. There are some maddening exceptions to the rule: for all the emphasis on great dialogue and beautiful prose, the bottom line is this: if a publisher doesnít think it will sell, your book wonít get purchased.
And how the hell did Fifty Shades of Grey get published? I finally figured it out on the first day of the conference. It was a high concept idea: itís Twilight with kinky sex. How could it possibly lose?
And my novel? One of the participants said it was Fifty Shades of Grey meets The Biggest Loser. And the guy leading the conference made a joke about me maybe getting a $2 million dollar deal.
I just might get that Jaguar yet.