IT WILL TAKE AS LONG AS IT TAKES
Ever since I took seriously the idea of writing and publishing my memoir, my attitude to time has shifted a hundred and eighty degrees. A couple of years ago when I finished, what I thought was a 'perfect' draft, secured an agent/editor, and waited for one or more publishers to send me a contract, I would have never believed that years would pass without any definitive resolution.
I am aware that 12 out of 12 rejections - especially for an unpublished author - is hardly a justifiable reason for losing hope. But it is enough reason to do some serious reality testing. What am I doing wrong I asked myself? or perhaps, a better way to view my predicament, was, is to try to answer the quesion - what do authors do that results in success?
Lack of success breeds inevitable stuckness. Am I on the right road? Should I make a turn to the left or the right? Should I make a U turn and go back some. If so, how far back? A little, a lot? Choices, choices, choices.
My long tern psychoanalysis has taught me at such stuck points to rely on my instincts. My instincts were signalling me loud and clear that for reasons which I shall not go into here, I could no longer trust my agent/editor. So when she failed to pass some tests I fired her. Experiencing instant relief I knew that choice was right.
Then I had to determine should I press on? Absolutely - was my instinctual answer. Given the fact that I still needed help I went to Amazon books searching for some sage advice that might provide a way to shed light on my dark road - advancing my journey towards publishing my memoir.
Note that I have always had the seductive possibility of self publishing. However, I would much prefer to go the conventional route. However if that alternative fails I will self publish. First things first. Obviously I needed to find a 'good' agent.
God bless the internet. Whatever information you are seeking will be in front of you with the small effort of making a few key strokes. In this case I found lists of potential agents and culled about 10 of them.
The one that sounded the best also wrote a book that instantly resonated. The title is: Thinking Like Your Editor, By Susan Rabiner. Her book has been a goldmine of outstanding philosophical and practical advice.
For example - reading between the lines of the scanty rejection notes I received, it was clear that although most of the editors wrote "compelling" they also indicated that my story was not relevant. I can't argue that although I know my content is to me clearly relevant - touching on timely and universal themes- it has to be presented in such a way that readers in the present will come to the same conclusion as myself. So my major preoccupation is finding a way to make a potential reader ccurious enough to read about some budding psychologists' experience working in a pioneering therapeutic community - Odyssey House - treating Heroin addicts 40 years ago. Thus for many months I have been laboring to establish relevance between the present and the past commonly referred to in writer's circle as fashioning a 'hook'.
Reading and re reading Ms. Rabiner's book, combined with mulling over this issue, finally resulted in a moment of white light clarity. Since I worked at Odyssey House I have been on the front lines of substance abuse. As a psychoanalyst I have many patients who are substance abusers. I have also worked part time in other substance abuse programs. Additionally I have written a number of original research papers on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse. This means I have kept pace with what has and has not been happening in this field over the last 40 years.
In this connection I realized that despite literally billions of dollars, reams of research, countless conferences, and policy decisions the so called 'war on drugs' continues, for the most part, to be an abysmal failure. This awarness has spawned two organizing questions guiding my memoir. 1 - Why has the drug war been a continuing failure and 2 - what has to be done to make it a success? Seque back to my experiences as a novice psychologist who was also troubled but eager to learn getting my first professional break to be a psychologist at Odyssey House.
During the 17 months I worked there I both witnessed and participated in the best and the worst of treatment interventions. I intially started out as an observing participant but got emotionally enmeshed in the atmosphere shifting to the role of a participant observer. It became clear to me that the only difference between me and my addict patients was that they had to stay in the program 24 hours a day whereas I got to go home at night. And even though we - the staff - were often winging it - the best of treatment yielded spectacular results which are validated some 40 years later. In my addendum I mention that at least 10 of the original core group of 40 raw heroin addicts are not only solid tax paying citizens but were at some point or are still now running addiction programs of their own.
This means that I am able to use my experiences of Odyssey House as both a reporter observing and evaluating this particular treamtment center in and of itself, but also am able to validly consider it to be a microcosm of the best and worst of treatment that a therapeutic community model has to offer.
I have decided to make my next proposal - a sentence or two shy of completion - as nearly perfect as I am able to do. To that end I have a comprehensive marketing plan, some excellent endorsements, numerous rewrites, and a sense of mastery. It is difficult for me to imagine that it has literally taken me 40 years to feel I am finally doing justice to my rich, complex material.
When does one know when they have done enough? For me, the answer is when the fruit on the tree is ripe enough, all one has to do is lightly touch it and it falls off of its own accord. I predict that my wish to publish my memoir is quite likely to have a promising future.
And, as I have said, if a conventional publisher doesn't share my obviously biased perspective and enthusiasm, then indeed, I will self publish. But that option, I am certain, is long down the road.