BQPAbFnCcAAZw-_.jpg_large In case anyone wasn't at Barnes & Noble in Glendale on Saturday, the goofy-looking woman third from the right in the pink shirt is me. (I am not, in fact, goofy-looking; I just photograph goofy. I am also not, in fact, the shape of a prize-winning pumpkin.) This photo was taken immediately after a fantabulous YA writer speed dating event, where I got the chance to talk with so many readers and bloggers and librarians and teachers and fellow-writers. Wonderful!

But the thing that strikes me when I look at this photo (beyond how much I appear to resemble a goofy pumpkin) is what a giant step it was to make it to the other side of the camera. To be one of those writers. How odd it feels to be the person who is answering the questions as opposed to the person asking them -- although in the restaurants before and after, I was still asking questions -- and how, in the most essential ways, most of the time, I'm doing exactly the same thing I was doing before: sitting alone on a sofa writing and revising.

At the event, I met two women who seem to be on the verge of publishing. They've rewritten and revised, attended conferences and seminars, and gotten great feedback on their work. And now the issue is submission, the query letter, the researching of the agents, and the fervent hoping that the sun, moon, and stars will be in perfect alignment the second the file containing the first fifteen pages of their manuscripts falls open in the right agent's email box. It feels so right and magic and perfect when that works, and so devastating when it doesn't.

And it's not just that the writer is infusing the situation with imaginary gravitas: it's life changing. When it works, it means that the manuscript becomes a book. The six people who've read bits of it become thousands of people who've read all of it. The hobby becomes a profession. The work is out there to be judged and loved or hated by a universe of complete strangers. The private passion becomes a widely available, bio-degradable object that can be purchased for $16.99 plus tax.

And then again, it's not life-changing. It's an invitation to more of the same. Because published or unpublished or prepublished or self-published or traditionally published: it's writing. It's writing as well as you can and then hoping that you're not spending the public portion of your professional life engaged in the functional equivalent of squealing, "You like me! You really like me!"

That said, what a relief that the manuscripts got turned into books. Not just the serendipity of imaginary celestial alignment, but luck. Not that I want to tempt fate by casting my lot with good luck; I spent too much of my writing life retelling folktales filled with superstition to fall for that but (whispers softly, chucking tons of salt over shoulder, draping self and the ten other writers in the photo with garlands of Evil-Eye busting, imaginary red ribbon) what good luck!

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AuthorAnn Stampler