Welcome to the writer’s life!

By Caitlin Kelly

As readers here know, this is an ongoing series, usually every six weeks or so, updating you on the joys and sorrows of life as a full-time freelancer.

It has not been dull, kids!

The good news:

I’ve gratefully had lots of work, challenging and interesting and well-paid — the trifecta!

I was asked to ghost-write for someone I knew in freshman classes at University of Toronto, someone whose own creative life kept intersecting with mine over the ensuing years — as she also moved to Montreal then to New York City. I had never ghost-written for anyone before but it was deemed excellent and didn’t even require a second draft.

Still blogging occasionally about pancreatic cancer research for the Lustgarten Foundation. I still have never met my editor, even though we don’t live that far apart — thanks to the pandemic.

Worked more on a story for The New York Times, which I’ll blog about here when it appears, probably next week. I started work on it back in December so it’s been a while.

We leased a Mazda CX0-30 last fall, our first time in that brand, and love it. While at the dealership, I picked up the glossy Mazda magazine and emailed its editor, based in England, to say, truthfully, how much we’re enjoying the car — and can I write for them? She and I did a get-to-know-you Zoom a while back. Several pitches now under consideration, and we might work together again as a team, Jose and I, since he is a professional photographer. That would be cool!

My income from some of these has been good enough I can actually just rest for a bit. We get our Johnson and Johnson one-shot COVID vaccination this Sunday and plan to take Monday and Tuesday off if we need it afterward.

I’ve been busy with coaching clients. I spoke to a PR firm in Ohio this week and next week working with a writer pal on three of his pitches.

The frustrating:

My bloody book proposal is still not finding any success — YET!

It’s been read by five agents and one editor.

I sent it this week to a Very Big Name in our industry, someone I’ve met twice a while back, who’s published 17 (!) books on writing. He was very generous and wrote back quickly and very encouragingly.

So I’m on a steep and tiring learning curve — still trying for an agent and a trade house; starting to research potential university presses and self-publishing. It’s a lot at once to manage and it’s really hard not to just give up.

But when people who know the subject say: “This is important and timely and I can’t wait to read it” I am going to take this as sincere.

My last book was published in 2011. The publishing industry has since massively shrunk and consolidated, meaning there are fewer and fewer smaller publishers. To sell a book to one of the Big Boys now means you have to have a subject they think will sell a lot of copies.

None will look at anything without an agent….and I’ve been through five already.

But — goddamnit! — I also see what books are being commissioned and I want to throw a chair. Some are so banal I simply cannot imagine that thousands and thousands of readers are going to rush to buy them.

I try to be a good soldier and cheer on all those others but it’s hard sometimes not to succumb to bitterness and envy. My first two books quickly found good agents and they worked hard to sell them to major publishers. Many agents now are not even accepting new clients and even those I am personally referred to or know personally can’t even reply to emails. It can feel very very depressing to keep banging on every door of every gatekeeper.

This business requires tremendous determination.

16 thoughts on “Welcome to the writer’s life!

  1. Jan Jasper

    The book proposal situation sounds incredibly frustrating. Also it has implications for society – midlist books will likely become fewer and fewer. If publishers will only publish books they know will be blockbusters, along with the usual drivel of celebrity exercise and diet books, our nation will suffer as a result. People are becoming less and less informed.
    BTW, I had my 2nd jab 2 days ago! My arm was very sore for a day or two, and I needed to take naps, but it was nowhere near as bad as I had feared.

    1. Thanks…

      It’s taking a lot of determination to not just give up. I submitted it to 2 more agents today and am now simultaneously submitting to as many as seem fitting to the topic.

      Three recent trends are now making this harder — I’m white and BIPOC voices are more in demand; more industry consolidation; agents overloaded with submissions from people who spent lockdown writing books or proposals.

      So glad you got it done! We get ours (J and J) Sunday and have booked off Monday and Tuesday in case we don’t feel great.

      The only dominant genre I see now? YA fiction. I find it….depressing. Very few seem to want current affairs.

  2. Your writing projects sound very varied and interesting. How neat that a car purchase led you to a new writing opportunity!

    Good luck with the book proposal. I look forward to reading it when it’s published.

    Glad to hear you both have the opportunity to get the vaccine. Very convenient to have a one-shot vaccine. I had my first dose (AstraZeneca) a couple of weeks ago. No side effects, other than a mildly raised temperature and tiredness for a couple of days.

    Happy Easter!

    1. Happy Easter!

      We actually leased the car — I no longer want to hang onto a depreciating asset. This is the second time we’ve leased (and first Mazda.)

      The proposal is very much stalled…it’s hard to keep going in the face of so much rejection.

      1. That sounds sensible. I did something similar a couple of weeks ago — the repair bills for my old car were becoming too expensive, so I decided to get one on PCP (‘personal contract purchase’ — similar to leasing but you get the option at the end of the term to pay a lump sum if you want to keep the car). I’ve been debating whether to pay it off completely and own the car outright, but that would mean a big dent in my savings and paying thousands for something that depreciates in value so quickly doesn’t add up…I guess the only downside is paying the interest over the contract term.

        I like the look of Mazdas. Hope you enjoy it.

        Ah, I can imagine it’s very frustrating. I can see the writing life requires a lot of grit and resilience to keep going!

      2. That basically sounds like our leasing…we could have bought our last leased car (we really splurged on the down payment and had a Mercedes) but the finall amount was…way too much! We kept our Subaru for 20 years and were absolutely crippled by repair bills at the end. Our budget could not withstand repeated and surprise $1,000 bills! It has really put me off owning a vehicle. One of the nice things with a 3 year lease is that if you lease another new car the technology has had 3 more years to evolve on the meantime. Our Mazda has so many safety features — and it costs 50% less to fuel.

        It’s gorgeous! Ours is deep metallic blue. Very quiet. Very fun to drive. https://www.mazdausa.com/vehicles/2021-cx-30

        It’s exhausting. The market is much much tougher than my last book, now a decade ago.

      3. That looks very nice! 🙂 I got a nearly-new DS3 (a French brand which used to be the premium sub-brand of Citroën but has since become a brand in its own right) — it’s a compact city car with French style!

  3. Jan Jasper

    The idea of leasing a car is interesting. My car is 20 years old and amazingly, has needed very few repairs. I know it will die someday and I will have to buy a new car then, and I dread it. Largely because , as a single woman who knows nothing about cars, I fear I will be taken advantage of. But possibly it makes more sense to lease a car anyhow. That’s a good point that when you renew in three years, there will be newer more efficient cars with more safety features available.
    As for my vaccine I had my second jab of the Moderna last Wednesday and it wasn’t too bad. My arm was extremely sore for a day or so, and I had to take a couple of naps, but that was all.

    1. Don’t be scared of car-shopping!!! No reason to be fearful.

      Make some plans for what you might want (sedan? SUV? EV? Hybrid?) and get a copy of Consumer Reports’ annual listing. SUPER helpful and we read it very carefully before going out to start looking. I test drove a Honda CRV, a Subaru Forester (what we had for 20 years), a Kia Sportage and a Mercedes SUV.

      I stopped after that because most were just TOO BIG…and the CX-30 is not. They all felt the same.

      When I was single and car shopping in 1996, I test drove 10 cars and made very careful written notes on each one…then asked my mechanic for his blessing (and bought and LOVED a red Del Sol, later stolen for parts.)

      I enjoyed it this time…but only got the CX-30 (which I hadn’t tried) when I went back to try the larger CX5 again….and there this was instead. Loved it at once. (And I am hard to please — and we were coming out of leasing a Mercedes.)

      1. Jan Jaspet

        I am an avid follower of Consumers Reports and would take great comfort in doing my research there. Your idea to have my mechanic look at the car is a great idea. The reason the process scares me is entirely because of what I read not long ago about the deviousness of the car sales people. Apparently , financing options are not as transparent as we would like to think, and even a smart buyer is often fooled. This article profiled 2 car salesman and went into detail about their tactics. One of them uses Machiavelli as his textbook and the other, The Art of War. After reading that article I felt like there is almost no way to avoid overpaying.

      2. I think forewarned is forearmed. We did end up going for the top-of-the-line model but it had the features we wanted (heated seats!)

        I will NOT be sold and make that pretty clear when I step into the showroom. It’s an immediate turn-off.

        But I also think…you can make yourself nuts with worry or just set a budget and be happy. How much anxiety is worth it?

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