Jeanne: The Ship to Tarshish

WhaleI intended to make today’s post a review of the 2018 RWA Conference in Denver that I attended last week. I have plenty to talk about–my first ever shot at giving away swag to promote a book, the great workshops I attended, my second experience as a Golden Heart finalist (though not, I’m sorry to say, as a winner this time).

But then I got to thinking about Jonah and the Whale, so we’re going to talk about that instead.

For those of you who weren’t frog-marched to Baptist Sunday school as impressionable children, God called on Jonah, a well-known prophet, to go to Nineveh and tell the Ninevites that they were screwing up, and to knock it off or he’d smite them.

Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites would be open to hearing this corrective feedback, so he hopped on a ship to Tarshish and high-tailed it in the opposite direction.

Even if you’re a godless heathen who never went to Baptist Sunday School, you know what happened next: big storm, big fish, three days in the belly of a whale for Jonah to consider the error of his ways.

I must admit I’ve never seen any practical application of this story for my own life until recently when, in a casual conversation, my preacher said, “Whenever God calls us to Nineveh, a ship to Tarshish shows up.”

Which got me to thinking about the things in life that pull us off course and cause us to lose a lot of time heading in the wrong direction.

For some time now, my publication plan has been to self-publish a series of dark comedies about Biblical demons who come to Earth on missions to screw up people’s lives. (I’m not sure why this particular story entertains me so much, but I hope it proves entertaining to some readers, too. We’ll find out come September.)

I had another plan, at the back of my mind, to write a series of contemporary small-town romances set in the mythical town of Russet Springs, Ohio. My thought was to consider going traditional for these, mostly because I didn’t want to keep dipping into my family’s bank account to pay the up-front costs for self-publishing yet another set of books when I’ve yet to see the first penny in revenue. At this point, writing is more like an expensive hobby  than a money-making venture.

And then a ship sailed into port….

When I was at the conference last week, I received requests from three different agents to submit Girl’s Best Friend, the first book in that Russet Springs series that I’ve been futzing with for the last couple of years. For the past couple of days, instead of focusing on getting The Demon Always Wins onto Amazon, or getting The Demon’s in the Details cleaned up and back to my editor, or turning my creative energies toward writing The Demon Wore Stilettos, my thoughts turned to Girl’s Best Friend and what it would take to get it ready for an agent to look at.

But now I’m back in my writing cave, far from the whirl and bustle of Denver and the ambient feeling that scoring an agent is the best thing that can ever happen to an unpublished writer.

The ending of Girl’s Best Friend still isn’t right, and if that changes a lot of stuff is going to have to change in the first 90% of the book to set it up correctly. I’m guessing I could easily blow away a month piddling with it.

I’m starting to wonder if this opportunity to gain an agent is actually a big old boat headed for Tarshish.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: The Ship to Tarshish

  1. *(I)n a casual conversation, my preacher said, “Whenever God calls us to Nineveh, a ship to Tarshish shows up.”*

    Oh my goodness. That really speaks to me. My own ship to Tarshish is a lawn that needs mowed and a house that needs a major decluttering — the mess started when my oldest was a baby, and now she’s bringing her new husband home in two weeks. ARGH!

    The huge problem, in my opinion, is distinguishing which is the Voice of God, and which is the Voice of One’s Own Willfulness. Am I supposed to get good exercise and make a good impression on my son-in-law? Or am I supposed to get short stories in shape and submitted to magazines and anthologies?

    And sometimes, there’s room to do both. In my case, it’s probably very much the case that if I stopped playing on the internet, I’d have time to do both.

    Yours is a much harder case. I think both would actually be a good idea. In one possible universe, you could work on the contemporary and delay the self-publishing a few months. While you are waiting for the gears of traditional publishing to grind, you could take up the self-publishing duties. (And traditional publishing might have something to help you with that ending that’s tricky — or maybe not.) If you released books two or three at the same time as your traditionally published book (or a month later), then you could ride the coattails of traditional marketing for your self-publishing. You’d be a debut author with an instant backlist of stories available.

    But there’s probably a catch — will they really let you do that? Self-publish and traditionally publish at the same time?

    (-: But still, what a wonderful problem to have! I know you’ll figure it out, and arrive at Nineveh sooner or later. Just think, if Jonah hadn’t been so willful, we wouldn’t have that great story about being in the belly of a whale!

    • I could definitely manage finishing up Girl’s Best Friend while I’m waiting for my editor to review and turn The Demon’s in the Details around. It would be much harder to develop an entire contemporary series while keeping my paranormal series moving forward. I just don’t write fast enough. That was one of the things that decided me on self-publishing–the ability to control my own schedule.

  2. As Michaeline says, what a great problem to have, Jeanne!

    I don’t think the decision is about whether to spend a month cleaning up Girl’s Best Friend for submission or not. You could tweak your self-pub schedule by a month if you chose to.

    I’d say, now you’re away from the shiny blandishments of Nationals, the question is whether you really, really want a traditional deal for GBF and whether you’re prepared for what might happen if you sign with one of the three agents, especially if the agent then manages to sell the book. I guess Russet Springs would become your priority, and the demons would be your side project. You may even have to manage two author names and brands. If you’re okay with that, do the clean-up on GBF and roll the dice.

    If your only reason for pitching GBF is that you don’t want to sink more money into self-pubbing it, then why not put it on hold for now, release the award-winning demon books you’ve invested so much time and money in, and see if you can recoup some of your investment? Then decide.

    PS Whichever route you choose, I’m pretty sure you’ll end up at Nineveh 😉

    • As I watch what’s happening in the publishing industry, it’s difficult not to feel like this may be my last opportunity at an agent Which, is, in itself, a very good reason not to hop on that ship.

      I know it’s all ego, but I still have this driving need to prove I can do this.

  3. You know what I would do, which is All the Things. But I live to be a cautionary tale :-).

    Jilly’s advice is really sound. Self-pubbing in romance does well because the readers are loyal and awesome, so many authors with the option of traditional publishing end up walking away from it so they can keep more of both control and profits. But there are advantages to a trad pub, too, especially when you’re getting established.

    If you do publish one or more of the Demon books first and then decide to try the agent route for GBF, ask for details about what you can expect to get (and be required to give) to a publisher, especially as a new author before you sign with the agent. You don’t want to tie up GBF for 6-12 months while she works on selling it to publishers, only to find out the Ts and Cs are more onerous than can accept.

    If the Demons series takes off, you’ll have a lot more leverage! Even if you don’t become the next Barbara Freethy overnight, you’ll have a platform and an audience, and be able to negotiate from a position of power. And if you have GFB ready to submit before next year’s conference, I’d email the partial or full (whatever they requested) with a reminder they met you at RWA Nationals in 2018, and an update about your successful book launches.

    Agreeing with everyone else, this is a fab problem to have! Go Jeanne!

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