Guest Post: Joshua Cohen

Be Aggressive!  Be, Be Aggressive!

While my book Leverage is, in part, a sports story that pits gymnasts against football players, I wanted to take a short time out and don the role of a cheerleader for a moment.  Before I begin my “Yay-Rah-Rah” speech, though, I’m asking you—nay, I’m SHOUTING at you through one of those megaphone thingies—to stay with me through this short and inspirational guest blog post.  Let me just grab my pom-poms and the kerosene soaked baton and light this sucker up and start twirling … okay, here it goes …

Chances are that if you’re reading this post, then you very well may be a writer with hopes and dreams of one day getting published.  This makes you the scrappy underdog in your own story of trying to break through the publishing gates and get your book out into the world. Chances are that, as an aspiring novelist, you read articles about publishing and you’ve come across numerous news stories bemoaning the state of the publishing industry.  They basically all say the same thing:  The publishing industry is dying.  No one reads books anymore.  We’re all turning into drooling zombies that will only Facebook and Youtube for entertainment in the future and we will no longer be able to read anything longer than 140 characters, let alone an entire book.  Blah, blah, blah.  These articles and their general premise and the way they come at you from every angle and source on the internet are the seemingly unbeatable foe in your personal saga to get published.  These stories are the bully that tries to intimidate you—Miss Scrappy Underdog—into quitting before you have even started.

This is where I, the sensitive, thoughtful cheerleader—twirling a flaming baton and risking third degree burns—enter your story.  As a cheerleader, it is my job to get you—Miss Scrappy Underdog—fired up before you run out onto the field to tackle the trash talking opponent that has basically tried to scare you into not even showing up.  I won’t yell, however, and I may have to put down my baton.  But when I’m finished, you’ll be super pumped to go out and stomp all over your trash talking foe.  It’s just me and you, now, here in the lockers, and I’m going to tell you my own real story of how I never thought I’d get published and then one day it happened.  Cue the somber but uplifting horn section with just the right amount of bass beat in the background.

By the time Leverage was released, I’d been writing with the hopes of getting published for over fifteen years.  I’ll say that last part again.  Fif-teen Years!  Now, admittedly, I took the loooong path.  I didn’t go out of my way to make industry contacts. I was awful at networking and basically didn’t bother to do it. I worked on my stories and submitted them.  I piled up rejection slip after rejection slip.  At one point, I worked for five years on a “perfect” manuscript that I never showed to anyone because I couldn’t handle the criticism until it was exactly as I wanted it.  When it was ready, I had this giant 150,000 word monster that scared the behoova out of anyone kind enough to read it.  Had I showed the manuscript much earlier in the writing process, I would have gotten critical feedback that would have reduced the manuscript length down to something actually publishable.  Once I realized that particular manuscript would never go beyond my desk drawer, I walked away from writing for about eight months.  In these eight months, when I wasn’t grumbling about wasting all those years on my failed short stories and my failed behemoth manuscript, I discovered what it was like to have free time when not working at my day job.  I really enjoyed that free time.  I told myself that this is what “normal” people do:  They hang out with friends and family, catch up on sleep and have a social life.

The same negative headlines about the publishing industry that I mentioned earlier existed ten years ago.  They contained the same fear mongering topics about the demise of the publishing industry and how a viable readership base was shrinking.  I would read these articles during my eight month break from writing and nod my head knowingly, relieved I’d finally seen the light and wouldn’t waste any more of my life trying to crash the gates of the publishing world as an outsider.

During the end of that eight month break, though, something else started to happen.  I lost my way.  Writing is what gave me satisfaction.  Writing fulfilled me.  After eight months, I had the itch again, the need to put down stories and characters on a page.  Picture an exasperated dude blowing a stream of air out of pursed lips, unable to fight his own inclinations, rolling his eyes at himself as he sits down at his keyboard.  He’s shaking his head as he opens up a blank word document, mentally punching himself for beginning the whole sordid process all over again, knowing there will be no outside accolades or reward other than his own personal enjoyment and fulfillment.  He recognizes, this time, grudgingly, that that will have to be enough.  He knows all too well the cartoon image of Charlie Brown running up to kick the football only to have Lucy pull it away yet again.  He is determined not to give in to the false hopes of one day getting published as he begins his brand new first chapter.  On that day in 2003, that exasperated dude—me—decided to write a story that would eventually turn into Leverage, my debut novel that was published in February of this wonderful year, 2011.

Okay, now cue the montage sequence of you—Ms. Scrappy Underdog—wiping glycerin tears off your cheeks and getting back to work on your story, determined to break through the publishing world gates and get your book out there.  YOU CAN DO IT!   (That’s my Yay-Rah-Rah coming back out). You know how I know?  Because I did it.  I had no inside contacts or networking connections or a friend-of-a-friend help.  My manuscript query landed in an agent’s slush pile and they asked to see the first 50 pages and then the next 100 pages and then the entire book and then one day I got the phone call from the wonderful Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management and she took me on as a client.  That’s my story so far.  I’m hoping to add a few more chapters before the ending credits start to roll.

Okay, so here’s the big finale cheer:  Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing!  Never give up!  It can happen to you!  You just got to hang in there long enough.  But that’s what Scrappy Underdogs do.  They hang in there until they get it.  That’s why everyone roots for them!

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