Friday, April 8, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Lisa A. Koosis Now?

I have a special treat for you today, a guest post from Lisa A. Koosis, a TWV 2012 and TWV 2013 alum (though she was on Mónica's team the second year). Lisa's traveled a long road, so I'm especially happy to report that her debut, RESURRECTING SUNSHINE, will be available from Albert Whitman & Company later this fall. Enjoy!

When Krista and I first decided on perseverance as the topic of my guest post, I thought: surely I can come up with something clever to say about that. After all, it’s something I know a thing or two about. But then somehow, “clever” didn’t seem exactly right for the subject matter. Because perseverance by its very nature implies struggle, right? It implies time passing and roadblocks and setbacks and frustration. Yup, lots of frustration. So instead of being clever, I’d like to tell you the story of my journey, which if nothing else, is one of perseverance.

Back in 2012 when I first entered The Writer’s Voice, it wasn’t--as that old cliché goes--my first rodeo. I’d been querying since 2007. In fact, The Road of the Dead, my TWV entry that year, was the third manuscript I’d queried (and the fifth book I’d written). 

The first manuscript I’d queried, a mainstream drama called Children of the Moon, wasn’t the first book I’d written either. It was the third. The first two have never amounted to anything beyond being virtual dust collectors on my hard drive. In September 2007 I heard about The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) for the first time, and knew I had to enter. I’d been revising Children of the Moon for probably two years, even as I’d been learning about queries and synopses and the etiquette of agent submissions. 

Truthfully, I think I’d also been dragging my feet on submitting, though looking back, I’m not sure why. I wasn’t afraid of rejection. I’d been navigating the short story markets for the better part of a decade by then, and had done fairly well for myself. In the process, I’d also received countless rejections, none of which had killed, maimed or otherwise injured me. (And I’ll tell you this… Agent rejections are nothing. Short story editors can be brutal!)

So I entered ABNA’s first competition…and flopped, not even making the first cut. Worse, they didn’t even advance the full amount of entries they’d slotted for that second round, which was a huge slap in the face. I’d heard the message--not good enough--loud and clear, but I let it fuel me, so I revised some more before embarking on a more traditional querying process. Eventually, after making the rounds, COTM got shelved.

A different manuscript made it to ABNA’s semifinals in Year 2. It also, subsequently, made it to Number 2 in another contest, one which was, unfortunately a first-place-or-nothing affair. That one got queried, too…and rejected and rejected and rejected and ultimately shelved.

By the time 2012 brought me to The Writers Voice for the first time, I’d entered ABNA every year. I’d even hit the semifinals with three different manuscripts. I’d been querying for five years straight, and though I can’t give you an exact count of my rejections at that point, I’ll say this: it was a whole lot. So when Krista posted “I want you” on my contest entry I was thrilled, but didn’t expect anything.

That turned out to be a good thing, because I didn’t get a single agent request from TWV that year…not a single one. And it confirmed what I might have known all along. That it was time to file away yet another manuscript.

My next project was a young adult manuscript that I’d been working on. I’d found my way to YA through another contest, one that I’d actually won, the Family Circle Short Fiction Contest. One of the prizes was a Mediabistro class. I’d wanted to learn from either an editor or an agent, so even though I considered myself an author of adult fiction, I chose the YA class, taught by the amazing Kendra Levin of Viking. The book I started for that class crashed and burned, but still, I came out of it with fresh inspiration, a newfound love for YA and an amazing critique partner.

This was the one, I thought. I was sure of it. But the YA manuscript only netted me more rejections.

I’d read time and again that if you were getting personal rejections you were getting close. Except I’d been getting personal rejections for years. Encouraging ones (You write beautifully and have an authentic voice. You’ll get there). Complimentary ones (Your world-building skills are amazing). Sometimes even perplexing ones (I think this could really be commercially successful but I’m going to have to pass. I loved this and couldn’t stop turning pages but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass). But rejections nonetheless. My significant other even made up a crazy, head-banging song about getting all these compliments and then the ultimate “no” that came at the end. He would sing it to make me laugh.

Conceptually, the idea of perseverance is great. But in practice, it’s hard to persevere. At least it was for me. There were times when I just flat-out quit (at least three times that I can think of), when I was sure I just didn’t have the heart to keep going. There were times I didn’t like who I was becoming, the frustration and jealousy getting the better of me as I watched other writers fly past me, securing agents, landing book deals, when they’d only been at it for a year or two. There were times when I felt hopeless. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, or even worse, what other writers were doing right. I was the almost girl. I had been the almost girl for years. I was always going to be the almost girl.

And yet I kept coming back to it, like a compulsion. I nicknamed my YA manuscript “the book that would not die.” I had (and still have) an amazing critique partner who wouldn’t let it die, who believed in it even when I couldn’t.

And the bottom line was this. No matter what I told myself, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to publish a book.

At one point, when I was picking away half-heartedly at yet another round of revisions, my significant other bribed me. “Finish that new first chapter by the registration deadline,” he told me, “and I’ll pay for you to attend that conference you want to go to.” So I did. And not only did he keep his word; he even paid for a critique for that chapter. And at that critique, I met an editor who loved the first chapter. I pretty much got no critique, just a lovely conversation and an invitation to submit the full manuscript.

It was a no (no’s never surprised me by then), but she asked me about my idea for additional revisions and then confirmed that she thought I was on the right track. She even said she’d like to see the manuscript again when I was finished revising.

…which brings me to The Writer’s Voice Part 2 and Team Monica. I was dragging through revisions when I saw the announcement for TWV 2014. I perked up. Maybe it was just the deadline I needed to get myself motivated and moving. Plus, it might be the ideal place to test out those new revisions before I sent it along to that editor again. So I entered. And on my entry, Monica wrote “I want you.”

Of course, me being me, I didn’t expect anything.

But this time, a funny thing happened. Nine agents requested. A few days later, I got an email from an amazing agent asking to talk, a call that ended with an offer of representation. And it wasn’t my only one that week.

I went through another two rounds of revisions under my agent’s guidance, and then we went on submission. Approximately six months after that, I had two offers on “the book that wouldn’t die.”

It’s continued to be a rocky road for me. Without going into details, I’ll say that the publisher I’m with now isn’t the publisher whose offer I accepted that day back in April of last year. Weird things happen, sometimes, things that are beyond our control. But I will say that the publisher I’m with now feels like the one I’m supposed to be with. It feels right. And the “book that would not die, also known as Resurrecting Sunshine, will be out in Fall 2016 from the amazing folks at Albert Whitman & Co.

It’s funny. A few years ago when I was at my most discouraged, my significant other and I attended Book Expo America (BEA) in NYC. It was amazing and overwhelming and inspiring. And it also made me a little sad as I saw author after author signing their books? Was I never going to get where I wanted to be? Would I never join that elite club?

A few days ago I got an email from my publishing house. The subject line said: Invitation to BEA. Of course, I accepted it.

In less than two months I will be there, amid the beautiful chaos of BEA (in Chicago this year), doing an in-booth signing.

Sometimes, looking back, I think I’ve heard the word “no” more than anyone else on the planet. I know it’s not true, but it feels that way sometimes. But now, I’ve also heard the word “yes,” which somehow manages to surpass every single “no” put together. For me, that’s the exact beauty of perseverance.

Krista, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog, and thank you for all you and everyone at The Writer’s Voice have done for me.

My pleasure, Lisa. My pleasure.


Noelle Henry said...

Lisa, thank you for this awesome, heartfelt, inspiring post. I loved hearing about your journey and how, even when nothing went right, you still persevered. I'm so thrilled for your sale and can't wait to read RESURRECTING SUNSHINE!

Unknown said...

Thanks for such an awesome, honest post. You're an inspiration to downtrodden writers everywhere!

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate reading your story, Lisa. I'm still persevering myself--although my journey hasn't been quite as long--but I definitely have days where I wonder if I'll ever get there. I look forward to reading your book and seeing what else you write. Congratulations!

Lisa K. said...

Thank you so much for the comments, and for your support, and for taking the time to stop by and read about my journey. This community...this community is the reason I think we can all persevere.