First, I should say how excited, overwhelmed and even a bit scared I am to be the first-ever Passion Project winner. I am excited for the obvious reasons. Winning this contest will at the very least get me closer to publication. I am overwhelmed because I have a lot of work to do, and I am scared because everyone is watching.
I have been a student of the craft for nearly two decades. I have read, written and read some more. Yet, the agent and the book deal have eluded me. I knew I was doing something wrong; I just couldn’t figure it out. Or maybe I did and needed someone to show me.
When I heard about the Passion Project on SheWrites.com, I thought it could be the boost I needed to land an agent and possibly a book deal. I feel one step closer to that reality after talking with Christina Baker Kline about my proposal.
She wanted to know how she could help. I had written a few notes about some items I wanted to touch on, mainly comments from agents who had turned down my project. “I like the concept, but I cannot offer representation,” many wrote. “It’s a magazine article, not a full-length book,” a few told me. “You’re not an expert because your children haven’t gone through puberty,” one said.
It was enough to make me stop writing. I am addressing the expert matter by interviewing black mothers, attending and participating in conferences on the mixed experience and by creating an online survey of mothers raising biracial children.
My mistake, and I suspect it is common, is that I didn’t address those issues in my proposal. Christina likened it to hiding under the bed with my eyes closed. Just because I didn’t mention the cracks doesn’t mean they aren’t there, she said. She urged me to anticipate criticism, deflect it, and defuse it.
For example, I should address the magazine versus book question head on. RAISING SIMONE AND NADIA is a much richer and deeper story and could never be addressed in 5,000 words. Then I need to support the premise with examples from my book. I also need to frame the book as a five-year experience and invoke successful memoirs that have a small timeframe. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is just one example. My homework is to come up with a few more.
In my quest to show how different my book is from those already in print, I didn’t spend enough time talking about my book in my proposal.
I need to frame it as a journey of a mother who deals with some uncomfortable truths in the years leading up to a groundbreaking moment in this nation’s history. I need to let agents know I have several strong characters, am willing to write raw prose about a taboo subject and provide them with solid statistics about the book’s audience. In other words, I need to tell them why my book is new and groundbreaking and not expect them to hunt for it and come to that conclusion on their own.
Thank you, Christina. I have a lot of work to do.