Reevaluating My Writing Path

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Image: Ann Kathryn Kelly

As autumn rolled in last week in New England, it felt like only days had passed since I’d written a blog about the upcoming spring and summer, as I prepped my garden beds and made plans for an exciting international getaway. 

I blinked, as so often happens, and months flashed past. The light has changed, coming up much later in the mornings now and falling much faster in the evenings. My perennials have yellowed. Their blooms, long gone. The trees are releasing their leaves. I’m taking autumn in stride as those of us who live in New England begin to slow down for another winter of reflection. 

I’m coming off a summer full of adventure, new friends, breakthroughs in my writing, and a big upheaval in my career. I spent the month of July in Prague, at an immersive summer writing program that brought together poets along with fiction and nonfiction prose writers from around the world to workshop our pages with an award-winning faculty. 

The experience, in a word, was inspiring. Inspiring, in the bright and talented women I met who offered insightful feedback to my workshopped pages. The city of Prague, too, was inspiring and incredibly picturesque. 

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

I would have said before my trip that no European country could compete with the exquisite beauty that is around every corner of Italy—but the Czech Republic’s jewel in its crown, Prague, stands up to any Italian city for its historical architectural grandeur and romanticism. I would recommend it as a bucket list city to anyone, and it would take me ten blogs to capture everything I saw. I came home with nearly a thousand photos over the month, hundreds of which I shared on my Instagram page. (If you’re on Instagram, let’s connect! @annkkelly) 

Prague must be seen. That is all.

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

I made several new friends, a few of whom I’m already planning to see again at the AWP conference, to be held in February 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. That was the good news. The bad news was that I also came home to no job. I’d been told, days before I boarded a plane in early July, that my full-time role with a large, brand-name technology company I’d worked at for close to nine years was being eliminated. 

Yes, their timing sucked. I believe they cut my job for the very reason that I requested a monthlong sabbatical to attend this writing program. Though they initially agreed to my sabbatical request after I found out I’d been accepted in March, by late June they decided to lay me off. I refused to let their shortsighted decision dampen my excitement. I was going, regardless! For a month, dammit! Who cared if I’d just been let go? Not this girl! 

Yet, now that I’ve been home again for two months, I do kinda care that I’m without a full-time job. The buzz from Prague has worn off. The expected monthly bills, they keep a-coming. So, what’s a gal to do? 

I thought about throwing my resume into technology companies immediately for another full-time job, upon my return in early August. I’ve built a 30-year career as a marketing and public relations professional in the tech industry, so focusing my job search on another tech company was the natural fit. Yet, I wondered what it might feel like to instead apply my experience to starting my own consulting business. I asked my three brothers what they thought, two of whom have worked in tech for as long as I have. They agreed it was worth a shot. 

I’ve since hung my own shingle as an LLC, and am building my business from contacts I’ve made throughout my career. I already have three solid clients, with a potential fourth in the wings. In my first two months of solo gigging, I’ve nearly matched my previous monthly salary, but with the added bonus that I’m now doing it in about 25 hours, not 40. 

In parallel, I’m using some of the time I’d normally have spent chained to my work desk to reevaluate my book proposal for my 70,000-word memoir manuscript about living for 40 years with a bleeding brain tumor. A year and a half ago, I declared to my writing critique partner—the wonderful Angela, our fearless founder of the WOW! community—that I was ready to query. In those 18 months, I’ve sent out only about 55 queries, most to deafening silence and with only one request for a partial. After reviewing my package for four weeks that agent, too, passed on my project. 

The silence does not lie. Something is missing in my proposal. In my query. I have not yet hit on it. 

So, I signed up for a monthlong bootcamp that started the last week in September, focused on reframing proposals and query letters to drive home the business selling points of a project to agents. Like many writers, I had approached my proposal and query from the angle of recapping my storyline. Emphasizing plot, and the prettiness of language. According to our coach, a 30-year writing veteran, that approach “ain’t gonna get ‘er done.” I’m excited to learn more in the coming month! 

As I get ready to hunker down in New England for the upcoming winter, completely reframe my book proposal and query, and try to bootstrap my technology writing and editing business as an LLC, I’m facing a lot of unknowns. Maybe I’ll be writing another blog here in several months, possibly with a query success story? Maybe my consulting business will really take off, affording me the opportunity to call my own shots, rather than punching the clock for another employer? 

Or, maybe the end result won’t be what I’m hoping for, at which point I’ll reevaluate, once more. Only time will tell. 

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.


Renee Roberson said...

Oh, Ann! You have a had a whirlwind past few months. First of all, your photos of Prague are all gorgeous. I'm excited to hear that you've started consulting and have already landed some great gigs through your existing network! I think you will truly enjoy this new season and believe it bodes well for your querying and writing endeavors. Cheering you on from the sidelines!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Thanks, Renee! On the LLC front, I'm simultaneously energized and nervous! LOL. I'm giving myself at least a 6-month runway to see how this goes before reevaluating. Really hoping I'll be pleasantly surprised by my funnel. On the book proposal front, I'm intrigued. I've already blown up my list of previous comps and started with a whole new set. I'm now reframing components in my marketing plan. Good learnings!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Congrats on your successes with your own business! And Prague looks amazing.

I attended a Reedsy webinar on book proposals and one of the points that they emphasized was that most writers focus on the writing. They forget that a proposal or query is all about the business. It sounds like you are hearing much the same thing.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Ann, I believe it's a blessing in disguise! If your consultation business is doing this well and it's only been a couple of months, I know it will continue to grow in new and exciting ways. I'm so glad you didn't let the news stop you from traveling to Prague. Those photos are stunning, and it sounds like a rewarding experience.

Great work on finding new comps! I know you mentioned signing up for Publisher's Marketplace, and it's a great way to research agents and recent memoir deals. This is your season! A fresh start on a new business, renewed energy for your memoir, and a query/proposal makeover. If the bootcamp goes well, I'd love to hear more about it and what you learned in a post or craft article sometime!

As always, let me know if I can do anything to help. :)

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

SueBE: Yes, and I was definitely guilty of leading with story in both my proposal and my query. It's been a real aha moment for me, and I'm only into Week Two of the bootcamp!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Ang, I'll definitely keep a new post in mind after I finish the bootcamp! One tip I can already share is that when looking for comps, writers do not need to pigeonhole themselves into only using comps that match their topic 100%. For example, in my previous proposal, I only listed comps that had a direct tie to brain tumor memoirs. This time around, the instructor/coach is encouraging us to list comps that align with our "themes." So for me, in addition to listing a few that are about brain tumors or strokes, I'm also listing a memoir comp about family dynamics -- in particular sibling support -- since support is one of my themes. It's been an eye-opening exercise!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Ann, that's a GREAT tip! You're so right, it doesn't have to be the same topic. It can be themes, similar inner journeys, structures, and more, depending on what you want to tie in and highlight. So true! That will make a huge difference in your query!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Thanks, Nicole! Yes, I hope this reinvigorates my querying process. I've been so lackluster about it up to now, but I'm feeling a new spark brewing!

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