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Cannonballing Right Into the Deep End

By Robert Dorn

For this new writer who is focused on getting traditionally published, the initial experience thus far has proven to be exciting and a positive one.

As a conservative person, traditionalist, and one who takes the Boy Scouts Motto, “Be Prepared,” very seriously, I have chosen to vigorously pursue securing a literary agent and a traditional publishing house.

I am convinced that the early-middle-grade-adventure genre I am writing will likely attract more paperback book readers than the electronic ones, based upon my research and the preferences of my ten young, middle-grade reader critics. I am not opposed to ebooks; I just prefer hard copies at this early stage, especially for this illustrated book series.

Getting the attention of literary agents for one of my manuscripts (Shenanikids: A Different Kind of Lost) has been quite an exciting adventure. One may say that I cheated or “cut in line.” I simply attended a writer’s conference and positioned myself face-to-face with numerous agents for a mere 90-second pitch during a wild “pitch slam” session. I decided that rather than stick my big toe in the shallow end of the pool, I would do a cannonball off the diving board into the middle of the deepest end.  So I signed up for last month’s Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam Session. One agent, hearing my 90-second pitch, asked me during her 90-second response, “Please tell me what happened to Dave after his asthma attack without an inhaler?” Although tempted to say, “With all due respect, you’ll have to read my manuscript,” I controlled myself and explained how that sub-plot played out. Eureka! I had my first request for 50 manuscript pages, in spite of giving away that part of the story.

Initially, I wrote fifteen stories about four siblings (three boys and a girl) and their escapades or shenanigans, as I like to call them. Other than the fact that they were siblings and all middle graders (ages 9-12), an overall theme was lacking. It wasn’t until my editor, Lisa Ellis, completed her edit that we realized five of the fifteen stories involved a bully and the Johnson kids’ interactions and frustrations with him. Furthermore, one rather long story I had originally excluded from the lot due to its length and composition was discovered by Lisa, who suggested it become the main theme. (This reminded me of the Bible Reading “…The stone the masons rejected became the cornerstone…”) One thing led to another and it was then that I decided that bullying would become the underlying theme throughout the first Shenanikids novel and, perhaps, its sequels. While this meant that I had to reject many of those original stories, for the first time I had a clear vision of my first novel – A Different Kind of Lost. NOW I was getting somewhere!

I continued, however, to feel that something was missing. I needed more momentum and guidance. That was when I took a leap of faith and signed up for a writer’s conference. I had been faithfully reading each and every issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine and it was clear that attending a writer’s conference would provide me with the kind of information and impetus I needed to make a go of becoming a bonafied author. The Writer’s Digest’s Annual Conference in New York City cost $450 plus $100 for the aforementioned “Pitch Slam” Session, which proved to be an excellent investment. I was able to stay with family nearby and commute, so my additional travel and lunch expenses were nominal.

I learned a great deal during numerous sessions throughout the three-day conference, the most significant of which was the “Pitch Perfect” Session (referred to earlier) held the first day. It was during this session, designed to prepare me for the next morning’s “Pitch Slam” Session that I realized I had some major revisions to make in the book’s outline. Mindful that I was missing a few key components, such as an inciteful incident (to hook the readers right up front), I literally rewrote the book that very night, by re-arranging my storyboard, tossing out a few chapters and adding two more.

As a first-time novelist, I simply want to get my novel published through the most effective means available and marketed to the maximum number of readers possible. If I am able to do this through the time-tested, traditional process of a literary agent and publisher, I’m in. My primary goal is to get my first book published and widely marketed, not necessarily to make a lot of money. If this approach does not work, there is always the more risky and progressive method of self-publishing as my fallback position.

In order to keep myself writing on a regular basis and to connect with other writers, I joined a local writers group. This group, which meets monthly at the public library, challenges itself with monthly writing assignments that we share and comment on each meeting. I must admit that this North Attleboro Writer’s Group has been a significant catalyst in my writing career.

As far as I am concerned, self-publishing involves too much risk and work without a safety net. As a residential decorator, I never paint cathedral ceilings without proper scaffolding and safety measures. Nor would I pretend to be all the professional, talented people, necessary to successfully publish and market my books. Therefore, this author will continue to work vigorously to secure a literary agent.

Furthermore, as a business person with a wife, grandchild, hobbies, and rental income property to manage, I have neither the time nor willingness to risk trying to serve as literary agent, layout designer, illustrator, marketer, and editor, none of which I am prepared to do. Doing so for me would be like waking up one day and suddenly deciding to become my own auto repair mechanic: buying tools, taking classes, and opening my car hood—all this preparation without an ounce of experience! Craziness, I say! Leave it to the seasoned professionals.

If even one of the literary agents who expressed interest in my first series manuscript agrees to represent me, we should have no trouble getting my middle-grade adventure series, Shenanikids: A Different Kind of Lost published soon.

Photo: “Illustration from a Different Kind of Lost”. Artist: Andrew Dorn.


Bob Dorn is a retired BSA youth-agency CEO, fundraiser and speechwriter, who has raised over 20 million dollars for youth service. He currently owns a residential painting and wallpapering company. He enjoys renovating older homes, taking walks, and writing children’s fiction. He has a weekly blog and is author of a weekly SUNDAY MORNING 9AM email blog. Bob lives with his wife Debra in North Attleboro, MA.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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