It was May, 1984. I was 15 years old, sitting in a sophomore history class at Brookfield High School in Brookfield, Missouri. My history teacher read the daily bulletin. First up in the school announcements were the names of my fellow classmates who would be inducted into the National Honor Society. I held my breath, knowing I would hear my name. My teacher finished the list and then went onto other bits of news. I couldn’t believe it. My name was not read.
After the class ended, I approached him and asked, “Are you sure my name wasn’t on the list?” He assured me it was not.
I couldn’t believe it. The only thing I believed I was good at – academics – and my teachers told me I wasn’t. Only students nominated by the faculty would be inducted into NHS. I was not one of them. And then it hit me: the understanding that I would never, ever be accepted in this school.
I was the nerdy kid who always did her homework. The note taker. The one who actually thought there was something of merit to be learned in high school. I loved learning. I remember one of my classmates teasing me, “Are you going to be a teacher when you grow up?” It surely was the worst insult for one 15-year-old to fling at another.
I ran home at lunch and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I finally saw the truth: there would be no scholarships for me. No money from the local rotary club for college. My teachers had sent a clear message: you are not among the honored.
I don’t know what inspired me to do it, but I approached my high school counselor, whose name I cannot remember, and I told him how discouraged I felt. He listened and then reached into his drawer and pulled out a paper application – yes, they were paper in 1984 – to Northeast Missouri State University in Kirkville. Fill this out, he told me. Mail it in. Let’s see what happens. I did.
Take the ACT test. You’ll need that to get in, my counselor told me. I did this. My brother, Paul, and his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Michelle, drove me to Kirksville. I took the four-hour test, feeling like an imposter among the other high school seniors. After the test, Michelle and Paul bought me lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. It was the first time I’d ever eaten Chinese food.
Meanwhile, I waited and applied at a local community college. Their answer: you’re not old enough and you don’t have a high school diploma. No, thanks.
Then it came: the yes. Northeast Missouri State University not only accepted me, they gave me a $500 scholarship. Today, that sounds like nothing. But in 1984, tuition was $20 a credit hour. This paid for my first semester. I started college in August of 1984. I graduated with my bachelors in December, 1987.
The high school attendance staff called my parents a few days after the new school year started. Uh, is Annette coming back to high school? I wasn’t there when my mother answered that phone call, and I never knew exactly what she said, but I hope she shared in my accomplishment.
Now it’s happened again. It’s time to quit.
Last year, I finished writing my middle-grade novel, Bone Girl. I shopped it around at literary agencies and publishers, and all came back with this answer: no. I got a rejection email from an agent with a term I had never heard before. My husband had to google it and tell me what it meant. Last December, I queried a publisher with my contemporary romance, A Year with Geno, and again, rejection.
And then I started reading all of the blog posts and newsletters from authors who have found amazing success as independents. They publish their own books. They pay professional editors to hone their prose. They hire cover artists, and upload their creations to e-book distributors, mainly Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle. If these authors want a print version, they hire printers like CreateSpace.
These authors are bypassing the gatekeepers – agents and publishers – who tell them “the prose isn’t drawing me in quite strongly enough” or “we don’t feel that your work is right for us at this time” or you make up your own bullshit. The gatekeepers say no. So, the independent authors go around them. They quit traditional publishing. And that’s what I’m going to do.
In early March, I’m publishing Bone Girl. On June 21st, I’m publishing A Year with Geno. I have a new boss. A new sheriff in town, if you will. The only person I want to please is the person who spends $3.99 and buys my book. That’s it. If they love it, I’ve done my job. If they don’t, I’ll keep working to do better. But they are my boss. You are my boss.
P.S. If you’ve read my bio and see where I mention that I dropped out of high school, there’s a reason for this. I want any reader who sees that and didn’t graduate or has someone close to them who didn’t finish high school to know this: You.Are.A.Success.
Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: Listening to my beta readers.