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.
This is a great article, and I too, learned long ago that I was ahead to steer my own ship. The high school counselor’s name was Rob Harl, whom I married in 1985. He passed away in 2005.
I read your article with great interest. In 1984, you should have been a student of mine in sophomore English class, yes or no? I am still a teacher at Brookfield, my 38th year there. Memory fails me on one item–I do not believe NHS nominated sophomores to be members at that time, but I might be wrong. I began my association with NHS in 1993, and I am still the sponsor, and we only consider juniors and seniors now, and have done so for about 25+ years. I can tell you that the “teacher nomination” format was always controversial among teachers because it was so often a nomination of “favorites” for some. We did away with it some time after you left, and after Mr. Harl left, NHS passed to another teacher who made significant changes in the nomination procedures to make them more fair.
Hello. I think I was in your English class. I remember you as tall, lanky with dark hair and a mustache, glasses and a deep voice. Were you the yearbook or newspaper adviser? Is that you? As for the NHS nominations, it was a pivotal event for me so I trust my memory though it may have been April rather than May. The history teacher, Mr. O’Hara, was a favorite of mine. He wrote to me after learning I would not be returning to BHS. Susan Dunham did as well. 38 years? Wow. That’s amazing. Good for you!
Yes, I will trust your memory on the nomination of sophomores–I had forgotten that for sure. Yes, at that time I had both newspaper and yearbook, and I now have only the newspaper. The yearbook went to the Career Center about 1994. Thank you for the reply and I will bookmark your blog to look into it in more detail.
Annette, I enjoyed reading your article. I also remember not getting inducted into NHS and being tied for 3rd in the class. It was very disappointing. My family moved during my junior year and I went on to be valedictorian of my graduating class and also a member of the NHS at that school. I’d like to congratulate you on your success and for taking control of your life. I am an avid reader and will look for your books when they are released.
Also, Mr. Hart was, and still is, my favorite high school teacher. I learned a lot in his classes.
Congratulations on your success!
This is Sandy, remember me? We met at Auntie’s for the first time and then we met once at Starbucks and you and another wonderful, hopeful writer inspired me to change my short children’s story to a longer story for older children. You told me to write 5,000 words – I thought I could never do that. I am happy to say I am well beyond that now and still plugging away. I think of you often and have wondered how you were doing. I haven’t seen your blogs and only today I discovered that I have a “social” folder in my Gmail. I opened it this morning and there you were, blog after blog. I thought you had taken me off your list. I should have known better.
I am delighted for you and happy that you have taken control of your publishing life. I am currently taking a class from Frank Scalise at Auntie’s Book store. I took his class in the fall “Write your Mystery Novel” I told him I was writing a true story but he encouraged me to make it a historical novel. I have so much to learn and I am still plugging away. This class is “Editing Your Mystery Novel.” There is one in the spring titled “Publish Your Mystery Novel.”
I was delighted and so moved by your blog about your experience as a high school student and impressed that you took matters into your own hands. You Rock! I know that’s an archaic term…but I’m old, 🙂
Let’s get together for coffee and a visit some afternoon or evening. Congratulations!
Blessings to you,
On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 7:14 PM, Annette Drake
Sandy, I’m very happy to hear from you. I would love to meet for coffee!
I’ll email you later today and make plans.
Also, I haven’t met Frank, but we’ve talked online. He seems so approachable.
Thank you for your generous comments.