Doing It My Way This Time Around!
By Rae Lewis-Thornton
August 12, 2011
People often ask, when am I going to write my memoir? And for the longest time I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell the whole story. I mean, once you put it out there, you can't take it back. And I got a whole lot of stuff in my closet.
And honestly, I believed if I was going to do it, then I needed a book deal. I'm always thinking big and I just didn't want to do it on my own. And then a few years ago I was swept up in a whirlwind. A friend in the literary world made some inquiries on my behalf and in a matter of weeks I had one of the best literary agents in New York City. Hot dog, I knew this was the time. My friend also got me a writer and I never questioned her credentials. She had been the former editor in chief of one the largest magazines in the country. That was a BIG freaking mistake. I learned just because you can run a company of writers, don't mean you can actually write yourself.
But the three of us started this venture together. My writer didn't know how to write a book proposal and my agent had to coach her on the particulars. That was the first sign that things were going downhill before they even began. But he thought that maybe she would rise to the occasion once we actually started writing the book. John sent the proposal out, and within a week I had four meetings with top publishing houses in the country. I was so excited! But then it started to crumble after the day of meetings.
One publishing house wanted a sample chapter, which is not uncommon. But Lord, Lord, my writer couldn't produce. The first sample had to be re-written and the final product was rejected. Another publishing house also asked for a sample chapter, but John knew that it was futile, my writer just couldn't deliver. The heifer couldn't write and that was the bottom line!
We did get an offer from one publishing house and John was hot. It felt that my book was six figure worthy, but it had been sabotaged by the writer's inability to deliver. I took the book deal with Hyperion Publishing House, which is still on the A list, but gee it sure hurt to lose the other publishing houses.
Then the drama escalated, my writer quit when I accepted the deal with Hyperion because it wasn't enough money. WHAT? You lose us three top publishing houses, then you turn around and quit. It was a mess. Then she wanted to be paid. I had to get a lawyer to get her off my back. I always say, be careful what you ask for, you just may get it. I was so set on having a "real" book deal that I accepted her credentials on face value and that was the beginning and the end of my book deal.
But the drama continued; I had to find another writer, so I went searching. And just when I thought I was going to sign someone, she changed her mind, she felt it wasn't enough time. But the fact was, time was ticking and I was going crazy. I found a local writer, who couldn't write either. I mean her sample chapter was decent, but she couldn't connect the dots chapter to chapter.
After one month of interviews and three horrible chapters I knew it was a wash. She agreed to walk away, but she kept the $9,500 advance, after she had agreed to give a portion of it back. That's what I get for trusting her to do the job before it's done. Never again! This book deal started to become a saga. It took on a life of its own and it was draining all of me right down to the core.
Four months before the book was due, I stopped my life and started writing my own damn memoir. I did nothing, I mean NOTHING but write this book. I cried and prayed my way through all the pain and drama of my life; Reliving it on paper was all consuming. I had a few readers helping me work through the grammar, because y'all, I cant spell a lick. But in the end I did it! I finished the manuscript three days early.
But then the next level of drama began. My editor at Hyperion was a trip for real. She and I fought over the revisions. That's tricky, ultimately it's my story, but the publishing house can walk away anytime they want if they feel you aren't giving them what they want. My editor told me things like, "I want it to read like a novel. Never leave the story." The problem was, you cant reflect if you never leave the story. But then she would tell me to "Reflect,"and when I did, she would turn around and she tell me to take it out. It was frustrating. Then it really became crazy. She told me one day to, "Embellish, Embellish, Embellish." She said, "For lack of a better explanation I want it to read like James Frey, just don't lie."
WTH? I mean it was already a tell-all book. I told on myself and everybody else. What more did she want? There was so much dick and pussy in the book, I couldn't image what more she wanted. And y'all know I came with it.
So after giving one year and four months of my life to making this book happen, Hyperion walked away from the book deal. I was devastated and embarrassed. Everyone on the planet knew I had book coming out. How could I face the shame of it all? And I really was demoralized. Basically, She said the book was too poorly written to move forward. HUH? I think that's what revisions are for. WOW ... I walked away from the book deal shattered. I can't write. WOW ... I can't write rung in my head for months. That was one reason I was hesitant to start this blog. I had accepted someone's opinion of myself against everything knew was true because she was an "expert."
And so I've been sitting on my memoir for almost three years now. Praying and hoping that I get new writer to revise it so that we can try to sell it again. My agent has been clear, books that have been dropped by a publishing house have a taint to it. It's not impossible to resell, but it is hard.
So after sitting with my Soror Lynn Richardson yesterday, for an interview for Russell Simmons' Global Grind, I was inspired to move forward. Yesterday's discussion with Lynn combined with all the support that I have gotten from my blog and all the continued request for the full story, I'm going to do it! I wonder how many people can be blessed by my story, and here I am, sitting on it out of some grand ass idea of a book deal. I don't think God can be pleased with me is this one. Jesus was born in a manger not the Ritz Carlton. I have never been more clear. My life and all that I do is ministry and I should never forget it, no matter how it get to the people, just as long as it does. I was lost, but now I am found!!
To hell with publishing houses and people's opinion of my ability to write. I will begin revising my memoir; It's my story and I can tell it anyway I want. I'm doing it my way this time around. So what I don't have a big publishing house, but I do plan to publish my story. I've been waiting for almost three years on someone else to do for me what I can do for myself.
If people want to know the the full story they will buy the book no matter who publishes it. So I'm starting out on this venture. I have no idea how I will even pull the money together to self-publish, but the Bible says, if you take one step, he will take two.
My goal is to have my memoir Unprotected by World AIDS Day December 1, 2011, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of AIDS. I'm excited! I hope that you are too! Keep me in your prayers. I'm going to move forward even in spite of my health.
If you are interested in purchasing my memoir Unprotected please send me your email address to this link here firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm doing it my way this time around!!!
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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
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