Thursday, April 23, 2009

A roundabout way to reach your dreams

"Why on earth do you write in English?" That's the first question everybody asks me when they hear I'm a writer and publishing in the US. It does seem strange. After all, I'm German, have lived in Germany most of my life (with some stints abroad), and have unexciting German roots, nothing international there.

The answer is easy. We Germans have a simple approach to life. If you want to be good, make sure you study your subject at university. If you want to change track in the middle of your life, don't. If you want to become an author, keep on dreaming. If you want to have information about how to write, how to submit to a publisher, how to polish a manuscript, see point one. Or make sure you have excellent connections in the industry.

When I had come to that point in my life, I realized (thanks to the Internet) that Americans approach life in a different manner. They shrug, smile at you and say, "If you want it, you can do it." And then they show you how. You're a nurse, a gardener, a lawyer, a manager? Never mind. You can do it. Be prepared to work hard, be prepared for rejections, but go right ahead.

Next, I looked at the German book market and realized that most romances, chick lits, and mysteries were first published in English and then translated into German.

If the German market proves so difficult to crack, I thought, I'll take a roundabout way to become a published author. I'll write in English and target the US market first. Let the Germans make their own translations whenever they'll get round to it.

So I started to write my first novel in English. Then, in spite of all the help via the Internet, I was stuck. I knew I had to improve my craft but didn't know how. Everybody said I should join a writer's group, but up to today I don't know other writers anywhere near. Everybody said I should go to a writer's conference, but I couldn't afford the trip to the US. I felt as if I was a desert mouse, trying to learn to ski with all the other mice looking on and shaking their heads.

I took another big decision, googled around the Internet, and gave my manuscript to a professional book editor. I hit a jackpot. Elizabeth Lyon gave me such a detailed report, it was almost longer than my novella. She criticized every single point in detail, but she did it in such a wonderful way that it didn't hurt me. I couldn't wait to go back and make all the changes.

Then Elizabeth met the then-editor from Avalon Books at a conference and sent me their information. I submitted my manuscript, changed it again according to Avalon's suggestions, and one day received the incredible news that I had made it. Avalon Books had accepted Wings to Fly. The desert mouse had learned to ski.

There's just one drawback: I'm far away from "my market", and book signings are even more difficult to arrange if you first have to find people who understand the language! That's why I'm so happy about the invitation to blog -- it gets me in touch with the people who read my romances.

How about you? Have you ever taken a roundabout way to realize your dreams?


Elisabeth Rose said...

That's so impressive Beate! Well done for tackling the problem and persisting despite the setbacks and the cultural/language gulf.

I think every writer who dreams of being published thinks their route is roundabout and difficult. When you are published you look back and think--why on earth didn't I do such and such earlier, look at how long it took me to learn whatever, I wish I'd known etc etc

CJ Love said...

I enjoyed your blog, Beate. What tenacity! I've benefited from Elizabeth Lyon recently myself. I keep her book Manuscript Makeover on my desk and refer often -- and review before I send in any of my manuscripts. Thanks for sharing!

I.J. Parnham said...

As someone who struggles with one language that was fascinating. Can you give us any insights and tips into the practicalities of writing in a language that's not your native tongue. I can imagine the flow and rhythm of German is vastly different to English and what might be a great turn of phrase in one language might come over less well when translated.

Sandy Cody said...

I smiled the whole time I was reading this blog, Beate. I so admire your "can-do" attitude. It's what we Americans like to think of as our own, but which I suspect is really universal to people who achieve their dreams - whatever the dreams might be. As for me, my road to publication was long, but not particularly roundabout and due mostly to my own doubts and procastination.

Beate Boeker said...

Yes, German has a totally different structure to English, Ian. For example, we often put the verb at the very end of the sentence.A friend once said "I assume you think the sentence in German and then translate it when you write". I had to laugh when she said that because the result would be truly awful. I think in English when I write.
Even when I speak in German and come to a point that is of paramount importance to me, I automatically switch to English. (That's when my husband knows danger is ahead!).
Culture is important too. In German, I might write: "Sorry, that's wrong." For the US market, I would have to write, "Sorry, that's not quite right." if I want to keep it just as polite.
Teenager talk and slang eludes me, though. That's why I avoid putting teenagers or special groups in my novels -- I would never get it right, being too far away from that rapidly evolving language.
Turns of phrases are tricky -- so are proverbs. We say "You're making a mosquito into an elephant" when we want to say "You're making a mountain out of a molehill". :-)
I'm so lucky I found Elizabeth and got all that help. I read her books too, CJ. They're great.
How about other things beside writing? Did you reach other goals by taking a roundabout way?

Carol Hutchens said...


How inspiring. Really enjoyed your post. Any language you use, or path you take, it's hard work.



Elisabeth Rose said...

In relation to the 'sounding wrong' thing with sentence structure--movies so often get that wrong. They'll have an English speaking actor put on an accent and speak perfect English when what they should do is alter the word order a bit as well. Even my French friend who is a lawyer working here in Aus, gets things muddled sometimes. It's very endearing and quite funny at times so perhaps that's why evil foreign baddies on TV don't make grammatical mistakes.
eg Anouk pointed to the hem of her slacks and said ,"oh dear my hemp is coming down."
Whoops! I'm back to language again. LOL

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Wonderful post, Beate. I think life, in general, is all about making dreams comes true. There are some who pursue their dreams and others who just talk about their dreams. Good for you for having the courage to make yours come true.

Debby Mayne said...

What an inspirational message, Beate! I have no doubt you can do whatever you want to do! I'm in awe!

Beate Boeker said...

Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments! Keep on realizing your dreams . . .

Elizabeth Lyon said...

Hi Beate and friends,

Beate is an editor's dream. I knew I was being hard on her, on her first novel. She is one of those writers who takes constructive criticism and then leaps ahead of the suggestions to an even better solution to craft problems. I am so glad for her success. She inspires me, too.

By the way, you are probably aware that there is a tiny economic crisis happening worldwide. In publishing, genre novels seem least affected. So write on!

Christine Bush said...

wow! What a creative decision, to write for the American market. That is very impressive, and I'm sure it took a lot of dedication. In fact, I'm so impressed, I'm going to get your book!