Exactly one year ago today, I signed with my agent, Lisa. A week or so before hand, she had called to offer representation and tell me what her visions were for my novel. Two weeks before May 2 is right around tax time, and seeing a New York number that I didn’t recognize, I immediately sent her to voicemail. Then I googled the number, texted my critique partner in a panic, pretty certain that I had just hung up on my only chance of making it in the publishing world.
But she opted to forgive me and we chatted for a long while and I let the other agents with fulls (about six, if I recall correctly) know about the offer, and then, I sat on my hands until everything became official.
I’ve learned a lot in the last year and I’d like to share some of that.
1. Persistence pays off.
Have you ever looked at those listicle-type blog posts that agents occasionally post, giving the Do’s and Do Not’s of querying an agent? Things like: Do have your novel completely finished. Do Not carbon copy every agent on your list with the exact same query. Do write a query letter. Do not compare yourself to JK Rowling.
Over the course of those 12 years of intermittent querying, writing, editing, and anguish, I hit every single one. Like it was a freaking checklist:
- Went to a local writing conference and pitched a “book” that was maybe 25,000 words, but by golly, I knew how it was going to end! The editor kindly told me that it sounded great, but she couldn’t do anything with an unfinished epic fantasy novel. In retrospect, her patience with my 19-year-old self encouraged me to continue. If she’d been annoyed or angry, I might have gone a different way.
- When I was 12, I wanted to get a Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-type book published, except that the entries weren’t memoirs and the writers were kids I found on a (now defunct) forum dedicated to a children’s brain-teaser comic. Having no clue how to get this done, I solicited entries, spell-checked them, then went to my library and borrowed the reference copy of the Publisher’s Marketplace. And I. BCC’d. Everyone. When I ran out of BCC space, I CC’d the remainder. I was That Guy.
- I sent out a query to a Mr. Xyz, even though the agent was Ms. Abc. Mr. Xyz was the query I’d sent out the day before.
- I pitched a book where the query was better written than the novel was. (The novel–as I am wont to do–was written from the most boring point of view, and was a confused mess of plot-points, besides). I, rightfully, got all rejections on that one.
2. Publishing moves like molasses in January somewhere near Anchorage, AK.
After a lot of editing, we submitted my novel back in August. I got some form rejections, some very nicely written personal rejections (one of which I even framed), and a whole lot of silence from some editors. But good things come to those who wait and patience is a virtue and something something horse cart, so I’m trusting the system. I trust my agent to know what she is doing. Hopefully, she trusts me to know what I am doing (writing). And so we move onwards.
3. Most of publishing involves keeping secrets for so long that you’re pretty sure you will explode before you’re allowed to announce them.
Writer friends–more successful than I am, obviously–have warned me that there will be periods of time when you get some news that you’re not allowed to tell anyone. Anyone. And that period of silence might last for weeks or months. I had a very small taste of it while I was waiting to hear back from other agents who had requested my manuscript, and it was extremely difficult.
4. Stay busy to save your sanity.
It sounds cliche, but it’s true. The busier you are, the less time you have to worry about those editors you haven’t heard back from yet, or the agents who never responded to your query, or the beta readers who haven’t yet sent you back your manuscript. I keep busy with painting (my preferred form of meditation) or with writing (which is, like, the opposite of meditation). I also have two children under two who are determined to kill themselves and/or each other. Keeping them alive is a great distraction.