In The Trenches
What’s it like to write a novel? For me, I wrote my first draft over the course of two and a half years, give or take. But then you edit and perfect that first draft to get it to where you think you’ve caught all of the spelling and grammatical errors, making sure that everything makes sense. You then cry, because hey, you’ve just accomplished something that so many writers give up on. You’ve written a novel…90,000 words of a story that came from your very own blood, sweat, and tears…the very depths of your imagination. You feel really good when that’s all said and done. Really good.
Next, you ask people to read your masterpiece. If you’re like me, you call it “your baby”. This is a necessary step in the writing process. You need fresh eyes on your work to spot the things that your tired eyes may have missed during the ten billion edits you did on your own. And trust me, you’ll miss a lot. And so you’ll hand off your baby, usually to people you’re close to first off. You’re spouse, your mother, your children. Maybe you’ll give it to close friends or a neighbor. Anyone who knows that you’ve been writing will say, “I’d love to read it.” But you’ll be cautious. After all, it’s your baby. Some people will get back to you in a couple of weeks with wonderful critique and advice for further edits. Others will let the manuscript sit for months and never say a word, and you’ll think that they hated it, but they didn’t. They just didn’t have the time to read it, so you’ll try not to take it personally. Or maybe they did hate it…who knows.
Again, you sit back down at the computer to make the edits your faithful readers have suggested. When you feel that you can’t tweak your masterpiece any further, you sit back and say, “My baby is beautiful. She’s ready.” Ready for what?
The query trenches…and there’s a good reason they call it the trenches.
Three years ago, when I made the decision to write my first novel, I told Chris that the only way I wanted to do it was to see it through to publication. I wanted to do it right, whatever “right” meant. To me, it meant going the traditional publishing route to start. That meant looking for a literary agent. Most publishers won’t even look at your work unless you have an agent. Literary agents are a significant source in the publishing process. They serve as a sort of gatekeeper between the writer and the publishing houses—those houses being “The Big 5”; Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. The agent has an extensive knowledge of the industry, which enables them to go to bat for the writer. The good ones fight to the bitter end for the success of the writers they represent. And so, I would need to find an agent. Statistics show that my chances of landing an agent that would take me in the direction I want to go are pretty slim. So, this should be fun.
The only way to find a literary agent is to send out queries. What is a query? It’s basically a pitch selling your novel, and selling yourself as an author. The type of query that is sent out greatly depends on the agent it’s being sent to. This requires tons of research. And, there are literally thousands of literary agents out there. The research is unending. Now, some writers send out their queries willy-nilly to any agent, without any research. Kind of like throwing out a handful of seeds into the dirt, hoping that something grows. The problem with this approach is, if an agent doesn’t represent the genre or style of book you’re pitching, then you’ve just wasted that agent's precious time. So rude, in my opinion. All agents in the industry are swamped, and that’s putting it lightly. There’s a reason they call it the “slush pile”. Look it up if you’re not sure what that is. Because of this, I research every agency and agent that I submit to. I make sure they represent and are looking for the genre of book I’m submitting to them. Then, I follow their specific guidelines for submitting queries. Believe me, every agent has different guidelines. The basics are usually a brief synopsis of your story. Some will want to see what’s called an “elevator pitch”. Here’s mine for “For The Love Of My Enemy”
In war torn 1944, Nurse Adina Robbins, desperate for acceptance and purpose beyond her American small town life, finds love and liberation when she crosses paths with Daniel Christensen, a compassionate German P.O.W. being held at Camp Windsor. As Adina struggles to break free from her fathers expectations, the passion she feels for Daniel forces her to confront her deepest desires, and challenges her to choose between her own happiness, and the secrets that bind her family together.
"Love has the power to make us do things we never thought we were capable of doing."
The agent will also ask for similar comps to your work, as well as a bio of who you are and your writing accomplishments. Then, they’ll usually want to see anywhere from the first ten pages to the first three chapters of your manuscript. It will either be submitted to them in the body of an email (no attachments), or with an online form that they provide. All of this takes time—so much time, it’s like having a full time job just to get a couple queries emailed out. And then there’s the waiting after they’re sent. It can take anywhere from four weeks to six months to hear back, if you hear back at all. Most agents reserve the right to not even respond. A “no response” is a rejection. Rejection is real. Rejection is normal. And, rejection is subjective. It’s a part of the process. The serious author presses on despite the rejection, because somewhere, out there in the void, is the one agent that’s looking for your story. It’s exhausting, and it’s brutal. Yet, with every rejection comes education and growth. Every author goes through this process. No one is exempt. So I’m pressing on.
The End Game
It all begs the question, why am I doing this? Why on earth would anyone with an ounce of common sense put themselves through the trauma and heartache of outright rejection over and over again? Why not just self publish, get the book out there, and get it over with? My answer is pretty simple. This is my first step. I'm navigating the traditional publishing industry. I want to learn everything I can about the ins and outs, and to exhaust my options before I move on to any other avenues of publishing. I am not opposed to self publishing, though self publishing would take a good deal of money from my own pocket in order to do it successfully. At this stage of the game, I plan to submit to literary agencies for a full year and then reevaluate the situation. In the meantime, I will query For The Love Of My Enemy while I write my second novel, and plan out a third. This is the journey, and I’m loving every bit of it.
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