It caught me off guard when I was asked to write about submitting. Really, what words can describe the process in which a simple ‘yes’ makes you flutter around your flat like a schizophrenic butterfly and a ‘no’ has you peering over the edge of your window sill, contemplating the sidewalk below? How do you write about a process that is equal parts enervating, tedious, masochistic, eye-bleeding, desperate, maddening and satisfying?
I was with a writer friend the other night and talk eventually turned to agents, publishing houses and the like. He said that if you ever want to have any writing published, you need to be slightly insane. So far, I’ve not heard a description that better encapsulates the process of submitting creative work for publication.
When I wrote my first novel, I locked myself in a room for days, weeks, months. The sun faded like a mental Polaroid, morning and dusk became interchangeable. I had conversations with my family as if they were my own characters become flesh, then gave them an exasperated sigh when they had no idea what I was talking about. Eventually I emerged, pale and blinking like a newborn mole, a stack of pages in my hand. I’d tweaked every adjective, scalped every adverb and killed just enough of my darlings. I was ready to conquer minds and hearts with my words; and that was the hard part, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.
Crafting a cover/query letter is utterly counterintuitive. I’d spent the last year of my writing life unpacking and elaborating ideas, and now I had to condense them all into 300 words. It was like pulling my brain through an exhaust pipe, and it was the most important thing I had ever written (other than the novel, of course). I took solace in knowing that everyone else feels just the same anguish about it. Mentioning my Masters Degree in the letter didn’t hurt, either.
So, submit to an agent or directly to a press? Certain doors can open with an agent, but some presses are adverse to agented material. Did I want the New York high-rise experience or a smaller press where they have as vested an interest as I? Listing my literary goals gave me an idea of how to proceed.
I started by looking through my bookshelves, picking out authors whose styles were similar to mine. Then I went to a bookstore and flipped through the fiction racks, then the library, then Amazon. I made lists and lists and wrote down any name that might come in handy. After I had a good list, I used several websites (www.querytracker.net, www.agentquery.com, www.writers.net, www.anotherealm.com/prededitors) to find the author’s representation as well as the publisher, paying special attention to their submission policies: they say exactly how they want it because that is how they want it. And then I submitted my novel to the whole damn list.
Oh, and I gave my manuscript the best chance by addressing the letter to the correct agent and spelling their name right.
Right now, my baby is out there in the purgatory of slush piles and reading queues. So what do I do next?
Forget that about that first novel. It’s hard, I know. Actually, it’s impossible. But I try to save those fantasies of jacket photos and blurbs for lying in bed; the rest of the time I crack on with my next book.
I take everything I wanted to try in the first but didn’t fit and try it again. I use what I’ve learned and create something better. When the rejections started rolling in—and trust me, they did, and still do —I was already deep into the second book, and thank God I was, because my confidence was buoyed high enough to turn it into a game: three rejections this week and I’ll treat myself to a pint. Keep focusing on how not-right that agent/house is for me. Or write rejection letters to the rejection letters (but resist the urge to send them.) Anything to keep my spirits up and the words flowing.
At the moment I have that many rejections I’ve stopped counting, but every partial or full manuscript request wipes that phantom number clean. My writer friend said he could’ve stopped at Submission and Rejection #107, but then he wouldn’t have received the call for Submission and Acceptance #108. And so I keep querying every day, keep checking my inbox every ten minutes, keep writing each morning.
My Submission and Acceptance #1,396 is floating in the ether somewhere, I just need the ones who aren’t right for me to get out of the way so that I can see it. It has to be there. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but if you ever want to have anything published, you need to be somewhat insane, right?