NOTE: This is a repost. A heavily edited repost. Enjoy!
I finished my first novel in December 2008.
What I didn't know still amazes me. I didn't know you had to find a literary agent. I didn't know you couldn't just send your manuscript in a brown paper package and wait for a publisher to reject or publish your work. The business doesn't run that way anymore. The big houses require an agent submit your work, the indie houses are great, but they are very picky about what they represent, and the self pub route just isn't for me. And the really priceless part is that many of the great literary agents don't accept what they call "unsolicited queries" either. Huh? Shut UP...right?
So I did what any good American would do. I asked everyone I knew if they had an "in." And one did! Yeah! I was saved. But I did the unthinkable. I happily sent agent number 1 the wrong draft of my manuscript. Damn my disorganization, damn email, damn hitting send.
Agent number 1 was really nice to me. She told me my writing was "strong" which I know now is agent speak for "please don't kill yourself. I can't have your blood on my hands..." because that term "your writing is strong" pops up in almost every form rejection I've seen.
I didn't even know what a query letter was. I found out. And then I did unthinkable thing number two. I queried widely, to the most open and friendly of agents. To the agents who would really like my book. But I didn't research how to write a query letter first. Yes, I know. You don't have to say it. I'm still shaking my head. I filled those queries with boastful, typo'd comments and sent them out with names spelled wrong and with a vain, puffy bio. No joke. Some were nice enough to send out the automated rejections. Some weren't and I don't blame them.
I then wrote the good one. Really good! In fact I got a lot of response to my "good query letter." And the requests for partials flooded my inbox.
That's the process, for those who don't know it. You send the query and if the agent likes it they ask for a partial, if the agent likes that, they ask for the full, if the agent likes that you get an agent! Which still doesn't mean you get your book published, because after all that work, the agent has to do the same thing you just did with the actual publishing houses. Crazy right? Yep.
So I send those partials out and I proceed to do unthinkable thing number three. I know... high drama. Agents don't seem to like prologues. My manuscript started with one of those. Agents don't seem to like back story, my manuscript was full of it. (But I like a good back story, doesn't anyone want any description anymore? Sheesh.) And let's not even touch the typo issue. Needless to say as soon as I sent them out, the rejections on the partials began to pour right back in. Yuck. Oh sad and sorry day.
So here is my take on the whole adventure. I am a really lucky person. I have found what I love to do. This is rare. I can finish a book. That is rare. I learned the process the hard way... I don't think that is rare... maybe? I would like to think I am not the stupidest first time novelist on the face of the planet, but I guess I could be. Absolutely anything is possible.
Here are some of my favorite rejections from that first submission process:
"This is brilliantly written. A really sharp, vivid portrait.Unfortunately, this isn’t something we could represent ourselves. I wish you good luck elsewhere" This one made me very, very happy until I searched some writers forums and found out this person is usually very nice.
And then there was this one. I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. It made me want to query him again with the next one. It made me want to sit with him and drink a beer. I am not kidding:
"'I am 38 years old and this will be my first published novel.'I can hear Annette Benning's American Beauty character saying that." My friend Sarah thought it was mean, but I think he was right. I can see Benning in that scene in the car, you remember..."I will sell this house."
UPDATE: When I finished my second novel I queried that agent again and he rejected me again. I sent him an email saying I loved him and he sent one back saying "I love you too." Unprofessional? YES. Really, really amusing? Absolutely!
And I have an agent now. I actually got one agent with my second novel and we parted ways. Now I have a much better fit for novel number three.
Would I do anything differently? Of course. The question is: Will you? Will you avoid all those pitfalls? Hopefully!
In the end, after all these words I only have a few more to say, and they are the most important: New writers. If you don't have leather skin and a sense of humor... run for the hills!