Today’s post is all about grit and determination. As a rite of passage on the road to publication (excluding self-publication), most writers have to go through the dreaded querying process to agents and/or publishers. There is no way around it. And while all requests require a query letter and often some sort of sample, each agent and publisher have their own special set of requirements that need to be taken into account. You’re probably thinking, “Ok, a letter and a sampling. That doesn’t sound so bad.” I thought the same thing, too. Until I got started. Like I said, today’s post is all about grit and determination.
Let’s start with the query letter; it is difficult because you have two maybe three sentences to catch the person’s attention before she/he moves on to the next submission. That means you need a killer “hook” opening, and one that can stand up against an ocean’s worth of competition. As I noted in my previous post, an oft-cited statistic is that only 1-2% of submissions result in publication.
After toiling over that one-page letter, next up was the way more difficult synopsis. Why should this be hard, I wrote the book! Well, try taking a 73K-word story and boiling it down to 2-3 pages all the while still addressing main character arcs, plot arc, and yes – revealing the ending. Remember the “special set of requirements” I mentioned before? Enter stage left – different length synopses were required by different agents and publishers, so I had to craft three different versions (1-2 pages, 3 pages, and 5-6 pages). From my own experience, writing the synopsis was the single most difficult thing I had to do on the way to publication. It made writing the book the easy part.
Next came a little bit of strategy. Since I didn’t know what hook would work, rather than putting all my eggs in one basket, I sent out my submissions in groups of ten. My plan was if I did not get any responses requesting additional information, I would go back and retool the query letter. Unfortunately, agents and publishers are inundated on a daily basis with submissions, so the wait time for maybe receiving a response was usually 6-10+ weeks. With my phased submittal approach, a substantial amount of time was injected into the process, but I still think it was the prudent approach. And since I do not take well to being idle, I used the wait time to write a murder mystery that is killer. 😉 (A whole new book series – more on that in the future.)
An important lesson I learned as I went through the querying process was that while it was exciting to receive a request for additional information from an agent or publisher (even a full manuscript), it in no way meant you hit paydirt. I had several requests from agents and publishers alike for anywhere from the first three chapters up to the complete manuscript, including multiple requests from agents and publishers for even more material. Eventually I became the proud owner of many personalized rejections that all basically said that while they loved the voice, etc., in the end the project wasn’t quite right for them. It’s like applying for a job in this day and age, at some point even receiving a rejection letter is encouraging because it means you still made it that far. Every request for a full manuscript still reinforced in me that I had created something special in Against My Better Judgment and needed to keep pressing on.
One of my submissions was to The Wild Rose Press (TWRP), a small New York publisher that believed “taking care of their authors was the only way to publish.” The very next day after my initial submission I received an email from their president and editor-in-chief, Rhonda Penders, advising me that my submission had been sent to the senior editor of one of their publishing lines and I would be hearing from an editor within 45 days. Keep in mind, the typical wait time for an initial response was months, not one day! So far, so good. Five days later (40 days early), I was advised by the senior editor that my submission was sent to an editor who would be contacting me soon. I was also provided with two self-editing guides to review in case a request was made for the full manuscript. At this point, TWRP had already far distanced themselves from all the other publishers I submitted to in their response times, personalized replies, and assistance. They clearly backed up their mission statement of taking care of their authors, even with prospective authors.
The very next day I received an email from the editor advising she “thoroughly enjoy[ed] the voice” and was asking for the first three chapters, not to exceed 50 pages. At this point it has only been 1 week since my initial submission, so I allowed my often suppressed excitement to ramp up (a rare occurrence; my mantra is to maintain an even keel, unless I’m sailing – then tighten up the mainsail and hike out, baby). I submitted the requested chapters and ten days later I received the chapters back with edits and comments and a request for the full MS after I addressed her comments and used TWRP’s editing guidelines.
I toiled away for almost three months editing the crap out of the MS, agonizing over everything. And I mean—everything. Finally, I felt good about what I had and excitedly sent my Frankenstein Monster Manuscript across the ether. I waited 2 months for a response…and I was…rejected. Yup. Rejected. TWRP stuck to their word of taking care of authors, though, as within the editor’s politely worded rejection she included a detailed email explaining that she loved the voice and the story had “great promise” and “great potential” but needed “serious work.”
I’ll always remember her closing remark: “The thing to keep in mind, Brian, is that the mechanics of writing can always be fixed, but not everyone can do what you’ve done, come up with a unique plot line and terrific characters such as Sara and Mauzzy.” I was encouraged to seek out a professional freelance editor because she felt the story was worth it. To me, this was a no brainer decision. I knew what I had with Against My Better Judgment and the editor’s encouragement further solidified my belief in the story.
Three days later I contacted Jeni Chapelle, an editor I knew from the ShoreIndie contest and who was recommended by an agent (an agent who really knows how to write a lovely rejection letter).
What ensued was another five months of tearing the story apart, writing new chapters, revising others, and putting it back together. Again. More on that process in the next post.
Stay safe and healthy!