In my Revising the Novel Class, the instructor devoted one entire morning’s lecture to the second phase of writing: the business of actually getting the pages organized into a book sitting on a distant shelf. It could be in the electronic library of an I-pad. Or stacked amidst competitors on a table at Barnes and Noble. Or promoted at the local library in the “new additions” display. Her statements about preparing us beginners for disappointment and rejection from the publishing industry caught my attention. The process, step-by-step, sounded like an Olympic marathon. She cautioned that most agents and editors were overwhelmed with submissions, lovingly referred to as the “slush pile,” (the term reminded me of my growing up years in Minnesota) and that chances were slim to none that any of us would be successful. Undaunted, we plunged ahead into writing the query letter, the query synopsis, and the short, medium, and long working synopsis.
Now the fifth edit of my pages are completed and the document is in the hands of a professional editor, hired to ferret out the oversights, omissions, commissions, and outright mistakes that only a fresh pair of eyes can see.
So now what to do while I wait for the evaluation to return? First of all, catch up on the stack of writer’s publications that have languished while I completed my frenzied final manuscript pass. I find it interesting that many articles in these magazines discuss the challenges of elbowing one’s way into the publishing world. One regular department in Writer’s Digest is titled “Breaking In.” Its counterpart in The Writer is called “Breakthrough.” I have decided if I ever start a writer’s advice rag I’ll have a section called “Snowball’s Chance.” All these names make me think of hustlers.
Next, it seems a good time during my writing lull to start my agent search. I peruse my 2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market and start a spreadsheet with possible targets for my now-polished query missives. And the many articles I’ve read in my recent reading marathon stress how important it is to do what seem like no-brainers: spell the agent’s name correctly, catch typos before sending, and follow the requirements for submissions to the letter. Good thing there’s an internet where inquiring minds who need to know can look for last-minute updates that apparently didn’t make it to the hard copy reference manual. Don’t we sound like we’re all actors or musicians hustling for a gig?
How am I doing? I’ve sent, by electronic message or snail mail, thirty entreaties. Of those, fourteen have responded “no.” Another fourteen haven’t responded at all. And one asked to read the first fifty pages, once my editor-for hire has returned my pages and the suggestions have been either rejected or included in the sixth draft. So I’m on page three of my agent-search Excel sheet with nine pages to go. I will continue to work my way through the list cheered by the fact that I will complete this task and then, if necessary, move on to Plan B. The plot thickens