I don’t have a book review for you this weekend, but it’s for the best possible reason.
I just can’t bring myself to rush this book.
Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Ted Chiang’s short story collection “Story of Your Life and Others”. This man has a peculiar genius for micro fiction. But no, I’ll go no further. I have to keep reading.
I submitted to the Angry Robot open submission call today, which makes for nearly 60 submissions of my novel since I completed it last Fall. I’m still suffering a sore temptation to rewrite the whole novel from its very beginning, but for now, I am recommitting to the goal of publishing with journals and magazines as I endure the long wait for feedback on my book.
Whatever it takes to keep writing, writing, writing.
Back to it!
January is nearly over and I still haven’t heard from either the publisher or the literary agency who requested full copies of my manuscript. I knew this process would be slow and I know that no answer is better than a solid “no” at this point, but I’m starting to answer calls from unrecognized numbers, hoping that it’s good news, and if you know me well, you know I’M ON PINS AND NEEDLES HERE AND BEGGING FOR A LITTLE MERCY.
I’ve already begun planning my next big rewrite, assuming that this first round of querying is a bust.
But there’s hope, yet.
So, back to reading short stories by Ted Chiang, who’s rocking my face right off.
Aside from signing an agent and finding a publisher for my debut novel, my goal for this year is to publish three short stories in three literary magazines so that I can start to build my portfolio as an author.
Just a couple of weeks into this new season, it has already been a stretching and challenging experience.
- Finding the literary magazine that is the right fit for my style and taste, as well as appealing to a broad enough audience to be recognizable and respectable… That’s no simple task. For now, I’m aiming at open submission calls from smaller anthologies. Not only do I stand a better chance than I do with, say, The New Yorker, these calls often come with specific story ideas or requirements. That’s a great way to get ideas as I start building a short story portfolio for the first time.
- Short Stories are very different animals from Novels! That doesn’t take much explaining. Obviously, they’re very different. But in the same way that pushing through to the finish of my first novel taught me a host of lessons otherwise impossible to learn, so it is with the construction and refining process of short stories. It’s a highly spcialized genre of story telling.
- I’m finding, all over again, that writing is my life’s work. Published or not, commercially successful or not, I love to write. Short stories are a great way to remind myself of that since reaching “The End” comes so much more quickly than with a novel. (Although the final draft of short stories can be just as long in coming since every. single. word. counts.)
Off to the holidays, then back to the drawing board with the next round of query letters.
The adventure continues!
When I received my first rejection email a couple weeks back, I was fine. Better than fine, I was motivated. It just made me want to get as many queries out there as I could. Cast a wide net. Work off the assumption that I’ve got a good book and someone out there will want to represent it.
When I received my tenth rejection email, I was… fine. Until I read a little further and found out that the agent had loved my story idea. She just didn’t like my writing.
It didn’t draw her in the way she had hoped it would.
So, obviously, I should never write again.
Oh then, I got an email from an agent I hadn’t even emailed yet. They were on my list. They were coming up next, in fact. But someone passed my query along to them and they wanted to read more. They asked for a few chapters. They opened a door!
That one correspondence trumped all the rest.
It may amount to nothing. I may have to query another hundred agents before I find the right fit.
But a door opened. Just a smidge.
And THAT is something worth celebrating.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me, just how many queries every literary agent in this country receives on a daily basis. It follows, then, that the end of the year is not a great time for catching the attention of any agent, since they’ve got a year’s worth of unsolicited queries to sort through.
As a result, I’m going to slow my query train down until the new year (many agents aren’t even open to submissions until then, anyway). Instead of 100 agents queried (aka harrassed) by December 30th, I’m going to work toward 50 agents queried by this weekend. No more unwelcome work for prospective agents during the holiday weeks. Back to “full steam ahead” in January, when I deduce that agents will be eager to line up their titles for publishing later next year.
You live, you write, you learn.
This is good news, really. The querying process has had a drying out effect on my creativity. This way, I can dedicate my hoiday hours to reading, reading, reading, and writing every day, come hell or high water or blinding and deafening Christmas advertisements no matter which way you turn your head.
As one parting thought, I am impatient to start in on my next novel, but I’ve decided to focus on publishing short stories and/or flash fiction in three literary journals first. I need to build my author bioraphy to give me some credibility and the exercise can only have a positive effect on my skills as a writer, any way.
So here’s to 50 queries, reading-reading-reading, and 3 published shorts!
I got my first rejection email today and it didn’t smart nearly as much as I expected it to. That may have had something to do with the professionalism of the agent who sent me a gentle no. She did a great job of not making it feel like a form letter or like it was any sort of comment on the quality of my work. It also helped that all she saw was my query letter, so I know for a fact she didn’t say no because she thought my first two chapters were crap.
Still, I expected to have to do some breathing exercises when my book wasn’t immediately snatched up as the next record breaking hit of this decade.
Nope. I’m good. There are thousands, literally thousands of agents out there. And while I have no illusions about having written the next great American novel, my book is good. Someone’s going to pick it up. Just a matter of time and persistence.
I remembered a comment from one agent’s blog that she doesn’t care to get thank you emails in response to rejections, archived the email without replying, and immediately queried another agent at the same agency.
So begins Stage 1: the rejection process. I heard one talented author report that he got 89 rejections before getting signed.
I’ve decided to put my name, publicly, on my personal approach to developing a pitch.
One of the most terrifying prospects for a budding author is the idea of running into your ideal publisher or agent, chatting with them for a few minutes, and then being asked to explain your novel in thirty seconds or less. How the heck are you supposed to do that? How do you compress 80 to 200 thousand words of painstakingly played out story into just a couple of sentences? AND you’re supposed to do it in a way that sells??
To practice for my first pitch (coming this November, stay tuned for a debrief!), I’ve been barhopping. In all seriousness, I have found one of the most effective ways to practice pitching is simply working on my final manuscript edits at a bar, waiting for someone to make conversation by asking about it, then describing the book to them off the cuff.
It doesn’t take much intuition to see the glaze that comes over a stranger’s face when you do your pitch poorly. Talk too long, fail to organize your plot into succinct and understandable points, make your work of staggering genius sound as interesting as an Ikea assembly manual… You can tell when it’s gone wrong. The polite smile and suppressed yawn of a complete stranger doesn’t paralyze you the way failing in front of a publisher will. It just makes you go back and explain it again. It makes you search for the right words until that spark of interest shows in someone’s eye.
Maybe I should just plan to bring a cocktail to my first pitch meeting. Then again, maybe not.