Well, How Did I Get Here?
I was just swapping messages on LinkedIn with a friend I used to work with. I knew she was writing a YA novel. We got to chatting back and forth about the path to publication. She’s starting on that path. Querying. Pitching. Rejection. Rejection. Re. Ject. Shun.
I started writing my first book in 2007. It wasn’t Beside the Music. It was something else. This long and winding tale that weighed in at a hefty 130,000 words. Which is way too long for a publisher in their right mind to consider. Word count is important. The more words you have the more pages you have. The more pages you have the more expensive it is to produce a paper copy of the book. The more expensive it is to produce the harder it is to make a profit on the given price points that books sell at in retail stores.
I sent out query letters. I went to the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam three times and watched those agents with their eyes glazed get barraged with pitch after pitch after pitch from all the hopeful authors waiting in lines to discuss their life’s work with them.
I devoured Writer’s Digest magazines, For Dummies guides on how to get published, memoirs by famous authors who are successfully published. What is the secret? Where is the key? Is there something written deep in the acknowledgements that will reveal to me how to crack the code? How do I need to craft my query letter to make an agent swoon? What is the secret? What? Is? It?
I put away that first novel. Every novelist has a first novel sitting in a drawer. Mine’s on a server only because I am married to a technology consultant who brings things like servers into the house and insists I back up my stuff onto them. Beside the Music was born in a lime green journal I used to carry in my purse, so I could write anywhere. And I literally did write it everywhere I could. Then I transcribed it into a word doc. Then I refined and refined and refined and refined it. When I was done refining it I refined it again. And then again a buncha times after that.
In 2014 I attended the New York Pitch conference. It was a three day workshop where I learned how to refine my pitch and get the chance to pitch 4 agents and editors. “This is it!” I thought to myself. “This is the fast track!” I met the other authors in my group, also commercial fiction writers, and we bonded and became fast friends. We paced outside the door and waited for others to come out after pitching. “How’d it go?” we’d all ask, and we’d cheer when one of us was asked to send in our manuscript.
Three out of the four wanted to see my work. But none of them actually ended up taking the bait. We continued to email and facebook message. “Where are you pitching? How’s it going?” we’d ask. Then one of them said to me “Have you tried submitting to Booktrope?” I hadn’t even heard of Booktrope, so I checked it out. I submitted my manuscript and then promptly moved on to other things.
That’s the thing about submitting your work. It’s strictly a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you operation. Most of the time you don’t hear back. If they don’t want you they’ll blow you off. Some of the time they’ll send a form rejection. “Sorry, this really isn’t my cup of tea,” or something equally polite. I have never received a rejection that contained anything constructive. Nothing like “I would have liked this story better if you did this…” The how-to-get-published books talk about this phenomenon. I’ve never actually experienced it, though. I did get asked a few times to send a full manuscript. And then I’d get blown off after that. Which is ridiculous. If you ask an author for their full manuscript, you should do them the courtesy of actually responding to it. We are out here waiting to hear from you after you made the request. Yeah, you’re busy. You know what? So am I. I am busy waiting for your ass to reach out and tell me whether you liked it or not.
So, rant over. I submitted to Booktrope. About a month later we had a snow storm. In February 2015 we had about 18 snow storms. This was the first one. I woke up and there was several feet of snow on the ground outside. I reached out to my iPad and checked my email. No internet service. I grabbed my iPhone and brought it back to bed with me and willed it to deliver me email. We have poor cell signal out here in the woods, but I got an email from Booktrope. I thought it said something about them accepting me. But I wasn’t sure. I blinked, rubbed my eyes and tried again.
“Todd, will you read this? I don’t think it says that I think it says.” I handed my phone to him. Maybe things were getting scrambled up in the air where Verizon had disassembled the email and then reassembled it incorrectly in the palm of my hand. What, it could happen, no?
“Beej. Holy shit,” he said. “You did it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. What did I do? Holy shit, what?
He wanted to call people. “No. You can’t call people. This isn’t real. We need to verify this somehow.”
“It is real.”
“But Verizon. They reassembled the email wrong.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s not real.” I blinked.
It was in fact real. I hopped a plane to Seattle and met Katherine Sears, one of the founders of Booktrope. It was more of a “is this legit?” mission. Todd had his attorney look over the contract. He called Ken Shear, the other founder, to discuss the contract. I signed the contract. And then I freaked out a bit. Is this really happening? Verizon. Scrambling data in the air. Is it real? Yes, it’s real.
On this path I’ve been rejected over 200 times by various literary agents. The path to publication is a steep one. It’s steep and the terrain under your feet is loose gravel, which slips when you step sometimes. I’ve heard “no” more than 200 times. But I heard “yes” once. And all you need is to hear it once.
added on 03.23.16