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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why We're Here

Okay, people, we're here to get serious. I've blogged for years now, keeping friends and family up to date on my own crew's adventures. But this one is just for me. . .

. . .and maybe for you.

Two and a half years ago, I started writing a book. I've always been a writer, but up until that point, I had mostly completed short stories, non-fic articles on parenting, homeschooling and travel, and homeschool curriculum. Fictional characters always ran around in my head, but they rarely made it onto the page--or if they did, their stories fizzled before they finished.

But this time, there was no fizzle. . .this time I finished the book within five months. And then I started on the first sequel--these characters had a lot more to say and do--and I finished that one. And then I started on the second sequel.

In the meantime, once I finished the first book, I began investigating just how one goes about getting published. And I learned what I think most other unknown, unpublished writers learn: writing is easy. Getting published is hard.

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a book. I can't remember much about the plot or characters, but I do remember that in my youthful innocence, I sent the whole thing off to Harper and Row, the company that published some of my favorite books. A few months later I received a postcard tactfully telling me that the company was not reading unsolicited material at the time. Perhaps that should have been clue number one.

In the two years that I've been pursuing publication, I've learned a few things:

1) A writer needs an agent. There is no hope of being considered by a publishing house without the representation of a knowledgeable agent unless you're one of the blessed few who "knows" someone in publishing or who by some quirk of fate gets her manuscript into the hands of a sweet young intern who then convinces her boss that your story is really something special. . .

2) Finding an agent who will agree to represent you is incredibly hard. There is a process, you see. First, there's the query letter. Ah, how I have come to despise that phrase! But more on that later. If by some amazing twist of fate the agent likes your query letter, she will probably request a partial, which is usually the first fifty pages of your manuscript, and possibly a synopsis (some agents request the synopsis and partial with the query, but most do not). If she likes both of those, she will request the full MS (manuscript). What happens after that? Good question. I think the agent reads the MS and then will either offer representation or decline to do so. But since I haven't gotten to that point, I really can't swear to that.

3) The query letter. . .it's rather like the elusive Holy Grail. Google "query letter examples" and see what you find. One book insisted that QLs must be simple and straightforward business letters. Another claimed that the key was some quirky twist that would immediately capture the eye of the potential agent. Some say you must include word count; others advise against it. Most recommend a paragraph that describes your story. Sounds easy, right? Hey, I just wrote a 120,000 word book; how tough can it be to condense it down to four pithy sentences? Yeah, you try it. I've had so many editions of my query letter that I really don't know anymore which one is most appealing. Maybe it depends on the agent. Maybe I've got a perfect letter, but I haven't sent it to the right agent yet. Maybe.

4) The synopsis is another animal altogether. Here the author is called upon to tell her story--again--this time in several pages. It's not unlike those book reports we all had to do in elementary school.

At this point, I've sent out about 15 queries. Some of these have been via email, and some of them have been through the regular mail. To date, I've received about 12 rejections. . .and I'm not holding my breath on the last three.

But I have to admit something. Up until now, I've been a very part-time submitter. I'm still writing almost full-time, but because the querying is so painful, I haven't been consistent. I'll gird up my loins and sit upstairs for an afternoon, with the huge Writers' Guide to Agents and Editors open on the floor in front of me, tweaking--oh, forever tweaking!--the infamous QL, printing out page after page of synopsis and partial MS. My patient husband prints the address labels for me, and I carefully make sure I follow to the letter the instructions regarding self-addressed stamped envelopes. I head out to the post office with a stack of those ugly manila envelopes and send them on their way.

I remember the first query letters I sent. The first rejections weren't unexpected; after all, everyone knows you've got to have a few of them--pay your dues--before you get the big yes. But still, those initial letters went forth with such hope and trust. Now they creep out rather wearily, with a resigned air of defeat already surrounding them.

So if I barely make time to submit my beloved MS regularly to would-be agents, why am I starting another blog? This is my accountability blog. This is where I am going to faithfully recount my submission attempts and perhaps. . .when God smiles on me and the angels sing, perhaps one day, some good news.

I know there are other writers out there just like me. A ton of them, probably. Maybe more than a ton. I've met some of them on sites that are designed to help and encourage writers. But this isn't a writers' support group. This isn't a submission and critique site (I've got one of those too! Love my ladies on The Writer's Block!!). This is about getting my work--and maybe yours--from the laptop to the bookstore shelf.

Stay tuned.

2 comments:

  1. I can't wait until the day I can say. "I know that author. She is one of my favorites...oh, and she is also one of my best friends!"

    Keep it up my friend...your day will come, and it will be worth the wait!

    Love, Cindy

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  2. "What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us."
    Henry David Thoreau

    Best of Luck in your Publishing Quest!
    And thanks for allowing your followers behind the scenes so to speak on your path to being published - a daunting task in itself. I look forward to reading your future posts and progress. And hopefully your book one day! :)

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