Twelve years ago my life was filled with sadness and despair. I wrote a novel to escape.
Writing another one six months later got me thinking about getting published.
I went online to research publishers and discovered literary agents. I made a list, bypassing anyone asking for a synopsis. I'd learned how to write a query letter, but I couldn't seem to get a handle on the synopsis. Something else I didn't know was that I couldn't send the first draft. I mailed thirty queries.
It wasn't long before an agent in New York responded. She said: "this is a good story" and "has many things of merit". She suggested I send it to a book doctor. She was even kind enough to recommend one. Edit Ink. I sent the full manuscript and the required payment.
Relying on their expertise I made the changes exactly as they were presented, and then contacted the agent to let her know the story was ready. She wrote back to say she wasn't taking on any new clients at this time. I felt terrible. I thought I had taken too long to do the rewrite.
Later, I felt terrible for a different reason.
I rewrote the story. And learned how to write a synopsis.
To increase my chances of getting my work noticed, I joined Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association and Romance Writers of America. I planned to write a story in each genre, and send out three times as many queries. When an agent responded to a query saying the story was "convoluted" I realized the foolishness of my plan.
I let my memberships with HWA and RWA lapse. I prefer mysteries and thrillers, anyway. Eight years after joining MWA I cancelled my membership. I don't think I gained enough to keep up with the dues. The other thing I've learned about this business (besides how slow things move) is that memberships won't get your foot in the door, unless maybe you can afford to attend conferences like Bouchercon. Even then, there are no guarantees. I do miss receiving newsletters from these groups, though. I love reading about what other writers are doing. At least I can follow them online.
I've written eight short stories and four novels--not counting the first two, which have been trunked. I had a website, and now this blog. I joined a couple of online writers forums. Joined three local writing groups. Two years in a row, I paid a mentor to critique the first fifty pages of the same novel. I couldn't get it published. I didn't blame them. I just passed on the offer to submit a third time.
I approached two famous authors at two conferences, showed each my query and asked for their opinion. One told me what I should take out of the query. She said agents don't care whether or not I belong to any organizations such as MWA. Agents don't care where I work unless I am a cop or a lawyer or something else related to my main character. The log line? Cut it, it isn't very good. No ideas on how to fix it. I was left with nothing but a brief synopsis, and no clear direction.
The other author was awesome. She told me what to put in my query. She asked if I buy groceries at the market. Yes. That makes you a sales and marketing professional, she said. She asked if I pay bills. Yes. Then you're a finance manager. Wow, I thought, the excitement building. Do you talk to people about your stories? Yes, yes. Well then, you can say you are a professional speaker. How about your website, did you design it? Yes. Great!
On the bio part of my query I wrote: As a sales professional, speaker, webmaster and graphic designer, I have the willingness to make the product marketable along with the necessary skills and determination to sell it.
The rejection letters couldn't have arrived any sooner. I never knew there were so many different ways for agents to say "you suck".
I have received an inordinate amount of misinformation. Such as: two spaces after punctuation. No. One space after punctuation. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly--disregard how many I find in best-selling novels. You have to personalize your query. No. A query is not a personal letter it is a business letter. The list of writing rules is mind-boggling.
A few years ago, I heard of a way to get published without an agent. Print On Demand. Sounded good. I sent in one of my stories and enough money to cover the fees. When the book became available, I contacted a number of bookstores to set up a signing. A few of them invited me in. And, they supplied the books.
I not only found out I could sell my books with ease I had a lot of fun doing it. By the way, I sold all of the books that were ordered. Confident in my sales ability, I was prepared to move forward and not look back on my unsuccessful query days.
Someone convinced me I should hire a publicist. I did. He got me a radio interview. But the interviewer wasn't going to call until midnight. At the time, I was a hostess in the restaurant of a well-known hotel and I had to get up at three a.m. to go to work. I drank a lot of coffee to stay awake for the interview--which took all of ten minutes. Between the excitement and the caffeine I couldn't go to sleep. I went in and worked a nine-hour shift, feeling like the living dead.
Having paid such an exorbitant amount of money to hire the publicist (who did nothing other than set up the radio interview), I could no longer afford to go on a book signing tour. I'm not as gullible as I sound. I did the best I could with the information I was given.
October 2008--I snail mailed a query with the first five pages to a literary agent. Six days later I got an email request for the full manuscript. I immediately emailed it to her. Eight months passed. I hadn't heard a word from her. Never even knew if she got it. Perhaps she'd rejected it already. A lot of agents have the policy of "no response means no interest". I changed the ending of the story, then set it aside. Started a new project.
Two months later, I thought about the manuscript again. I emailed the agent to let her know that not only had I rewritten part of the story, I'd also changed the title and the genre (from romantic suspense to mystery). She requested the new version.
December 2009--Four months have passed. No word from her. I sent a polite nudge. Asked if she was still interested. She said she'd read it right then. Two hours later, I got a rejection. She mentioned something that happens in the first five pages. Then said there wasn't enough suspense for her to want to read the rest of the story.
So...I waited over a year to get rejected on the same five pages that got me a request for a full?
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I've racked up more than 700 rejection letters. I tried to walk away but couldn't. I made up my mind to work harder. I wrote new stories. Rewrote old stories. Honed my skills. Paid my dues. Did everything I was supposed to do, and I still haven't found a home for my work.
Am I bitter? Not at all. They don't call it a journey for nothing. Sure, I've seen more bad than good. But I've had fun, too.
There is some good news. The full manuscript of one of my novels is being read, as well as two of my short stories.