on writing, Personal Journey

The Road to Traditional Publishing: A Walk, No. A Serpentine Crawl, on the Pan-American Highway

Radio Silence. I’m learning to live there. In January (yes, January) I had several agents request full manuscripts, two of whom were veterans; one was building his list. I heard back from the list-building agent quickly. He didn’t like that a dog died in my story. I’ve since read other agent bios where they specify: no pets dying. Who knew? I still had three manuscripts out (another request in the interim), and I waited. And recovered from brain surgery. And sold our house and was homeless for a few weeks. And got settled in our new home. And puttered around in short stories and flash. And got started on a second book. Today I’m 50K into Bookworm.

In the beginning of a new novel, I’m pulling a wagon with square wheels. It’s not pretty. It hurts. I’m getting nowhere. And who are these characters? Most writers love that part, the show-up-to-the-blank-page part. Not me. I’m all about revising. In order to get anything down, I have to chant, SFD…SFD…SFD… till I get something I can revise.

Last week one of the veteran agents (gently and with many kind words of praise) passed on my manuscript. I actually read the email to my writer’s group. I’m not usually that public, but it arrived in my inbox just as we were starting, and oddly enough, I’d literally JUST been lamenting over not hearing back from him. He apologized for having it so long. He was so gracious, I didn’t even cry. Darn. I would have loved to work with someone that nice.

Two other agents are still considering it, and when I nudged them, they assured me I’m in the queue. I’ve learned agents have intern-readers. So an assistant may be the first to read my full manuscript. If it passes muster, then the agent will take a look. It makes sense, given how many manuscripts pass over their desks. When every query rejection reminds me of the subjectivity of the business (…not a fit for me, but another agent may feel differently…) I dust myself off and look for the next agent who, hopefully, will feel differently.

I’ve become a student of the publishing industry, which has given me a sense of just how long it takes to get something traditionally published, as well as how insanely collaborative it is. Great books are written by great authors, but I believe they were blessed by great editorial agents and finally polished by great editors. Not to mention all the greatness that goes into marketing.

Knowledge isn’t just power; it’s peace of mind. Yesterday while spinning and sweating and gasping on an upright bike, I listened to an agent panel interview. (I hear your applause at my multi-tasking.) In the interview, an agent mentioned passing on a book that went on to become a best-seller. Another agent said his list of clients is rivaled by the list of greats on which he passed. Great books are passed on every day. My book has been passed on many days. Therefore, my book must be great. (I hear your applause at my entirely sensible rhetoric.)

Here are some of the ways I’m bettering myself as a writer. I’m thankful for the people who’ve shared these resources and am glad to pay it forward.

The Manuscript Academy

Writer 2.0 Podcast

Beautiful Writer’s Podcast

Writing and Illustrating blog hosted by Kathy Temean

Overhaul My Novel (Get a beta reader.)

And books that deal with craft:

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Each book imparts something different. King is…well, King. You get a bit of everything and a whole lot of swear words. Anne Lamott tells writers: Everything will be fine, darlin’. The last two are craft-specific but engaging and helpful beyond belief. And nothing helps more than a few friends who come alongside and believe in you, even before the editorial agent, before the editor. I have a group. We call ourselves The Little Red Writing Hoods. We are an eclectic mix of ages and genres. Knowing I have to submit something keeps me motivated. I love groups so much, I agreed to host one. It’s in the fledgling stages, but I am grateful for a right-hand man who is honest and smart and critical.

If you want some motivation, check out The First Line. Submissions are due August 1st. They pay. It’s free to submit. The first lines they provide are wonderful. One year a sixteen-year-old won the competition. How cool is that? I have some students I imagine could pull that off.

Credit: Diego Jimenez

PS – The Pan-American Highway is the world’s longest road, linking almost all the nations in North and South America except for a stretch of 100 km called the Darien Gap, a forest and swampland.

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20 thoughts on “The Road to Traditional Publishing: A Walk, No. A Serpentine Crawl, on the Pan-American Highway”

    1. Ha! Kelvin, you even comment in fresh imagery. I wish I had seen that comparison to the stationary bike as I was writing. Thank you! Best in your endeavors as well.

      1. Easily done in the heat of the moment, Kelly. I know I have said it before, and I hope you don’t mind me offering again, if you need anything from me in a writerly fashion, you need only ask.

  1. It is a VERY long road–but I’m glad we’re both writing while waiting. 50K in is wonderful! I’m only at 27K, but summer is super busy for my paying work, so the creative often takes the back burner–ugh. I decided not to burn through another 25 agents before getting my book edited by a pro. I may have another revision to do this fall, before I start querying again! It sure feels good to be writing again though–something new. I absolutely love that list you provided–really fantastic post–and am saving this email, so I don’t lose it. My fingers are forever crossed for your agent search!

    1. Thank you for your cheers! And for the conference suggestion. I’ll be sure to check it out. I am intrigued by your decision to have an editor peruse your manuscript and can’t wait to hear what directions he/she takes it. I’m sure I could benefit from a professional editor, but I’m hoping the gazillion revisions have caught most of the big stuff. Also excited for your new position as editor. So many good things going!! πŸ™‚

  2. Just had a thought–you’re writing YA, right? Chris Barzak (who writes YA, fantasy and other stuff) is going to be at LitYoungstown’s festival in Oct. For 2 days, it’s a steal at $40 (through July I think). It’s at Youngstown State, so trends pretty literary, and run by a poet, so lots of poetry. But it wouldn’t be too far, and there are always a few things going on each session, so you’re apt to find something to like. And the community is super friendly. Just an idea!

  3. Ha, ha! I love your “great book” logic. I’m borrowing that. I’m confident you’ll be published. I appreciate you sharing your journey. I can see you now leading a workshop at a writer’s conference, book in hand, encouraging the rest of us to persevere!

  4. Your tenacity motivates me. I keep my eye on you running ahead of me, can’t let you out of my sight. Must keep running (or writing as the case may be). You teach me rejection is part of the process. It doesn’t define me as a person or a writer. It’s just part of the process. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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