Get published or not get published, that is the question…

Mission Impossible # 2
The allusion to Hamlet is no mistake. It feels to us writers when we send out a query letter to an agent or a story to a journal that it is a form of life and death. Did I just commit literary suicide with that query letter? It's tantamount to sending your child off to a school you know nothing about. The uneasiness and nervousness I still feel every time I click send makes me queasy. The standard cookie cutter rejection emails are disheartening (not to mention the tons of queries that are ignored by agents who swear they respond to everyone), but the worst disappointment is the feeling as if I’m being led-on in a sense when an agent reads a portion or the entire manuscript only to then reject it. However, this is the industry and the way it works. Agents get hundreds to thousands of queries a week, so I’m not condemning them to fishy practices. They do their best to find the cream of the crop and that for them must be like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the digital age where anyone and everyone thinks they are writers (trust me, I’ve seen some atrocious novels that gave me nightmares, literally), it must be impossible to find amazing authors. So many people are self-publishing eBooks; in fact, it is so easy and becoming relatively inexpensive. Some of these books are great, but some are unedited, disorganized, have flat characters, no clear or interesting plotline, and are an English professor’s nightmare. With the indie industry what it is, I made the decision in 2010 to press on and go the traditional route—find an agent.

My journey began in the end of 2009 where I purchased the copyright for my novel Quiver (accent pieces will follow). This version was the fourth rough draft (probably on the 12th revision now), and it felt so empowering, as if I was one step closer to my dream. Next, I had to do the the research, where grueling hours were spent on the computer to educate myself, to find agents that represented my genre, and to find information out about them and their agencies to squeeze a little ethos and pathos into the letters. I had to read and study numerous successful books in the genre, and then came the writing of the query letters, each needing to be different depending on the agent--copy and paste into an email and send.

The first rejection was hard to swallow, even though I prepared myself for it. All the confidence from finishing the novel vanished, but I persevered by sporadically sending out queries for two years. After about seventy letters, I almost lost hope; most letters were ignored, a lot received rejections, but I could at least boast that three agents showed interest. I had to remind myself that the query worked; I was taken seriously by some—enough to warrant some interest. Unfortunately, the three interested passed on the novel and did give me reasons and feedback: 1) the agency votes on projects and the agent proposed mine but was vetoed, 2) the agent didn’t like my multiple perspectives and said she’d look at it again if I made only one narrator (this would change the novel completely in my eyes and be very time consuming), and 3) in the agent’s opinion the topic was not the next new thing, but could be in the future (as you well know it is now a utopian/dystopian fad we’re in, e.g. Hunger Games). This last rejection hit home. Perhaps this was not the novel that was going to get published; I could hold onto it for a rainy day.

I moved on to writing more projects, left the novel on the back burner, and published my short story “A Jaded life." Work became increasingly busy and difficult, and I had a baby—life moved on and was too hectic to spend time trying to write or publish. The only time I looked at it was to edit and revise it (several times) after a friend, then a grad student, and then a colleague copyedited it for me. However, now that my son is two, things have become much easier; spells of time have appeared, and now I’m back on the horse, saddling up, and ready to give it a go. After all, one of my published colleagues told me, “Never give up, and don’t even get discouraged until you hit the triple digits of rejection letters.” I still am going to go the traditional route via agent but over the next few months I will be educating myself and interviewing published authors about which venue they traveled to find their success. So here I am, ready to go. I just need a bit of luck, the right timing, and a perfect query.


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  3. Did that one agent make any indication as to what he thought the "next new thing" was going to be? Because, seriously, I'm ready for the end of all this dystopian society stuff.

  4. I sent my letters out so long ago that the next new thing was this depressing dystopian lit. He didn't tell me what it was exactly, just a generic "it's not the next new thing" response. Dying to know what the new next new thing will be.

  5. Brian, I'm starting to see a lot of supernatural and psychic ability fiction resurfacing lately. Hopefully dystopian fiction is on the way out.

  6. Let me know when it cycles back around to "optimistic science fiction," willya?


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