In some ways, I never feel my novel edits are done. I also never felt quite ready to start querying. But if you’re a ‘never feel ready’ type of person, you know that at some point, ready or not, you have to jump in the deep end. I ‘jumped in’ with writing a query letter. After working on the novel for so long, writing a query letter was kind of a treat. It became a letter edited to be tighter with each query I sent out. In the end, it says what I want it to say.
My original goal was to only query two agents. One because he’s the agent I followed for over a decade as I learned about the industry while I was working. The other because she’s mega successful and represents a writer whose audience overlaps with my type of novel. But as I read up on querying I came across other agents that interested me.
My favorite agent, the one from whom I learned much as I read his interviews and comments during the years when less was available online, received the first query. That letter was heartfelt but a little sloppy with regards to editing. Probably rushed it a bit because I was excited to finally be querying after having dreamt for so long of writing a novel and getting to this stage of the game. I presumed him a class act and true to my expectations he responded personally the morning after I queried him, which also happened to be Christmas Eve day.
While I knew he didn’t represent my type of novel, I threw a Hail Mary pass while having a chance to say thank you for all I learned from him over the years. He thanked me for my kind words. It meant a lot that he took a moment to respond. And the novel? Unfortunately, not a match.
Since I didn’t have a long list of agents that I was interested in querying, I began to seriously consider self-publishing. In today’s indie climate it is legitimate to wonder about the benefits of signing with an agent and trying to get a traditional book deal. There is definitely great benefit of signing with an agent that knows more about editing, publishing and marketing than a writer does. An author should have an agent whose opinion she/he respects. You want an agent who makes you want to know what they think, otherwise why bother?
However, a writer can learn much today about every facet of publishing and promotion without having an agent, so while it’s true that having an agent takes a lot off your plate, it’s really only as valuable as the talent, professionalism and dedicated energy of the agent.
You no longer need an agent to publish your book for your readers, so the only reason, as I see it, to get an agent is for the added worth of having someone do what you can’t or don’t have time to manage for your career. Not every agent can do a better job than the savvy, self-taught indies out there today. Think Joanna Penn.
I’m not exactly savvy savvy so after that first rejection, I moved on. There were a few more agents I decided to query at this initial stage. I am grateful to the agents who took the time to respond, especially since several of their policies stated a writer wouldn’t hear back unless they were interested.
My queries showed me that an agent may find my story interesting, may even invite future works but to match my novel to an agent would require more time than this publishing neophyte anticipated. Hearing back from agents was an okay start. But since none of the agents requested a full read I had to get real as to why?
One reason could be that The Summoned Guest has some challenges for traditional publishers. At 176,000 words, one could say that the word count is agent-repelling for an unknown author! Could say or more accurately must say.
Chuck Sambuchino in Get a Literary Agent: The Complete Guide to Securing Representation for Your Work wrote, “Many agents aren’t willing to give a 129,000 word debut novel a shot. Agents receive so many queries and submissions that they often look for reasons to say no. And if you submit a project well outside the typical length conventions, then you are giving then ammunition to reject you.” Fine. As a side note, I found this book to be an informative resource that was an interesting read.
In addition to word count my novel crosses genres. I know you’re saying, “Maria, did you not want your novel to see the light of day?” Not the initial plan. It’s how the story worked out. But I don’t apologize for that since a writer has to follow the story. If Spielberg and Lucas were okay combining cowboys and aliens, I can certainly have a character go on a journey of growth that partly takes place in a parallel realm. Okay, maybe animals communicate alongside characters dealing with serious life issues. Carriages may fly. Maybe. And the novel serves up tea time and a lovely croquembouche. What could be wrong? Admittedly, it makes it a
pain in the ass delightful challenge to elevator pitch what genre my novel fits or for me to insist in a query that, “My book is just like so and so’s.”
There I was, staring at rejections one Monday morning in winter. There was only one thing to do. Channel an “all right, then” a la Bridget Jones. So, as a newly minted rejectee where does one start?
I started by polishing off cookies friends had given to my husband and me while at dinner the night before. I shouldn’t have been left alone with them on such a day. ‘No, Maria, there isn’t a Santa Claus. There aren’t going to be publishers holed up in a hotel bidding for your novel. There won’t even be an agent named Harry telling you of a low ball offer he got for your book, while he sits on a subway, shoving down a hotdog.’
Maybe I deserved those cookies. But then I had to carry on. As royalty and writers do. Switching my mindset I accepted that I would most likely have to self-publish.
At the very least I knew more editing would be needed if I were to publish directly. Hiring a top notch editor for my high word count wasn’t in my budget. The last thing I felt like doing after so many edits was to commence editing once more. I am not a professional editor and I have never attempted to write a novel before. As someone with a couple of grad degrees, I can edit non-fiction if need be. But this time it ‘need be’ that I edited fiction, and so I did. When you have a long novel just making sure every character starts and ends the novel with the same eye color becomes a challenge. I still think my novel could shine brighter with a professional editor’s touch, but it’s solid at this point.
Unfortunately, self-publishing with less than perfect execution is not in my nature or my sister’s, who helps me with her awesome talents. This little fact makes self-publishing for such personalities daunting, to say the least. Never you mind that millionaires have been created by some who just put their novels out there, learning curves and all. Good luck getting Sis and me to cross that crevasse. As easy as getting us across Everest’s Khombu Icefall. We’d rather drive ourselves crazy. Not really. But that’s what it feels like.
As it stands today I’m asking do I take a chance on myself? Do I care what my mother-in-law thinks about self-publishing . . . or how I decorate for that matter?
The real question for me is do I have the marketing skills (or energy to master them) to find my readers through self-publishing? Is that what I’m supposed to do?
As you are detecting, the question of whether to self-publish can become an existential crisis in today’s marketplace. At least for this overworked writer it had. Can I afford to not launch a book successfully as a self-published newbie? What about the possible plates of cookies that might follow?
Since I have learned and found encouragement from reading other writers’ experiences with querying, traditional publishing and also self-publishing, this blog post was simply my querying story (thus far) to add to the mix. What’s true for you, me and everyone trying to grow and contribute with their passions is that after all the work that is already done – and there’s a lot of it as we can all attest to – you’ve got to continue believing you can succeed even when the hydrangea planted beach lane to your desired goal has turned into a four lane highway with construction delays. If in your gut you know you are on the right road – a few rejections do not warrant giving up.
So, my friends, this tale is to be continued . . .