This is how I imagined my writing career would go during that wonderful, magical time when I sat down to write my first novel in the late summer/early fall of 2014:
I would write the novel (no problem, I had the first draft done in a month).
I would revise (this turned out to be way fun, so, cool).
I would send to beta readers and revise some more (check, check).
I’d submit to agents (yep, not a problem, the internet is full of information on how to do this).
They would request the full manuscript (this happened too! Things were looking good).
They would fall in love with it and bing-bang-boom, I’d get a publishing deal.
Cue a long and prosperous career, movie deals, etc.
This would probably happen by Christmas.
What actually happened:
I wrote four novels (plus many many other half-finished projects and idea-flirtations ranging in length from a couple pages to 100,000-word forays into stories that, in the end, didn’t cut it).
I queried two of the finished novels (make that “am querying”) (with a year-break in there to have a baby, etc.) until the present day. For non-writers, “querying” means pitching my project and myself via a short email to literary agents who, if they love your book, will agree to pitch it to publishers and sign you on for the remainder of your writing career.
That’s one and a half years of active querying, or overall, two and a half years, if you’re counting.
(Can you tell I’m counting?)
I have received more rejections than I care to count. (Please. Don’t make me tally them. It’s in the three digits).
Anyone who’s been through the querying process has heard all the phrases:
“Not quite right for my list”
“While you have an intriguing concept …”
“Didn’t connect with the characters …”
“Oversaturated market …”
“Didn’t love it enough …”
As of now, two and a half years after embarking on what I was certain would be a quick journey to becoming a published author, here I am, unrepresented and still searching for that agent who will say, ‘yes! I love this story!’ Along the way, I’ve also recognized that neither of the two manuscripts I have floating out there in query-land on various agents’ computers and tablets may land me that effusive love-love relationship that writer and agent must have for their relationship to work.
Which is fine.
Looking back, I was in NO way ready to be represented in 2014. I had a lot of work to do honing my craft, learning about what gives a story good bones, and scraping those early-writer flaws out of my writing (-ings, “just,” “start to,” fancy dialogue tags, and everything the internet can tell you about, too), and I imagine I still do. For all I know, I’m not ready now either and two years from now I’ll be grateful that no one snatched me up.
That said, waiting is hard. Just to give you non-writers an idea of the molasses-speed timeline of things, it can take three months for an agent to respond to an emailed query (sometimes longer!). If she likes your query and requests the full manuscript, it can take up to a year for her to read it (my longest standing full manuscript out there is currently over the eight-month mark). If an agent signs me, I will still need to go through revisions with her, probably for a number of months. Then, she’ll pitch it to publishing houses. Cue another wait. And down the road, I know, there are even more waits. Even if I get a ‘yes’ today from an agent, it will still be years until any book of mine hits an actual shelf (and there are still no guarantees it will happen).
This process is not for those who need immediate gratification.
If I had known it would take this long, be this hard, and involve so much waiting and rejection, would I have started the journey?
Maybe, but with less spring in my step. Maybe, but perhaps with less enthusiasm and drive. Which are some of the ingredients that kept me writing.
I’m so grateful that I couldn’t (and can’t) see the future. I’m even grateful that I started out thinking I could spring up the mountain of publishing like a young goat–because it got me going. It got me writing. Now I’m readjusting. It turns out I’m not a young goat–or at least that the top of the mountain has turned out to be much further and the goat has aged along the way.
I think I’ll be a donkey instead now. Still climbing. More slowly, but steadily (I hope). Ready for the long-haul. Not exactly less hopeful, but with a hardier kind of hope that’s a little broader in its scope.
For all I know, one of the agents currently reading my manuscripts will fall in love and sign me. Though I’m not holding my breath like I was in 2014 (I’d have passed out by now). So for now, I’ll keep plodding, hopefully upwards (though ready for detours).
What’s at the top?
It’s a question work asking.
Is it becoming famous? Making millions?
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to support my family with my writing. But right now, the top of the mountain is this:
Sharing my work with readers.
Because there’s nothing like putting something you create out there and having someone else enter into your creation and respond to it.
And the thing is, of all the different dreams I could have, that is a dream that lies within my power to realize–whether it’s in two years or twenty, with or without the backing of New York Big Publishing. Self-publishing is a viable option for the future, and I’m finally allowing myself to recognize that. It’s such a relieving thought–that I have that power–and that helps me be patient. Wait another day, another week, another month, another year. Maybe many years.
Thankfully I don’t have to make decisions now. I certainly don’t want to send half-baked work out into the internet–I need more time to hone. Revise. Perfect. See which path opens up and which does not.
The bottom line is that I love writing. I love what I’ve written. And eventually, I will get those stories out there.
But that day is not today.
So right now, I need to write and I need to wait.
Here’s to more writing. More waiting. Then more writing. And–I know–a lot more waiting.