OK, I know I said the next post would be about my new book, but I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about my experiences so far in a bit more detail: the writing process, the learning-about-publishing process, and the submission process.
I wrote the first 50,000 words of The Northerners in November of 2006. That’s about 175 pages in a printed book, depending on the size of the pages and the print (Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby are about 50,000 words long, to give you an idea). I finished the first draft, at 75,000 words, about two months after that. The next year and a half I spent showing the draft to various friends and family to get their feedback, and rewriting accordingly. Despite the fact that I had been making up most of the story as I went, I was fortunate enough to have a pretty solid structure from the beginning. Most of my revisions dealt with adding details: fleshing out characters, describing the setting better, etc.
During that time I did Nanowrimo again, in November of 2007. I wrote The Northerners Book II (for lack of a better title), which clocked in at 63,000 words, in a little under two months. Unlike the first book, this one came out more than a little misshapen. It was too short and not very cohesive. I also later realized that I need to change the ending, which meant significantly rewriting the second half of the book and parts of the first half. That’s probably a better example of what happens when you write a whole book in such a short period of time. I haven’t gotten around to the revisions yet; my priority instead has been getting the first book into publishable shape.
Of course, I didn’t know the first thing about the publishing industry, so I hit the ol’ Internet. I got a year’s subscription to the Writer’s Market for a birthday present, which also comes with a huge doorstop of a book that contains some useful advice along with an extensive list of agents and publishers. I started reading agent blogs, particularly the following:
- Miss Snark (defunct since 2007, but the archives are a wealth of info)
- Pub Rants, by agent Kristin Nelson
- The Rejecter, by an anonymous agent's assistant
Good reads all, and full of useful advice. I also acquainted myself with two great resources to keep writers from getting scammed: Preditors & Editors, a great big list of agents and publishers and their varied reputations, and Writer Beware, which tracks scams and scammers and even has a regularly updated blog. These are vital reads - there are a lot of people out there trying to take advantage of newbie authors, and they might be harder to spot than you think.
Once I had a manuscript worthy of submission, and I felt that I knew enough about publishing to dip my toes in the water, I used AgentQuery to sniff out some potential representation. Then I wrote up a query letter - probably the most difficult and painful writing I’ve ever done - and started sending The Northerners out into the world.
In nine months, I’ve had two requests for partials (the first few chapters of the book). I’ve had one request for a full (the whole book). Both agents passed, for a total of 37 rejections. And this is not unusual.
But I’m still at it. I’ve rewritten my query letter a couple of times, and I did some significant rewrites to the first 50 pages of my book (since most agents only ever see the first few pages, if that, you really want to polish your opening to a mirror shine). Those first few rejections were a punch to the gut, even though I was sure I was braced for it; but my skin is a lot thicker now, and my book is better than it was. I’m starting to learn that rejection is not failure - it’s the bread and butter of a writer’s existence. You’re better off getting used to it sooner rather than later.
At this point, I would say I’m sober about The Northerners and its chances for publication. I still haven’t used all my resources, and it only takes one agent to say yes. However, it may not see the light of day this time around, and that’s OK. You can’t buy this kind of experience. I’ve learned a lot and I wrote a book that I’m proud of; when I eventually do get published, I’ll be ready to dust it off and give it a second chance.