Remember the board game Chutes and Ladders? Where landing on some squares whisked you up a ladder and toward the finish line, while landing on others sent you plummeting down a slide back toward the start?
I feel like I’ve just gone down a chute back to start. That’s not terrible, and I’m not feeling bad about it. It’s just a way of visualizing where I am in this process.
This is about the path to publication and finding a literary agent. When I began focusing full-time on fiction writing a year and a half ago, I assumed I was well along the road to publication. I had published one non-fiction book already, and I had an agent who had represented me on that book.
Combine that with nearly 20 years of newspaper writing, and I felt miles ahead of all the poor souls who stumbled about sending cold queries and collecting boilerplate rejection letters from dozens upon dozens of agents.
Well, here we are 18 months later. After sharing a couple of versions of my manuscript with my prior agent, it became pretty clear to me that she wasn’t going to take on this project – at least not without changes that were bigger than I wanted to make. Last winter I approached a few more agents with whom I had some personal connection and got similar rejections.
On the bright side, most were lovely rejections – personal, thoughtful, even offering some praise. On the not-so-bright side, there was always a “but.” (“Your writing is lovely and has a good voice BUT…”)
My main conclusion was that I had some more rewriting to do. My secondary conclusion was that selling fiction is damn subjective – much more subjective than selling nonfiction.
With nonfiction, there seems to be more of a logic to getting your book sold. Agents and editors ask: Is this an interesting and new idea? Who are the potential readers and how big is the market? Does this writer have the right background and “platform” for this project? These are all questions that can be anticipated and answered.
With fiction, there’s some of that, but there is also this big subjective element: Does the agent or editor fall in love with it?
Do they like your characters? Do they want to keep turning pages? Do they feel a burning need to tell their friends about it? Does it make them want to laugh/cry? Does it strike some chord with them personally?
Do they like it enough to passionately fight for all the additional layers of approval – the senior editors, marketing mavens, finance folks – needed for publication?
In short, do they love it?
And love is so personal, so subjective. That’s daunting, but it’s also encouraging. It’s encouraging because it means that five rejections is not definitive. Even ten rejections is not definitive. All it takes is one person to say yes – so you can slog through 57 rejections and then find one person who falls in love with your book and then yeah! you’ve got your agent or editor.
Now, with my latest round of revising pretty much done, I’m ready to send the manuscript out again.
But this time I’m down the chute, back at “start” with all those zillions of wannabe authors sending out cold queries and hoping to be noticed in the slush pile.
To put it in terms of my husband’s beloved Tour de France: I thought I was in the breakaway.
But I’m really in the peleton.
And that’s okay. I just have to keep pedaling.