Early this morning, while I was walking the dog, a kid on a bike with a loaded-down backpack rode by on the way to school. It recalled for me the sense I had on my own bike, riding the very same road, on the way to the high school a mile down the road.
I never felt rushed, I remember that. I remember feeling free, and like I knew I was going to get there. (I felt the same thing walking, but I usually walked home with a friend. And I do remember also the little frisson I got when some guy friend pulled up in either a black Mustang or a Jeep and asked if I wanted a lift (those were the two best, in my experience). What a thrill, to be part of this landscape. How cool it was, to be in a scene I’d seen so many times before on television. The stuff of dreams, I tell you.
Last week I was with a friend at my high school track. We were doing laps. Laps upon laps, terrifically painful rotations from a workout from my coach (triathlon, not high school). Afterwards, we took a walk through campus. I was surprised to feel how many memories just being in those places shook loose. The students with the formaldehyde cats; the argument I had with a guy who was running for class secretary, or something like that, against me (he won); the place I was confronted about losing a book a fellow student had just loaned me–I’ll never forget the hurt look on his face.
And then, recently, I’ve been remembering some things my brother said to me when he was older, about some things that happened when we were very very young:
“You know when you guys used to put the french fries in my burger so I’d eat the burger first? Well, I always knew what you were doing.”
“Hey. I always knew those weren’t Scooby Snacks.”
“Remember when you were cutting my hair with the clippers? And then you went, ‘Oops!’ and walked away? Yeah.”
What places shake loose memories for you? Tell me in the comments below.
I’m sure every writer writes a post like this. But every writer’s experience is different, and every writer’s publishing experience might be different, so I wanted to add my voice to the mix. Plus, this Friday I am teaching a workshop on publishing at my alma mater, so this is a good lead-in.
Here is my road to official pub date (May 6!), by the numbers:
Months spent querying, in total: 21
Agents queried: 85
Agents who didn’t reply at all: 20
Eventual offers of representation: 1
Small/indie presses queried: 21
Offers of publication (2.5; one wanted a rewrite that would have sucked the life out of the thing, in my opinion)
Heavy revisions: 2
Folks involved in the final, pre-offer, big revision (includes one top-notch agent; one publisher; one acquisitions editor): 7
Months between final revision and offer of publication: 4.5
Months between offer of publication (contract signed) and actual publication: 11
Here is my road to official pub date by mistakes I made/things I did:
When I started querying I felt I had worked so hard on this manuscript that I decided I was going to be bull-nosed about it. Much of the constructive feedback I received from agents I binned, for no good reason. A lot of this was stuff I couldn’t do anything about, like “I didn’t connect with the voice,” or “I’m not a fan of epistolary novels.” But some of it was very concrete, actionable stuff. Lesson learned: Keep every personal rejection. You will use what you learned, what they said, later in your writing career.
When I got a form rejection from an agent who had shown great personal connection in a previous correspondence, I followed up. It had been sent by accident and he had constructive, useful things to say. Lesson, with caveat: If you feel very strongly about something, I think it’s okay to follow up. But be smart about this. Don’t rant, obviously. And really ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do.
I didn’t pay attention to conventional wisdom about novel length. Mine was too short by about 6,000 words. I joke about the day a top agent asked me to add 6,000 words (“Oh, sure, I’ll do that while I’m pooping”), but it is an agent’s job to sell books, and your job to write them. It was my great privilege to have had this feedback. And it made my work way, way stronger. Lesson learned: Some conventional stuff you can ignore–“Oh! Everyone’s writing YA now! You should write that!”–but some stuff you should be paying attention to.
I didn’t make this my full-time job. I know for most of us, this is an impossibility. But I could have easily spent at least two hours a day querying, or at least working on my connections in the industry. And I didn’t. Sometimes, whole weeks went by where I didn’t query. Lesson learned: If you really want to make this a part of your life, get on it.
I did my research. And I leveraged the crap out of my community. Every single guest lecturer I met at the MFA program I graduated from (the ones that made sense, anyway); every single friend I’d ever talked words with–they all played a critical part in the making of this book, from introductions to agents to how to Make Things Better. I’d have never been able to do this if I existed in a vacuum. Lesson learned: Literary community isn’t a buzzphrase. It’s a living, breathing, thing, and you should contribute to it and then gain from it.
I included the fact that my manuscript was on offer in my bio. Every time I wrote something for someone, I asked them to mention it. This led me to experience one of the greatest possible moments in a writer’s life, ever, even including publication: Some random bigwig agent wrote to me to say she’d read my essay and loved it, and needed to see my novel. Lesson learned: Er. Sometimes pipe dreams actually happen? Yes? Yes.
There is so much more I could say about this. But I don’t want to give up the bulk of our lecture on Friday. 🙂
And P.S. You can buy my book here and here. And visit my awesome publisher here.