A little over two years ago, I posted a piece called “I Tweet, Therefore I Am,” in which I bemoaned the current state of publishing, swore of self-publishing forever, and argued that it didn’t make sense for someone to build an online presence before he or she had produced something to promote (e.g., a novel).

I declared in that post that I was determined to follow the traditional route of finding a literary agent and pursuing industry publishing. I’m very pleased to announce that I have indeed signed with a literary agent, and he is set to begin pitching my work to publishers this week.

But this is after two more agonizing years of work, of writing and rewriting, of revising and editing, of querying more agents than I can count, of sending out requested manuscripts, only to be rejected over and over.

[Daily, I read the blog of literary super-agent Janet Reid, the one and only Query Shark. She’s smart, funny, and her posts are full of good advice. Just the other day she talked about the virtue of perseverance for a writer, or as she puts it in that post: “Be resolute.” Writers fret over every aspect of the process of writing and the vagaries of querying. We agonize over how best to get an agent’s attention. We parse emails for every bit of evidence, every clue we can divine, over an agent’s interest or intention. It’s mostly a waste of time, of course. “You can control ONE thing right now,” says JR, “what you write. Write the best book you can.” That’s good advice.]

If you’re determined to be a writer, then there’s nothing else to do but write and get better at writing. That’s your first priority. Everything else is secondary. And if you’re truly determined, you won’t quit, no matter how many disappointments, no matter how much heartache.

sisyphus_by_von_stuck
Sisyphus must have been a writer

I’m not going to talk about the book my agent is pitching, since who knows what’s going to happen to it. Suffice it to say, when I first started pitching it, I really had little idea how to go about querying, and I’ll write a separate post about that. Here, I’ll merely provide a snapshot of what it took to get to ‘yes’ from an agent.

* I first started querying the book in January, 2014. It was a mere 49,000 words. I should have known that, at that short length, the book wasn’t done.

* Between January, 2014 and late 2016, the full manuscript was read by some 20 very good agents. [Writers, you heard that right: TWENTY AGENTS READ IT AND SAID NO.]

* By January of 2015, I was still revising and querying. The manuscript was now at 55,000 words.

* During this process, I connected with a number of great beta readers (other writers who read your work and give you feedback). They gave me inspired advice about how to improve the book. For a long time, I thought of the writing game as a solo act, but it’s really not. You have to have good critique partners (and those with whom you can commiserate).

* By the beginning of 2016, the manuscript had stretched out to 76,000 words. I’d kept working on it, developing it, and the story began to build. At first, I’d had a mere skeleton of a plot. As the process developed, it got some meat on its bones.

* It was around this time, perhaps a bit earlier, that I connected with a very well-established agent. He was really captivated by the book but thought it needed work. His advice, and the comments of his readers (and of my beta readers), were invaluable in the final major revisions to the work.

* In the last, big changes, the book went through a revolution. It was transformed. I pushed it beyond anything I could initially have foreseen or imagined. The initial idea was solid, but the execution was limited and pedestrian. By the end, I had a real story on my hands.

* The final manuscript stands now at 82,000 words—almost twice as long as the original version.

During this long, grueling process, I learned a number of valuable lessons about how to develop and revise a story, about the need for critique partners, how to query agents, how to persevere.

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve signed with Alex Franks at The Donaghy Literary Group. Thanks to some prodding from Alex, I re-imagined the beginning of the story (started it in a different place), and the book is once again improved. I look forward to doing some great work with Alex.

“I’m back, baby!” (said in George Costanza voice)

 

 

One thought on “Perseverance: A Writer’s Virtue, or: How to Get to ‘Yes’

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