How to Get Published: Take the Leap of Faith
By Theresa Milstein on August 19, 2010
"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." - Thomas Edison
“At work, I wrestled with the piles of paper flooding my desk every day, an endless stream of manuscripts that would never be published.” - Katherine Darling, former employee at a literary agency, now author of, Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School.
The second quote is from page 2 –- PAGE 2 –- of Darling's book. And just in time for my official query season too. What does she know? The line after that is about how she hates her job. Ms. Darling also admits to doodling recipes in the margins of writers’ beloved manuscripts. She doesn’t even say she was an agent. And if she wasn’t an agent, maybe she didn’t see a pattern of two rejections, or three, before the writer had blossomed. The woman left her career to go to cooking school.
She’s not even talking about me, so why am I so defensive?
Because querying is hard. We put our hearts on a plate to serve to cannibals. Well, it’s not really that bad. (Mostly.) While the agents and editors who receive our query are NOT cannibals, (probably) our imagination runs wild the moment we hit “send” or slip that envelope in the slot, or wrestle with the postal worker when he tries to pry it from our death grip.
It’s a leap of faith.
We think we’re ready. Did we revise it a trillion times? Show it to our most trusted family members? Share it with our beta readers? Receive scorn, I mean, advice from our critique members? Get showered with praise from our cat? Did we read the guidelines on the agent site? Did we read the types of books that agent represented to make sure we were a good fit? Did we put our query through the same scrutiny as our manuscript?
Even if the answer for each one is YES,
It’s not a guarantee of anything.
Check my inbox, I’m weary.
Check my mailbox, it's scary.
Get a rejection, I may be teary.
(Depends on the rejection. The day. The agent. The editor.)
All the next day, I walk around dreary.
But deep inside, I always hold out a little hope.
I’ll check my phone messages:
Maybe, just maybe… a call.
What would that feel like?
One time I got a little envelope. My own SASE came back to me. Who sent me a rejection this time? It was actually a request for a full manuscript. So not all letters are rejections. Some agents and editors just love snail mail, I guess.
Most of my requests for partials and fulls have come via e-mail. So when I see that agent’s name under “New Messages” in my inbox, I can't help but have a little hope.
When the rejections have come after requests for partials and fulls, I deflate.
This time, I have a new manuscript.
I tell myself, this time will be different.
Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I had learning experience manuscripts. Then I had a manuscript that came at the wrong time. Now I hope I have the right manuscript.
What if I don’t?
How many times do I try?
While I want to write forever, I don’t want to query forever. I haven’t been at this very long, but long enough to know:
Writing, editing, querying, submitting -- each time…
Reading this post made me smile:
But then on Tuesday, I read another post. The author wrote the first idea -- one sentence -– thee years ago. Last year, in one month, she wrote the entire manuscript. Two months later she had an agent. Five months later, after an auction, she had a contract.
I have no idea how long she toiled as a writer. I have no right to be jealous. It’s not a race. Her success doesn’t mean my failure.
I remind myself some people never query. They write, revise, but they don’t submit. Yay for me because I’ve been brave. Their fear doesn’t mean my success.
Every agent site says the recipe for success is talent, hard work, and persistence.
Here are inspirational posts out there from yesterday when I considered giving up. (Are they clairvoyant?):
Then there’s sobering news via a post on self-publishing.
I’m obviously having a crisis of confidence. My last post, which had an excerpt from The Disappearances (now, The Mist Chasers) was a nice ego boost. I try not to self-sabotage with every complimentary comment left by thinking, Of course they write nice things. What else are they going to say? Instead of just enjoying the words, I liken the praise to my daughter’s statement, “You’re the best mom.” OBVIOUSLY I’m not the best mom. (Want a list of reasons?) But then I remind myself, when I leave comments on people’s writing I’m being sincere. Even if I don’t love everything about a person’s piece, I write what I do like. Why can’t I be as easy on myself as I am with other writers?
Because I want to be published. I love writing for the sake of writing, but I also want other people to read my writing. It’s my goal to be a good writer at worst, a great writer at best. Responses from my query seem like the ultimate assessment as to my writing savvy. Just because I’ve received rejections before, doesn’t mean it will be the same this time. Sending query submissions is like blowing on a dandelion and making a wish.
Writers, what is the query process like for you? How do you keep the faith?
Theresa Milstein, author of "Substitute Teacher's Saga".
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