Today I am my own featured essay, but not my own grandpa.
There are rumors among us younger writers of a time when all a writer had to do to be successful was write and some savvy editor at a publishing house would find you scribbling on a bus or subway, recognize the talent oozing off you like stink lines, huddle you under his wing and say "Kid, I'm gonna make you somebody. Stick with me." And the wide-eyed, trusting writer would spend even more time in front of their Underwood, food crusted to their t-shirt, a fog of cigarette smoke encircling their head, being sloppy about punctuation and knowing that a little plot confusion or flat character development was no big deal. The editor would take care of that, would fold the writer's creases into smooth, public-worthy lines. These editors of lore took raw material and helped shape it into perfection.
Rumors are dangerous.
I embarked on the long, lonely road to publishing my novels at the age of 21 with visions of being ushered just like that down a special corridor to fame once somebody recognized my talent. I celebrated each small 'zine publication, each public reading in dank watering holes where confessional poets and performance beat artists and I shared the stage because surely, surely, that moment of discovery was just around the bend. I have been writing, after all, since the age of seven. And there's all that talk about how persistence pays off. I was persisting, wasn't I? I wrote a novel. I rewrote it. I sent it out for feedback. I scrapped it and rewrote it from scratch until I was sure I had it "right." But how to get this precious thing out into the world? How to get it under the eyes of those who would rocket me to fame and fortune?
Fate had my back. Fliers turned up at just the right time in my mailbox. A writing conference! I attended the Mendocino Writer's Conference on a scholarship. This was good. Scholarships come to those who are Worthy of Being Published right? There I met literary agents.
Let me detour for just a second for the non-writers among you: When trying to explain to non-writers and family members how one gets published, there is always a need to explain about The Literary Agent. "Do not be fooled," I tell my family "that this title means someone who fosters literary pursuits, or even someone who believes in literature (many do, but not all!). Think more of the agents in the Matrix movies. The agent is the formal go-between, spawned to stand between writer and publisher, created to navigate the world of contracts and business-speak. It means for the writer that she need be less savvy, less worried about the fine print, but it also means, no more sloppy punctuation or haphazard plot lines. Your agent demands a finished manuscript. And publishers demand that writers have agents."
So, back to the conference: there I was, Meeting Literary Agents, pitching a 350 page novel in a five second breath to a hurried agent as we walked from workshop to workshop. "Sounds interesting," she said. "Send me a sample."
So of course, I sent her the requisite query letter and sample chapters. I was So Sure this would be That Moment when my fame arrived. I could almost see the warm down of her wing as she stretched it open to usher me into it. We were going to be best pals. She was going to love every word that dribbled out of my pen and champion me to the stars. Fast train to publishing here I come!
Eight months later I got an apologetic rejection. I quickly become more realistic, but no less persistent.
I wrote another novel. And another. And rewrote them. Polished them. Bled myself dry, stopped speaking to my loved ones, holed myself up and away from humanity while I finished my novels.
Then I scrapped the clunky, first attempt query letter that had garnered me a rejection on my first novel. This time I spent nearly as much time writing a stellar query letter as I had my novels, and I simply did…not…give…up.
Like the writer Albert Camus said, novel writing requires "a daily fidelity." But so does submitting and agent seeking and the long, lonely road to publication.
The result is that I got an agent and a few long months of yearning ever more fervently for glory that alas, has yet to arrive.
Said agent and I did not have successful sales, therefore parted ways amicably and I'm back in that whirlpool of seeking an agent. There will be more to this story!