Three years ago I sent a very carefully crafted email to a high profile Literary Agency accompanied by a file of my very half-baked manuscript.
Are you cringing with me?
I certainly did not know what I did not know back then and the truly embarrassing thing about that is the information was all out there. I wasn’t listening to writing/publishing podcasts, I wasn’t reading anything beyond Stephen King’s On Writing which is a great book but it’s not the be all and end all. I wasn’t informed. Put it this way, I was still telling myself I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing but Trad was my first choice.
Oh, my sweet Summer child…
At least I wasn’t asking that question ad nauseum in writing groups on Facebook but that was mostly because I hadn’t discovered writing groups on Facebook yet. Sigh.
So, I sent off my query letter and headed to the USA for a vacay. Upon arrival home I was felled by pneumonia. I lay on the sofa watching The Crown for about a week but I was checking my emails, waiting for a response from the dream agent who was going to love me and my book and propel us to international fame and fortune. Surely a Netflix special was in the offing? In my feverish dreams I ran through casting lists for all the characters.
By mid-March I’d given up my hopes of instant literary stardom and googled ‘self-publishing.’ Amazon seemed like a good idea and up it went, warts and all. And there were warts… Although a few family members had done some editing passes for me, my first eBook was an ugly duckling in need of tender loving care, a lick and a polish, and… oh god, that opening chapter is just not going to fly…
Cringe after cringe after cringe…
Flash forward to today and I still cringe at those silly, easily avoidable mistakes. I eventually received a standard No Thanks letter from the agency but by then I’d self-published and began to discover the whole indie community. Lordy, anyone who wants to self-publish and doesn’t listen to Joanna Penn’s podcast is just letting themselves down. There is so much information out there. I know why we all think our book is the next blockbuster but I don’t know why we think we have to reinvent the wheel!
I brought back more than pneumonia from that trip to the USA. I’d been mulling over a story about a young woman named Mimi who gets away with murder. The working title is Mimi Gets away with Murder but there’s no spoilers there. I had the basic plot but after an aborted landing in the mountains resulted in an unscheduled extra day in LA I found my setting. We took an Uber over to the Griffith Observatory and then walked through the hills and down to Los Feliz, wandering past the Greek Theatre, having lunch at Mess Hall, and loitering in Skylight Books. My protagonist Nicole lives in the inherited family home overshadowed by the Observatory, she runs a book store in a future where no one really buys books. Her sister, Mimi, the antagonist, the villain, murders her husband and, yes, you guessed it, gets away with it.
I pitched this story to an agent this week and she asked for the whole manuscript as soon as it’s ‘ready.’ I’m pretty chuffed about that but it’s the first hurdle and I don’t want to lay everything at the feet of this one opportunity. As one of my author buddies Kellie M Cox always says, we’re playing the long game here. Indie publishing is not or the weak-willed and the plan to wade into the sea of traditional publishing must be treated with the same respect. It would me moronic of me to think this agent is committed to this project in any way shape or form beyond offering to read the first few pages and see if it’s got legs.
It would also be moronic of me to go back to her with anything less than a readable story.
And if that doesn’t get me my damn Netflix special, I’ll keep trying!
Because that’s what you have to do in this business and basically any business out there. You keep throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if anything sticks and by spaghetti I mean writing stuff and by wall I mean readers, publishers, and agents. If you stop at the first splat of spaghetti you’re just not going to get anywhere.
I heard an interview with Derek Sivers recently (I think it was on the Productivityist podcast) and he went into detail about the follow up. Be Persistent but not annoying is his sage advice. mmmm, sage…. sage is great with spaghetti!
I wish I’d learnt this years ago.
In my business and work life I am good at following up. I once told a potential employer she would not regret hiring me and I got the job. She didn’t regret it one bit. But when it comes to my creative endeavours I wasn’t aware that we should follow up that gallery, or send another query in case it went to spam, or enter another competition after getting nowhere in the one and only one you entered…
I am very good at taking criticism and feedback and figured a ‘no’ meant ‘never.’
Sivers suggests following up the initial query three times if you haven’t heard back – if you’re certain the agent, publisher, gallery is right for your work. If you’re certain! Have you done your homework on that gallery or agent?
You don’t know if their ‘no comment’ means ‘no thanks,’ ‘not yet,’ of ‘we haven’t looked at your stuff yet.’ It can’t hurt to ask, as long as you’re professional and respectful. It’s good to eliminate all those grey areas. You might feel awkward the first time but awkward isn’t lethal.