Two years ago, I thought I had finished my novel. Boy, how wrong I was.
One ginormous life move across the pond later, I found myself attending a local writing group in my New Jersey town, eager to maintain the momentum I had built from the marvellous West London Writers’ Group. I soon discovered I wasn’t done. Not even close.
Sure, I had a sort-of nicely written story, but it made no sense. All those loose ends, forgotten characters and strange plots loops? Not tied.
So I made a brave decision: I would apply for an MFA in Creative Writing and complete my novel in my spare time. I’ve always wanted to do this prestigious, terminal Masters degree, but life somehow got in the way. Lo and behold, I got accepted on to Stonecoast, one of the best low residency degrees in the country. I was pumped and reassured that this would give me the kick up the rear-end I needed to finally finish editing my novel. I attended my first ‘residency’. It was an education. Award-winning faculty. Incredibly talented writers everywhere. And commitment. Eternal commitment to their craft. Every night since the residency, I have been coming home and writing. And editing. And writing some more. It’s taken hours, years of my life, but finally, I am thrilled to say I am done. I have a manuscript I am proud to disseminate out into the world.
I am well-versed in digital. Traditional publishing? Not so much. Over the past few months, I feel I have learned a great deal about publishing, and what it truly takes to sell your manuscript. Because of course, you’re not just selling your work. You’re selling yourself. That’s what querying is all about. I am not just querying agents, I #amquerying i.e. becoming the query, I am query/she is me – a very specific process involving a strange thing called a ‘query letter’ (a cover letter for your project) and a bafflingly long email to agents which includes your entire synopsis and a significant chunk of writing in the body copy. And then there are rejections. And waiting. And more rejections. And even more waiting. I KNOW my book is something special. I’m just after that magical connection, that relationship to make it more than special: it needs to be commercial.
Saying all this, it’s only been two days since I sent out my first query letter. I’ve received two rejections so far. I’m impatient! I want somebody to be like, OHMYGOD immediately. Realistically, the print publishing world moves at a snail’s pace. Realistically, I know that it is incredibly competitive and chances of finding that perfect match on first attempt are slim. I know that. I need to resume patience. And Zen.
So, it’s like a job search. It’s like dating. It’s like finding the perfect wedding dress. I know this game (I tried on over 100 wedding dresses before finding The One). I know the nerve and courage it takes to walk into an interview believing you are the best person in the room (I’ve never forgotten that advice from UK editor Mark Frith). But I’ve done that. I forged an amazing career. I met my amazing husband. You need to be fearless. This is a game. This is a business. The business of you, of selling yourself. You need to release your work out into the universe and let it fly, but be cognizant of the fact that I might not be for everyone. You need to believe in your work or else nobody else is going to. No room for doubt (although as writers we tend to have a lot of that). You need to take each rejection with a pinch of salt and move on. Because if you knock on enough doors, hard enough, and for long enough, one will open.