Posted on July 9, 2021
TL;DR: The nature of submitting your work has changed a lot and I now have very little understanding of how it’s supposed to work. Fun!
My first novel got accepted for publication at Everest House after I submitted it directly to the legendary editor Bill Thompson who had discovered Stephen King and John Grisham
First hard lesson about the publishing industry: getting a publishing contract doesn’t mean your book will ever see the light of day. It’s the first step in a process where a hundred things can go wrong.
But the important point here is that back then writers submitted manuscripts “over the transom” directly to editors at publishing houses. Only super duper best selling authors had agents at that time.
It wasn’t until the publishing houses sought to outsource that responsibility agents began taking on the sole responsibility as gatekeeper/filter to the industry.
Even then, the process wasn’t that different. Instead of hunting down editors in your annual Bible-sized most expensive purchase, Writer’s Market, you looked for agents in the same book. If you had something flashy and cinematic, you sent it to California. More literary aspirations were sent to New York.
My first agent was a Hollywood sharpy who talked a lot, never read a thing, and only submitted my book to producers, a class of executives most noted for not even reading screenplays, much less books.
My next agent was NY-adjacent. It was a good experience but it didn’t yield success. After that, I submitted directly to Poisoned Pen Press and got extremely close, being pushed off the list by another book of similar content written by a more well known name.
And then something happened in the industry that I still don’t fully comprehend. It was as if every single person in North America, no matter their talent, drive, or grasp of grammar, decided they wanted to publish a novel.
A whole cottage industry sprang up to support these sometimes deluded wannabe novelists who, somehow, have $1,000 to pay for private editing. The result being there are now more literary agents than there used to be authors.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Generally, more choice is better, and many niche books would never have made it to press not that long ago. The problem is my mindset of sending out ten carefully chosen query letters and moving on to the next project when they all got rejected.
I didn’t even realize this until recently when an agent I follow on Twitter started the 50 Queries Club, newsletter content for writers who’ve had a query reject FIFTY times.
I never even thought fifty was possible. When she said we should send in our queries that had fifty rejections, I thought she meant it metaphorically. Like 50 = “a lot”. Now that I look into it, writer after writer talks about being reject fifty, sixty, even a hundred times before finding the right fit.
I’ve been wasting my time (JK!) writing when I should have been marketing. So this summer is going to be dedicated to marketing the content I already have. I’ll let you know when I get to fifty rejections.