July 8, 2016 by Gregory Josephs
Irons in the Fire of my Thirty-Third Year
I’ve just completed another trip around the sun. Sometimes its hard to believe I’ve made that journey thirty-two times already. Sometimes I’m shocked its only been thirty-two. Indeed, these last two years I’ve accomplished so much. Its no wonder I’ve started wishing there were twenty-seven hours in a day. To briefly reflect, at thirty my husband and I pulled off a wedding and bought a condo. At thirty-one I finally finished TEORG. Now thirty-two is here and I am laser-focused at attaining one elusive, crowning achievement—
Its time to publish.
I’m ready—more ready than I’ve ever been. This is something I want, and this year its going to happen in one form or another. I’m not an aspiring writer anymore, and its time to begin cultivating an audience. I’ve done the work. The book is good, its just—
It turns out its way more complicated than I thought it was going to be. I’m not complaining about that—seeing TEORG in print is worth any amount of effort—but I’ve got to be realistic and recognize that this is going to be a long haul. So lets back up and I’ll tell you where I am at the moment.
I finished the second-ish draft of TEORG ahead of schedule at the end of May. I was pleased to find that as I worked closer to the end of the manuscript there was substantially less that needed deleting and/or altering. My rewrites got shorter and less frequent, and I am proud to say that the book reached a level where I am confident sharing it with members of the publishing industry. So great, right? I patted myself on the back and said, “Alright, lets sell this thing!”
From this point there were three avenues I could choose: Find an agent, find an editor, self publish. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three. Finding an agent subjects the manuscript to a further level of scrutiny, which may result in a better book. Also, agents open doors to bigger publishing houses and ultimately broker better deals, but as a result they take a portion of sales in perpetuity. Finding an editor directly at a publishing house cuts out the agent, but also restricts an author’s negotiating power. Editors (their title should be an indication) also subject a manuscript to intense scrutiny and work to shape a book into something even more beautiful, but finding the right one without an agent’s assistance can be difficult. Finally, self publishing has the highest per-sale return to an author, but potential issues with exposure and quality (no required intense scrutiny from industry professionals) are this method’s main disadvantages.
I’ve decided to start with the first option, and thats where I’ll be for a while. The thing is, there are a lot of literary agents, and their tastes are necessarily subjective. Thats a good thing! I want to work with someone who is as passionate about my project as I am. An agent whose feelings are lackluster about my work isn’t going to be as motivated to broker a great deal as someone who really connects with Ryan and his story, and wants to help polish it where needed. So through extensive research I compiled a list of about ten agents I really wanted to work with and thought, alright, how hard can this be?
It starts with a query letter, the purpose of which is to hook an agent, express what the project is, and entice them to read sample chapters (or even request the whole manuscript). What could be hard about that? Everything, as it turns out. I’ll admit I struggled with a hook. Brevity has never been my strong suit, and boiling down a 141,000 word manuscript into a couple exciting sentences was the most difficult thing I’ve done in a while. I got there though—
At its inception, my new adult LGBTQ novel The Education of Ryan Gregori is a story about a loser.
I think its a bold assertion. Of course, I don’t mean loser in the obvious sense. The finished query letter went on to explain that in this context loser means someone who experiences loss. Pieces started coming together, and finally I was pretty pleased with the result. Done, right? Send it off and see who bites.
My next great challenge—one I am still smarting from—was the novel synopsis. Many agents want a full synopsis that summarizes the main plot points and gives away the ending. Okay, no big deal, except that most agents want it to be between one and three double-spaced pages. Again, with brevity not being my strong suit this posed an almost insurmountable challenge. It took about two weeks to write a 900 word synopsis, and its still probably too long, but I just can’t whittle it down any further. Some characters had to be excluded from the synopsis altogether, and the meaty middle of the book got reduced to three short paragraphs.
Ultimately I was triumphant, and by the end of June I’d sent a total of nine queries.
Two agents responded within twenty-four hours—both rejections. My favorite so far told me that, while the project sounded perfect for her, due to its length and my lack of writing experience she had to say no. That letter was soul crushing, confusing, uplifting and motivating all at the same time. While I was disappointed to hear that my status as an unpublished author and the length of my book disqualified me from her representation, I was encouraged that maybe the hook did its job.
Time will tell.
Thats the next element. Time. Now I’m just in a long, long waiting game. Most agents take six to twelve weeks to respond to queries, if they respond at all. So now I’m kind of in limbo until the end of September? This shall be an extraordinary exercise in patience. I’ve been manically checking my email every five minutes for the last two weeks. While I’m disappointed every time I don’t see a response, I also reassure myself that maybe that means they’re still thinking about it. No response is better than a no response, right?
So what now? What to do while I wait? Well—
Its time to put more irons in the fire of my thirty-third year. The goal is to publish, and while TEORG is the grand prize, its not a bad idea for me to try to build a publishing resumé in other ways as well. To that end I took the time yesterday to submit a short story to a magazine. That’ll be a three month wait as well. I’ve got eight letters out there in total, and I’ll keep writing them. I’ll keep sending them. I’ve got 364 more days to accomplish this goal, and I refuse to consider failure as an option.
So I’ll be writing more. More short stories, more poetry, more blog posts, and more queries. I’m going to hammer away at this relentlessly. I’m going to break through somewhere. And by the time I complete my thirty-third trip around the sun?
By then I’ll have won.