Monday, November 5, 2012
Life on this Side of Publication: Part One- Playing the Query Game
For a while, I never thought I’d have a blog title like this, but it’s a blessing to be able to talk about life on ‘the other side’….
First, let me start with a recap of the past ten months.
I began sending query letters for my manuscript, A Heart Not Easily Broken, at the end of February. For those of you who have gone through that race, you know what a headache it can be. Its tries your patience, creates a crap load of self-doubt, and often you find yourself ready to throw in the towel. Rejection after rejection pops up in your email, leaving you afraid to even open it. Honestly, it’s hard to know what type of rejection letter is worse: standard form or one that has a little bit of a personal touch….either way, no is no.
I received both. It was disheartening to continue to have the standard forms instead of the ‘we don’t like it because…’ Who’s to say they even took the time to read the first line of the query letter you put your blood, sweat, and tears into writing? How easy is it to look at something, decide you don’t have time to read it or the genre itself is not what you’re looking to fill, hit the reply button, and copy/past a rejection letter? Heck, my 10-year-old can do that! Out of the 70+ query letters sent, only four took five minutes out of their day to give me an explanation as to why they didn’t ‘feel’ my story. For that I was grateful.
I know, it sounds weird, but hearing them say why they didn’t like it gave me the fuel I needed to make changes to the next query letter or the story itself and try again.
Patience. Persistence. The will to try again. (It makes a great mantra!)
Yes, I cried, had bad days, days filled with multiple rejections within hours of each other, as well as some that just flat out made me laugh. It’s a part of the process. (The one that made me laugh was not a form rejection, it pretty much said, “Um…no.”)
Then one day, I got it…the email from an agent that said, “I’d like to represent you…but….”
Yep, that’s right there was a but.
‘But’…your story was good (she requested to read the full manuscript), BUT, I don’t know how to market this. I can submit it here (not naming the publisher, but I will say it was only to the few publishers who focus on African-American authors), but you’ll have to REDUCE YOUR WORD COUNT and this part, (the catalyst to the life changing event, the heart of the story which is in the middle of the book), will have to be changed to the end so the hero comes riding in on white horse. (Therefore turning the novel into a typical romance story, following all the genre guidelines).
OR for your story to be submitted to the BIG SIX as Women’s Fiction novel, (which was what I wanted in the first place), you’ll have to add about 20,000 works (Not a problem!!!)….BUT…..You’ll have to change from 1st person to 3rd person…regardless of which publisher we submit to.
The Butterfly Memoirs was built on stories told in a first person narrative. Turning that to a third person would destroy the concept of the series and the one point I was unwilling to negotiate…ever.
I respectfully said, “No thank you.” And kept moving.
Did I have a moment of doubt in my decision? Of course! After all, an AGENT had not only expressed interest in my work, she’d also requested to read the full manuscript and liked it!
As an author seeking publication, you relish the idea of having a professional take a look at your work, and if you’re comfortable enough and are willing to be flexible - albeit to a degree - once you sign a contract, the publisher and editors will at some point suggest, or insist, changes be made to make the storyline better. (If you are in no way willing to be flexible and listen to what others have to say, don’t waste your time…self-publish. But understand it’s an editor’s job to streamline your work, not re-write it. If they feel the need to do that, then most likely they will not accept the job.) By no means am I telling you to give the publisher/editor reign over your work! It’s your baby, your heart and soul, but they know how to make it work best. If there is something you are not comfortable with in changing/deleting during the editing process, stick to your guns and find an amicable solution. If not, then be aware that publisher/agent/editor may not be the right one for you. Once the contract is signed, it’s like a marriage…all parties involved are looking to get the most out of the arrangement. Being stubborn or unreasonable can lead to divorce.
I will say this, even though I was unwilling to negotiate the change of POV in my writing, I did appreciate the suggestions the agent made and took from it what I was willing to work with, made the adjustments and continued to query.
Two months later, I was at a point where I realized no one would be willing to ‘break the rules’ of general romance writing and publish someone who not only wrote in 1st Person, but did it from multiple points of views while addressing a very sensitive subject. I was nearing the point of giving up. Several e-publishers had showed some promise by responding to the query and request a full read. But once they read it, the response was, ‘we don’t have time to put into supporting your project’.
What does THAT mean? They didn’t have the resources for an editor? They didn’t like the idea the story was a part of a series? They didn’t have the finances to market me? Of course no one gave specifics. Well, at least they replied.
Then one day I received an email from a very enthusiastic owner of an e-publisher whose acquiring editor had not only read the manuscript, she’d fallen in love with it. Was I available? My first question was of course, did I have to change to 3rd person. The answer: NO! Man do I love my publisher! Thank you 5 Prince Publishing!!!
As I said before, signing a contract with a publisher, whether big or small, is like a marriage. I am fortunate to be able to say my ‘marriage’ has been one of great benefit to all parties involved. I love my editor! June is a wonderful woman who has expressed as much love of this project as I have. She in no way has been hard to work with, is very supportive, and willing to listen to my questions and suggestions. She’s pointed out things in my manuscript that I, even as the author, missed completely, even after 4 years of re-writes! That is exactly how an editor/author relationship should be!
Stop by next week for part two of this blog: Life on This Side of Publication: Part Two - To Publication and Beyond!
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