So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday. Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me. Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction. I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult. Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.
I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay. I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little. I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist. In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me. The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk. It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience. But how can you get experience if no one hires you? The writing business is much the same way. This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.
Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives. This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure. Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about. The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging. In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.” In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice. After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks. And,of course, the New York agent.
So, what is the next step? From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story. If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise. But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law. They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market. Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not. So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.
From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published. After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it. I’m not going to do that. If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?” This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak. Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to the gut in this business. Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.” So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough. This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition.
I am lucky. I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work. These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating. So, I will let myself feel this. I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now. If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can. But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write… so that’s what I’ll be doing.