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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 1

The die is cast. After about five years of writing, two years of editing, and three more of miscellaneous handwringing and acute analysis paralysis researching and pitching it and a couple of nonfiction experiments, my debut novel, the story that made me start writing in the first place, is at the printers.

My publisher gave me a deal no other could match and that I couldn’t refuse: a professional, ethical editor, a small promotional budget, roughly three to twelve dollars per copy directly to me, total and final authority over content and cover, and no advance. I guarantee you’ve never heard of the house, because it didn’t exist until last month. The name’s almost certainly meaningless to you, but I think it has a certain ring to it, and everyone who should knows what it’s about—Karcher Prince. I’m ignoring a certain amount of conventional wisdom with my marketing plan, but I think if you’ll just postpone dismissing me as another half-baked self-publisher waging jihad on the rain forest, you might find something of value in this series of posts.

Against the odds, I spent a great deal of time researching and querying roughly forty top agencies about my novel. The first ten or so were admittedly amateurish tell-fests, but the next ten or so were merely unacceptable by today’s standards, which is to say they were unique and honest. I’ve always longed to blend in and be cool with my wardrobe, hairstyles, and other material aspects of life, but I’ve never well tolerated forcible assimilation where affairs of the heart or mind are concerned. Nevertheless, I soon realized if I wanted my story set free into the world, I’d have to submit to a certain amount of monkey-do in how I pitched it to gatekeepers.

I thought of New York’s publishing machine as just another exclusive clique of cool kids, and if I wanted my writing to get a part of it, I was going to have to put some makeup on it, buy it some fashionable clothes, and make sure not to let it be seen getting out of my stodgy old Midwestern station wagon, no matter how unique or dependable—or that a 455 big block may lurk beneath the hood.

So with my next 20 queries or so, I sold out. I read blog after blog, accepted well-intended, on-target advice from dozens of other writers, and sent my writing to New York in various shades of mascara and blush, skinny jeans, and those fashionable high-waisted tunic things that honestly could make Jennifer Aniston look frumpy, but the cool kids were still just too smart for me. They must have seen through my fa├žade and realized mine doesn’t look much like the trendy writing that gets agents and contracts and advances and royalties these days. The unanimous crop of form rejects from my first, honest queries were soon in good company with a whole new bunch from my sellout queries, albeit garnished with a few kindly tailored notes, as if passed my way when the Alpha dogs weren’t watching.

In frustration, I took the holidays off from everything. I needed time to lick my wounds and decide what to do next. No posts, no status updates, no tweets, except with friends—one being agent intern, freelance editor, and cool-kid-clique double-agent Cassandra Marshall (@CA_Marshall), on whose shoulder I cried my virtual eyes out over the icy reception my unrequited love had received. Her advice, surreptitiously slipped into my hand in a dark hallway of Direct Messaging, was a blog post that purportedly sought to help writers discern if they've reached their limit and should give up on their dream. I read it several times…and wondered.

1 comment:

  1. Double agent sent me over wither her tweet. I'm excited to read more about your journey. Many of us are there right now and can def relate. :)


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