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March 28, 2003: How To Get Published, aka Hurry Up & Wait

November, 1999
I completed my first manuscript, a Western Historical called Forget Me Not. Wow, what hard work! And so much research! It took me over a year, but I learned a lot and it's the best book I knew how to write. I entered it in the RWA Golden Heart. It scored in the top 25%. Hey, not bad. I sent it off to many publishers and was rejected many times. Very discouraging. FMN was a really good book, I did my best, all my friends (said they) liked it. Why didn't it sell? Color me discouraged.

2000
I completed two books this year, a Western Historical called Promise Creek and a series tailored to Harlequin/Silhouette called Falling. They were both the best books I knew how to write. I entered both in the RWA Golden Heart and both scored in the top 25%. I submitted Falling to Harlequin, who rejected it. I submitted it to Silhouette, who rejected it. Okay, so what do I do with a manuscript written for the only line who publishes series books? Have I wasted six months on this book? Well, this is really discouraging.

I submitted Promise Creek to seven publishers, all of whom rejected it. The rejections were mostly form letters but a couple of editors complimented my writing as being polished and profesissional. I appreciate that, but it's not like having my name on a book cover. I wish I knew why they'd rejected it, then I'd know what to do or not do next time.

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2001
Haven't written a word in nearly a year. I'm very discouraged. I sit alone at the computer when the house needs to be cleaned, dinner needs to be made, the kids need help with their homework, the roses need to be pruned, whatever . . . and I write. And for what? To be rejected? To waste hour after hour for nothing? If I wanted to be ignored, I could just go back to high school and stand in the corner in my prettiest dress and my nicest smile, and not get asked to dance all over again. I know what rejection is . . . why am I trying to break into a business where hurt feeling and "no thanks" is the name of the game? What am I, nuts, or stupid, or both?

I went back and pulled out Forget Me Not and took a look at it. Oh my God. It's hideous! And that was my very best? No wonder it was rejected. The friends who read it are still my friends after I foisted this piece of garbage on them? God, what was I thinking? How embarrassing! I'm a terrible writer, a total loser . . . but . . . well, one thing I did notice was, my third book, Falling was much, much better than Forget Me Not. Hmm. Am I getting better? Could I eventually get good enough to publish? A very tiny, very low wattage light bulb, sort of like one a string hanging over a used car lot, way at the back and down behind the '62 Buick Dealer's Special weakly blinked on . . . ding! Well, if I stop writing now, I'll never get published, guaranteed.

Nora (Armstrong) had read my manuscripts. She said, "I know your voice, but it's not in these manuscripts. Where's your voice?" Robin (Uncapher) had also read my manuscripts. She said, "I know your humor, but it's not in these manuscripts. Where's your humor?" All righty then, sez I. Voice and Humor . . . for Nora and for Robin. One last shot. Here goes. I tore out all the stops and began writing Uppity Woman.

November, 2001
Time to enter this year's Golden Heart, or not. I could re-enter Promise Creek. I think with some re-work and using the knowledge I've gained over the last couple of years, it might get a higher score. But, will that get me published? Do I spend all that time and money on a contest, or would my hours be better served trying to get published?

Robin had once said that most published writers began by getting a good agent. I just wanted to write. I love to write. Love it, love it, love it. An agent would free me to write while she did the agent-stuff. So, I took Robin's very good advice to heart.

I prepared ten packages. I went onto the RWA website and found the list of accredited agents and printed it off. I picked the ten I thought sounded good by the descriptions of what they were looking for. In my packages, I included a synopsis and first three chapters of Promise Creek, a copy of my Purple Prose Parody entry, Parody In Death, and a one-page synopsis of the as-yet unfinished Uppity Woman along with the first fifty unpolished pages. I was hoping something in that pile would attract somebody's attention. I wrote the best cover letter I could think of and asked for an agent who would be my partner: I would do the writing and he/she would do the agenting and we would both benefit.

Over the next six months, one package was returned immediately - unknown address. Nine to go. Then, I got a request for a complete manuscript for UW, whenever it was done. He would wait. I sent him a thank-you card (Note to aspiring authors: Always send thank-you cards whether you are accepted or rejected. It's a courtesy, it's professional, and people remember). I told him it would be done and sent to him in March. I received responses from the other eight and discovered there were six agents altogether who wanted to read Uppity Woman when it was complete - and they were all willing to wait until it was done. Waaaaa-hoooooo!

March, 2002
Finished the manuscript and sent it off to the agents who had requested it. Time to keep my fingers crossed!

May 3, 2002
It's been two months. I'm getting stressed and anxious. I called the two agents I wanted the most. From their letters, I had gotten "feelings" about them. Can't explain it, I just felt it would be one of them. But neither had seen my manuscript yet; it was still on the pile, but each promised to move it to the top and take a look asap. Both were very nice and I was highly encouraged. Both said they'd get back to me within 2 weeks. I felt empowered. I had done something. I didn't feel like such a "victim" of the process. They were both very cordial, and I felt better knowing I had some kind of time-frame to work within.

May 4, 2002
I began working on my next book - a sequel to Uppity Woman. It's not going well. It's not Uppity Woman. I worry. I want UW back again. That book, I knew. Will this book be in the same tone as UW? Will it be good or am I going to write the same book over again? Got to make this one different; better; stronger. The first one wasn't a mistake. I have to prove that. My stomach is turning inside out. I am a hack. I can't do this. Oh why did I ever let it get this far?

May 13, 2002
One of the agents (Agent A) called me and said she was in the process of reading the manuscript and liked it very much so far. She'd get back to me. I was walking on air!

May 21, 2002
By this time, neither Agent A nor Agent B (the agent I had the strongest feeling about) had called me so I thought I'd wait out the rest of the day and first thing in the morning, I'd call Agent B to see if she had finished the ms and if she'd liked it. I had loved her letter to me. She was the only person who had ever responded to me who had actually taken the time to explain why she didn't want a manuscript (she had said not to send Promise Creek because Western Historicals just weren't selling right now. Bingo! This was information I could use! I loved her just for that one sentence alone.

May 22, 2002
7:30 a.m., Agent B called me! She loved the manuscript and she wanted to represent me! I was still in bed in my nightgown, but I didn't care. (I gripped the phone so hard, my biceps actually hurt when I tried to straighten my arm later.) We talked for a while and I realized Agent B and I would definitely be the best fit. Agent A hadn't called back yet, so I decided it must have been Fate.

Pam, aka Agent B (My New Agent!) asked me to send three completed manuscripts for Uppity Woman, plus a copy of Promise Creek, just in case. I spent the entire day printing out the manuscripts on my slower than molasses in January printer.

Then, I sent a thank-you email to Agent A telling her of my decision. She had been very kind and extremely nice to me. I wanted her to know that my decision was based solely on my conversation with Agent B and my "gut" feeling that Agent B and I were a good fit. I was surprised when Agent A answered my email and invited me to contact her again, should my relationship with Agent B fall through. I was very flattered and excited, too, that she had liked my work enough to want to represent me as well. My ten packages had garnered me two agents. All that hard work had paid off and I was deeeee-lighted!

May 28, 2002
Pam said she would be forwarding my manuscript to 3 publishers by the end of the week. After that, it would be a waiting game. It had taken me a year to write the book; I guess I could wait a few more weeks without going completely insane. Weeks? Ha! What did I know?

She also asked to see Falling, so I printed it off and sent it to her as well. I know it needs work, but I wanted to see what she thought of it. If she liked it, I could expand it to a single title romantic suspense (since Harlequin and Silhouette had rejected it, there was no place else to submit it so I had nothing to lose by reworking it). Pam now had all three of my "good" manuscripts: my entire inventory.

Attention unpublished writers: In writing, there is no wasted time. Anything you write and don't sell can be considered inventory. Hang on it to it. Someday, somebody may say to you, "Do you have anything else for me to see? What else have you written?" Then you'll realize all those "wasted" months/years/decades weren't wasted at all. Sure, some older stuff may/will need reworking (because you have gotten so much better), but you've got your first draft right there, sitting in your file folder, just waiting for your now more experienced fingers to make it into what you always knew it could be.

December, 2002
It's been seven months. No word. I haven't been rejected, but the editors haven't read it yet. This is so discouraging. So Pam called around. As a result, Editor X sent a brief note: Despite its "obvious merits" . . . and rejected it. Editor Y lost the manuscript, so Pam sent her another. Editor Z had it on her desk and promised to read it asap.

Pam was encouraging. We'll hear something right after the holidays. I'm sure of it.

Okay. After the holidays then. I feel stress and apprehension. What, if after all these months, both these editors reject my ms? Then the process begins again with three other editors. God, can my nerves stand this? I could have actually given birth to an actual baby I the time it's taken me to get this manuscript this far. Hell, I could have had 2 babies if you count the time it took me to write the thing and edit it! Thank god manuscripts aren't babies.

In the meantime, I've sent Pam 2 more copies for her to send out at the beginning of the year, just in case. She's so certain that UW will sell. If only I were so sure. It's wonderful to have her in my corner, making me feel like I really am part of the industry, maybe not on Broadway, as it were, but just off Broadway around the corner in somebody's basement waiting for the day I get my big break. If only some producer would come and sit and watch me perform, I'd be a hit, wouldn't I?

January 1, 2003
Pep talk, pep talk, pep talk. I feel like it's been Christmas Eve every day for over a year. My nerves are stretched pretty thin. The phone rings, and I jump. Every time. Okay, okay. It's just a matter of time. One way or the other, I'm bound to hear soon. Probably in January. If I'm rejected again, I'll cry; I know I will. If I'm accepted, I'll cry; I know I will, but it will be a much better class of tears.

It's been 13 months since I began The Great Agent Search and Manuscript Sales Effort. What's another month? Beside the fact that I thought I'd have a contract by now; beside the fact I'm not getting any younger; beside the fact I hate the book I'm working on now so much that I've re-written it three times and changed every character's name at least four times.

Write the book of your heart, they say. You write a good book, and it'll sell, they say. It's just a matter of time, they say. I wrote the book of my heart, but what if it's not the book of their heart? I wrote a good book, but what if nobody but me thinks so? I know it's only a matter of time, but how will I ever be able to make a living at this if it takes years to get just one book published? I'll turn old and gray while . . . wait, I'm already turning old and gray! Will this accelerate the process? Oh, no!

January 5, 2003
I just finished reading parts of "You Are Psychic!" by Pete A. Sanders, Jr. as research for a heroine I wanted to have who has psychic abilities. I think, What the hell? Why not see it if works? I settle back in my chair, close my eyes, and think - Show me the date on the calendar that I'm going to get The Call . . . the date my book sells. Instantly, I see February 13th. Well, it's a date on a calendar and it's this year. Fine then. Whatever. Like, right. Uh-huh. We'll see.

February 12, 2003
Got home from work. Logged on to check email. Picked up the phone at the same time. Dialed in for phone messages the same time email came up. Message from Pam on the phone; message from Pam on the email. "Good news," she says in both places. "Call me."

It . . . can . . . only . . . mean . . . one . . . thing.

My heart is jumping, racing, thumping, bumping. I can't find her phone number! God, where is that piece of paper that has her damned phone . . . ah, here it is. Stay calm. I call. I can hear the smile in her voice. She sounds just like my Nora. I love that about her. She says there's been an offer on my book. Avon wants to buy it.

Avon? THE Avon? Avon Avon? Like, what, Avon, you're saying? Avon. It sinks in. Wow, AAAAAAAVON!

After I begin breathing again, Pam gives me the details. There will be an advance, half of which will be paid on signing the contract, the other half on delivering an acceptable manuscript. The editor . . . "my" editor (I'll call her E.) . . . would like some changes. She'll put together a revision letter which I'll receive at the end of March. I'll then have until August to complete the changes. Uppity Woman isn't slated for publication until Fall of 2004. That's a little disappointing, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for it to get bumped up to an earlier date.

Our phone conversation ends, I sit and stare at my computer. I giggle, then I cry. Then I do both again.

I call my husband at work. Casually. I say, hey, what time'll you be home? He says six. I say, could you stop off at the store on your way home? He says, Sure, what for? I say, Because I need you to pick up a bottle of champagne. Dead. Silence. Then, Yesssssssss! He's laughing and giggling. I tell him everything. Later, when he gets home, he not only has champagne for us, he has a huge-huge-huge basket of orchids for me. My daughters each get home from school, I tell them, and they hug me and laugh and giggle. After two years of Christmas Eves, it's finally Christmas morning.

 

-- Marianne

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