The true joy of writing a book is the daily routine of sitting down and writing. The process of creating something out of nothing is magical. For me, that’s been the most rewarding part of the journey.
The worst part has been trying to get my book published. This part of the journey has been a nightmare akin to Martin Sheen’s trip upriver in the movie Apocalypse Now.
I began by going to the reference work the Writer’s Market. You can find it in any library. It lists all of the publishers of books and magazines in the U.S. and Canada. It also lists a large number of literary agents. I went through The Writer’s Market and made a list of all of the publishers interested in historical fiction, and quickly learned my particular genre is not exactly highly in demand. Seems there are a lot more publishers out there looking for gay/lesbian themed books, cookbooks and ‘how-to’ books than they are fictional novels about ancient Greece. When I was done I had a list of about a dozen publishers, not one of whom I’d ever heard of before. All were small presses who typically publish 1-5 books a year. It seems all of the big, recognizable publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins do not take unsolicited manuscripts. They only work through agents.
Having met someone who published through a small unknown publisher, and who ended up with no support and a second rate looking book, I determined right away that I wanted to get to a well known publisher. I needed an agent. Where to begin?
On the author Bernard Cornwell’s web site is an active forum where readers can post comments and questions. Atop the forum Cornwell asks readers not to send him their own writing, unless it’s been published, in which case, he invites readers to send him their books. He also states that if you are in the process of trying to get published, he was willing to help and could suggest a reputable agent. So I began by emailing Cornwell. His personal assistant replied giving me the name of an agent in New York City that works at a large, well respected agency called The Writers House. I followed the instructions on The Writers House web site by sending them a 1-page query letter.
Ah, the infamous query letter. Agents are such busy people, they don’t have time to read through dozens of manuscripts, so they ask that you to mail them a query letter first. In one sheet of paper, you have to explain why anyone on the planet would want to read a book you’ve written and give a quick synopsis of your story. Knowing no one would ever look at my book unless I came up with a good query letter I spent a month writing and re-writing my letter, selling myself, my idea and what felt like my soul. I sent it off to The Writers House and to my surprise I received a one sentence email from the agent’s personal assistant (doesn’t anyone in the book industry reply to their own mail?) stating that they were very intrigued by my idea and to email them my book ASAP. Which I did. And then began waiting and waiting and waiting…
The Writers House web site asks you to be patient, explaining they’re very busy people, so you might not hear back from the for 8-9 weeks. I waited 10 weeks then sent an email to the agent and his personal assistant, apologizing for writing to them, and explaining that I was eager to hear what they thought of The Wandering King. I received a quick reply from the agent saying, sorry, but he was very busy working with authors who made him money and sad to say, he’d completely forgotten about me and my book. He promised to read The Wandering King and get back to me in two weeks. In about a week’s time I heard once more from his personal assistant saying that although they were impressed by the amount of research I’d done and by my writing ability, they just weren’t ‘feeling’ my main character.
So after almost four months of waiting, I’d been rejected after what I thought was a promising reaction to my query letter. Picking myself up off the floor, I wrote back to the agent’s assistant and asked him if he had any suggestions on where I might go next. He replied telling me to try the Publishers Marketplace, a site devoted to agents, publishers and writers. I went through the site, picked out five agencies who stated they were interested in publishing historical fiction and sent my query letter off to them, only to be rejected by three of them – two never even bothered to reply.
I keep telling myself plenty of successful authors, Joseph Heller, William Faulkner, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling among them, were rejected before getting their books published. William Golding’s classic The Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers, one of whom wrote to him, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy that was rubbish and dull.” Still, my first foray into the world of book publishing was pretty deflating.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Stay tuned.