It's been an interesting summer.
In early May I turned in the "first draft" of my second adult novel. "First draft" is in quotes because I've rewritten it more times than I can count but this is the first time my agent is seeing it, so for all intents and purposes it's considered a first draft. There will be many, many more drafts to follow.
My expectations were high when I turned it in. This draft took me nine years to write, mainly because I was raising twins and writing wasn't my biggest priority. Still, I worked on it consistently. I adored my main character. I was certain my writing skills had reached a whole new level. Except for showing a scene or two to a few friends, I kept it all to myself. Finally being able to hand in the finished draft to my agent left me euphoric. It was like keeping a secret for nine years and finally being able to share it with someone.
As many of you already know, submitting an unsolicited manuscript and waiting to hear back is tough. You throw your work out into the void and wait...and wait...and wait. Believe me--the wait doesn't get any easier even after you sign on with an agent. Conventional wisdom says that you need to dive immediately into another writing project to take your mind off of the wait. I knew this, but purposely ignored it. It was party time. I caught up with friends. I went out for lunch. I read. I cooked. I spent time with my family. I enjoyed my freedom. I didn't write a thing.
A month went by, then two. Then the crazy started to settle in. I constantly checked my phone, my email. Why wasn't he calling? It could have been any number of reasons: Book Expo America....a heavy work load...summer vacation (after all, the publishing industry switches to a four-day week from Memorial Day to Labor Day). I used to work at an agency as an assistant and I know how hard agents work and how long it can take to hear back...and yet I felt like I was a teenager all over again, waiting for a boy to call.
|Did I do something wrong? OMG do you think he hates me?|
When my agent finally got back to me, the news wasn't what I wanted to hear. He loved my writing, but he didn't love the book--at least not the way I did. Even though I've worked to toughen my hide, I took it hard. Really hard. I was baffled. I thought this was the best work I'd ever done--how could he not agree? I tried to write something new but my well had run completely dry.
After I had a little time to digest the news, my agent and I had a long conversation about the manuscript. I was afraid we wouldn't agree on some major elements, but I kept an open mind. It turns out, everything he said was right on the money. I was blown away by his skill as a reader. The changes he proposed had the potential to crack the story wide open and make it so much better and weren't nearly as daunting as I thought they were going to be. Instead of nursing my hurt ego, I turned my energy toward creating the best story I could.
There was so much I took away from this experience:
1) Communicate. If your agent is taking a wee bit too long to respond, don't be afraid to reach out with an email (this only applies to those who are already signed with an agent--if you've submitted a manuscript on spec it's better to sit tight and wait to be contacted). It turns out that my agent was inundated with manuscripts from many of his clients at the same time. Had I known this, I would have done a better job of keeping the crazy at bay. I communicated this to him and he apologized for not telling me why there was a delay. Don't be afraid to politely let your agent know what you need!
2) Don't freak out until you have all the facts. This applies to all things in life. Often the scenario in our heads is worse than reality.
3) Publishing might be even harder than I thought. Even if your agent loves your first book, there's no guarantee that he'll love everything you ever do. Even if you've been accepted by a major publisher there's no guarantee that you'll ever be published again. Even if you've kind of made it (heck, I had a great review in The New York Times! My book was on CBS's Sunday Morning!) there's never a point when you can sit back and relax--the battle is continuous and uphill all the way. Which is actually kind of a good thing, I suppose. It keeps us from getting lazy.
4) Appreciate every little bit of success that comes your way. I've always appreciated my success, but maybe I didn't appreciate that luck played a part, too. Will luck come my way again? I hope so. All I know is that I'm going to work hard to be prepared should it decide to make another appearance.