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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Writing is an Endurance Sport

I wrote the following as a guest blog post for another site back in 2012. This subject popped up elsewhere recently (or continuously?) so tracked down the old post and am updating it here. (NOTE: only a week ago, I said this blog was going on hiatus. I lied.)

Writing is an endurance sport. That's been my mantra for the past few weeks yearsTwo months ago, Back when I first started querying my latest novel, Ye Gods! (titled Chupacabra at the time) I received a request from an agent for the full manuscript of my current novel, Chupacabra and I've been patiently waiting I waited patiently for two months to hear back. Patience may be a virtue but it isn't one of mine. I refrained from sending daily emails, but just barely. I did send a friendly note after six weeks and got a prompt reply that I was next in the pile.

This week, Finally, I received the "thanks, but no thanks" letter. The agent took the time to tell me what she liked and what wasn't working for her. Enough worked that she read the entire ms, but overall, something missed the mark. [Insert the sound you associate with a crumpling ego and dashed dreams here.] 

What's a poor author to do when, after spending months, even years writing and editing and polishing, an agent says "no" to their masterpiece? Not so long ago, the options were to persevere or give up.

But this is a new age in publishing; the options have expanded. Authors who have put in the thankless hours of finishing a novel (that itself is a huge accomplishment) no longer need face the demoralizing anguish of being told, "It's just not good enough." Instead, they can rail against literary agents for "not getting it," rant about "the gatekeepers," and justify their own work with, "I've read books that are worse than mine." Then they can run their ms through spell-checker and immediately proceed to the self-publishing option of their choice and send their book out into the world, ready or not.

I have that option, but I'm not going to take it. Writing is an endurance sport. There's more work to do before I reach the finish line and a marathon runner can't take a short cut and still win the race. Or, if they do, the win will be fleeting. Just ask Rosie Ruiz.

I also have the option to look for small publishers, as I did with my first novel, Marina Melee. For new writers, small publishers offer a great way to break into the publishing world. My publisher, Casperian Books, is easy to work with, provides valuable services like layout, cover art, press releases, and help with marketing that I wouldn't have had I self-pubbed. So why not go with them again? Because with their help I've learned a lot about selling books and I've grown as a writer. I'm now better prepared to approach agents and offer them more than just another manuscript in the slush pile: experience, and an appreciation for what they do.
Update: I'd given myself 1 year to query. I received four requests for the partial or full manuscript and lots of helpful feedback and encouragement, but no takers. In total, querying and waiting to hear back from those agents, I waited 18 months before deciding to approach Casperian Books again, and that's where it found its home. It took another 14 months to go through the editing and design process, develop the marketing materials, and get in the queue to be released. Ye Gods! came out in April 2014.

I'm now working on the sequel to Ye Gods!, The Un-Familiar. Because it's a sequel, I suspect an agent would be hesitant to pick it up, so I will again query Casperian. (I know that just because they published me once is no guarantee they'll keep publishing my books. I have to give them a quality product that they can sell!)

It took one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, eight years between deciding to become a writer and selling his first book, Practical Demon Keeping.  He spent a year writing it, and almost another whole year polishing and editing before it sold. His persistence paid off. True, that was before the advent of easy, cheap self-publishing, but, would he have chosen that path had it been available? "I can't imagine marketing a book without an agent. I'm doing this to write, not to be a salesman. I left being a salesman to write books, so I'm happy to have someone to do the selling" (click here for more). Sounds like a no to me.

Moore's Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove sat on the desk next to me and motivated me while I wrote Chupacabra. His writing inspires me and his words in this interview even more so. I'm in this to write and I'm in for the long haul. As tempting as it might be to self-publish the current, pretty good version of Chupacabra, I'll get back to polishing, I'll work on the areas the agent suggested, and the story will be even better. When I do find an agent, with their help, it'll get better still. Update: so glad I went with Casperian Books. Despite many, many rounds of rewriting, revising, running through a critique group and beta-readers, self-editing, and hiring an editor, their editor found additional errors and recommended other helpful changes.

Am I missing an opportunity by not considering self-publishing? Maybe. But I think it's for an even better one somewhere down the road. Being a novelist isn't a sprint, it's an endurance sport. That takes patience and persistence. While I'm not known for the former, I have the latter in spades.

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