A few years ago I decided to stop talking about writing a book and actually wrote one. If you had asked me before writing it what I thought the hardest part of the process would be, I’d have told you the physical, butt-in-chair, writing of it. Turns out I was wrong. For me, that was the easy part. Then I might have said that the endless editing and rewriting was surely the hardest part, but once again I’d have been wrong. The hardest part of this entire process, the part that makes me feel like I’m trying to pound my head through a wall a foot thick is the effort to get it published, the selling of it, not like art, but like a cheap commodity that needs a witty sales pitch, a wide demographic and a catchy jingle.
As many writers do, I wrongly believed in the fairy tale of “if you write it, the publishers will come” but I’ve learned the hard way over the past couple of years that that is about as true as the tale of Whitey Cheekum and the Golden Booger (trust me, you don’t want to know). The trouble is that the sheer amount of bad literature being produced is staggering, and the path to publication passes beneath the watchful eyes of the gatekeepers: the literary agents. An agent has to sift through a wasteland of dreck to uncover those one or two manuscripts that will hopefully, one day, find their way to publication, bookstore shelves, and at long last into the readers’ hands. The problem is convincing someone that you alone, out of the multitude, are that gem.
The volume of manuscripts these agents have to sort their way through requires them to streamline the way they separate the wheat from the chaff. One of the ways this is achieved is through the query letter: a brief one page summation of your book that must be sufficiently clever, literate, and interesting to convince an agent in seconds that your book is worth reading. This is often compared to what you might read on the inside jacket cover of a book. Sounds easy. Trust me, it is anything but.
Even if you manage to craft the perfect query letter, your book is still a long way from sold. If an agent is interested he might request your first five pages, or first chapter or some other sampling of your work. Based on that, more might be requested, representation might be offered, or more likely, you’ll just receive a polite “No Thanks” in a form letter.
That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past couple of years and it is unbelievably frustrating and depressing. To date I’ve sent out somewhere around forty letters to forty different agents and have been rejected by them all, most with the dreaded form letters. A few have sent encouraging notes and a few have requested to read more but eventually they all turned me down.
The last round of submissions and rewrites left me emotionally and mentally exhausted and I haven’t had the gumption to get in the ring again for several months. Now, I’ve heard time and time again that you have to simply keep plugging away at it, and I intend to. The Rabbit Room was envisioned as a forum to discuss stories and I’m going to use it to do just that. I’m going to get back in the ring and start the process again. I’m going to blog my progress (or lack thereof) here on the Rabbit Room. Hopefully, some of you will find it of interest and maybe even learn a thing or two and hopefully, it will hold me accountable and force me to stick with it.
The first thing I am going to do is dig out my old query letter and see how it’s aged. I’ll post it here once I’ve located it and we’ll take it from there.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.