Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Out of the Slush Pile and Into the (Revision) Fire


So I am working with an agent. I do. Why, you ask? Who did I know? What convention did I attend? What childhood friend moved to NYC and interned at The Venerable House of Old Letters? Nobody. Nothing. Nada.

I wrote a story. Let's call it MS#1. I read up on how to query and how not to query. Heart in throat, I emailed out a batch of queries, all to agents who required only the query letter. Two hundred and fifty words about the 100,000 page story I'd written and fallen in love with. I started another story, we'll call it MS#2, snagging a supporting character who wouldn't leave my head and throwing him at another character who, if I ever give her the plot she deserves, will rule the goddamn world. I started blogging. I got chummy with peeps on forums. I got responses to each and every query. Rejections all.

I thought I was going to be sick. I read about how famous Mr. So and So got 100 rejections before he sold his first story and now he's sold a trillion and two books, and movies have been made about the making of movies based on his stories. I read posts on forums from aspiring writers logging their twentieth, fiftieth, hundredth rejection. Or from people who bowed out after two rejections. I shrugged and trudged on.

I spent almost two weeks writing a fucking synopsis. I realized that it was difficult, in part, because MS#1 had some serious deficiencies in ye olde plot. I spent two weeks rewriting and ended up cutting 10,000 words. I spent another week rewriting the synopsis and fiddling with the story. I sent out another batch of queries. I got a request for a partial manuscript (first 50 pages) and a full. With a big, fat smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, I sent them out. The partial and full ended with rejections.

I felt like someone had pulled my heart out, Temple of Doom style, stomped on it, and shoved it back into my chest, dirty and flat and upside down. Friends and family asked how it was going, and I wanted to punch them in the face. I was halfway through my second story and couldn't figure out the next word. The characters stood there, holding hands and staring at me with expectation.

I fiddled with MS#1 and sent out another batch of queries. I think I got two requests for partials. I didn't even care. I outlined -aha!- MS#3 and put together what I thought was a tight plot. I snatched a couple of nebulous characters out of the air and tossed them into it. I filed a rejection on one of the partial requests without hardly looking at it.

I completed MS#3 and it was woefully short, coming in around 65,000 words. I fleshed it out. I sent it to a BETA reader. The BETA reader ignored me and continued to solicit manuscripts to read from other people. I found another BETA reader and sent it to me. She told me there were some things wrong with the plot, but that I should probably query and see if some agent out there might want to help me correct those things. I put MS#3 in a dark drawer so that it could think about the bad things it had done. I went back to MS#2 and tore it to shreds, scrapping 40,000 words and starting over. It was better, but I still ground to a halt in the middle.

I pulled MS#3 out. It was looking pretty good. I rewrote, and added about 15,000 words. I sent out a batch of queries. My heart wasn't in my throat, but I could feel it beating. Within three days I had three requests for full manuscripts and a request for a partial. Holy Fucking Shit, I thought - except it was in ALL CAPS - this is it. I sent them off. Three rejections within the next three days, including one agent (the partial requester) to whom I will always be grateful, who said: you seem to have some problems with the plot. And then, miracle of miracles, he pointed to two places and said "here" and "here".

A light went off. I rewrote like a madman. I tore through that manuscript like it owed me something precious. Something essential. I sent off another round of queries and resubmitted to the agent who'd taken the time to point (he said I could, FYI). I got two requests for partials. I sent off one. The other required an exclusive and I told him I'd send if all the others declined.

On Thursday, July 1st, I got a request for a full from Susannah Taylor of the Richard Henshaw Group. I emailed it. On Monday the 5th (the Monday on which Independence Day was observed) Susannah emailed asking when I might be free to talk. I gave her my schedule for the next few days and went hiking. It rained, and there were signs of bear in the woods. We changed clothes and ate sushi. My stomach felt fluttery. Susannah called on our way back from sushi. She said "I loved it"...

I have some work to do before we can submit. A lot of work, to be honest. But I feel like I have an excellent guide. We'll see. Maybe I'll soon be able to write an "out of the fire and onto the shelves" post.

LISTENING TO: Margot and the Nuclear So & So's


  1. hillary, that's awesome!!!! thank you for sharing your frustrations and your happy ending. it gives the rest of us hope :)

  2. Wow! I nearly peed my pants, I thought you'd been watching me in my writing um, we'll call it progress. I'm just missing out on the agent/contract part :( Congrats on your breakthrough, can't wait to be on that side of the fence too! :D

  3. Thanks! I didn't mean for the post to be so long and tedious, but looking back I'm amazed that I had the fortitude to keep going. And my process was actually pretty quick (owing, I suspect, in part to my unemployment for a few months of that).

    So, miles yet to go, but I hope this encourages others...it can happen for you, too1

  4. And that "1" was supposed to be an exclamation point, but I've been too many hours on the computer and my strength is apparently waning.