Thursday, February 2, 2012

An Old-Fashioned Girl

That's me. When I was little my favorite TV show was Little House on the Prairie. Being named Laura, with long brown hair, you can guess who I wanted to be. As a young teenager, I fell in love with Victoria Holt and her Gothic 19th-century-set novels about governesses in remote English castles with ghosts and handsome, but misunderstood, owners. In later teen years I fell in love with British history and devoured stories and biographies spanning the medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian age.

Not that I really wanted to live in those worlds--not once I was old enough to understand that 'quaint' is another word for 'no indoor plumbing, or heat, or bathing more than once a week (or month).' I just liked to inhabit them from the comfort of my soft bed, with a cold Diet Coke at hand.

However, in some ways I remain staunchly old-fashioned.

Take the world of agents and publishing.

Everywhere you look in the book world today are stories about e-publishing stars. Amanda Hocking self-published on Amazon and sold so many books that now she has a significant six-figure deal with a major New York publisher. I'm impressed. Primarily because I would never have made it if that had been my only option.

Not that finding an agent was easy. I got mine the old-fashioned way: through lots of queries and lots of rejects. I got form rejects and silence. I got boxes checked as to why my manuscript was being rejected. I got the (very) occasional note of what could almost be called encouragement. I got the (even more) occasional request to see more. Which generally led to a rejection further down the line. All but one of these queries was cold--meaning I did my research as to which agents repped the genre I was writing, then carefully followed instructions for sending my query. Not one agent that I queried had I ever met at a conference.

Then an agent read my query and ten pages and asked to see fifty pages. After the fifty pages, she asked to see the entire manuscript. After reading the full, she told me what she liked and didn't like and said if I was interested in rewriting she'd look at it again. I rewrote for her three times before she offered to take me on, eight months after I'd sent the initial query.

Slow, yes. Frustrating, absolutely. Worth it? Without question. Here's why:

1. I'm lazy. If I had to self-publish and self-market in order to feed my family, they would starve. Even more then they already do. I want someone to send out my work and deal with the initial rejections. I want someone to intervene if I'm in disagreement with an editor. I want someone to send me my tax form at the end of year. If she would come make my ten-year-old do his homework on time, I'd pay her considerably more than 15%.

2. I'm insecure. There's nothing like having someone say, "I love this book! I want to sell it for you" to boost confidence. I like having someone wholly on my side, who wants me to succeed as much as I do.

3. I'm imperfect. No matter how many flashes of ego-induced pride I might feel while writing, I well know that my books get better with revisions. And though some writers might be able to see clearly what the problems are in a story, I'm not one of them. Sure, sometimes the comments I get are ones that have crossed my mind, but even then there's something creatively motivating about having someone professional say "This isn't working." I love that my agent isn't going to let me send out a book that isn't ready. It's a safety net that I find invaluable.

4. I'm new. I don't have a big name, I don't have any previous publishing credits, and I don't have any contacts in the literary world (besides buying lots of books.) I guarantee that I would never have gotten the deal I did last summer without an agent--certainly I wouldn't have sold a trilogy.

So congratulations to Amanda Hocking and all those brave souls who do the all work of writing and publishing and marketing solo. It's quite possible you are the future.

But me? I'm happy living in my old-fashioned world.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Laura, and one I can totally relate to--well at least as far as why I want an agent and how I feel a lot of the time.