Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Become a Novelist, or My Experience Anyway

Ever wonder just how a novelist goes about being one? Read on.

I read an article once called, "The 24 steps to Publishing a Novel," and here's how it goes.

The very FIRST step is getting an agent. Then it leads you to the last step which is your novel coming out. However, what they didn't tell you is that there's about 50 steps you take BEFORE you even get an agent (and you have to HAVE to have an agent these days unless you want to "self-publish" known as "vanity publish" like a granny).

Firstly, you must write like a bandit before even trying to get an agent, like, writing thousands of practice pages (that no one should ever read except your best friend, mom and you), and that might mean, you have to write a few, yes, more than ONE, finished novels, and then learn how to REVISE them, (two things they don't teach you in any college). And well, you should probably spend 10 years studying novels in college, too. LOL. Then, after you do all that writing/studying , then you're ready to submit to an agent.

But what the article doesn't tell you is that's VERY hard. Agents on their sites will tell you this: 1. they reject 99% of all manuscripts each month and 2. they get anywhere from 400-5,000 submissions per month.

Yup. Crazy, huh? Also, you just don't send out ten letters then think you're going to bag an agent. My first agent took me about 125 letters/rejections to finally get one to take me on. The second agent took about 200.

Then, you're still not published. You're only at step 1. Then the agent starts submitting to anywhere from 4-15 publishers. If they don't sell your book, the agent drops you like a hot potato, and you start all over again. But guess what? A new agent usually doesn't want your book either if it's been "Shopped" so you have to start over and write a new one. BTW, you don't make a cent, until your novel is SOLD. And often, you have to pay your agent fees (copying, postage) to run out and sell your work.

Then if you do get a contract, you have to give Uncle Sam 30% and your agent 15-30%. Typically, you don't make much on a first novel. What you make is called "an advance," towards future prospective sales. It can be as low as $2,000 or as high as $100,000, usually LOW for a first novel.

I wrote a very commercial (big reading audience) novel, so Victoria was aiming high. I've written: Wide Open Places (a historical western), Eating at the Tall Corn Cafe (women's fiction and all the rest are women's fiction), Searching for Galileo, The Fat Chicks Club (comedy), All My Friends are Men and now . . .Welcome to Rock County.

Of those novels, I came PAINFULLY CLOSE to getting a big novel deal with Eating at the Tall Corn Cafe. I was VERY lucky to get Victoria Sanders in Manhattan to rep me (she reps huge stars like Queen Latifah and Karen Slaughter). She got the biggest, brightest stars in publishing to READ my whole novel in ONE sitting in a matter of THREE WEEKS. I came so painfully close, my secretaries were notified to get me out of class if my agent called. I made it straight to the top with the readings. First, I got Penguin to almost publish me through Ellen Edwards. She called me, and I almost had a heart attack on the phone. But she was, very, very vague and had poor communication. I couldn't understand what it was exactly that she wanted from me. She wanted me to re-do the storyline, but she didn't tell me 1. why or 2. what she wanted changed. I changed a few minor things, then I was rejected. Heart-breaking!

Then Victoria got Hyperion/Disney/Miramax Film/Publishing interested in me.Again, I got an interview on the phone. This time it looked GREAT! The editor was my age, had grown up in the midwest on a farm like me. She communicated fabulously. We were on the same page, literally. She totally DUG the novel, and with this Miramax connection, if it did well, it would be made into a film! She gave me GREAT notes on how to make the novel's revision even better (you ALWAYS have to re-do the novel, btw, you can NEVER just write it "as is" until you're Cormac McCarthy), and I was ready to go. But she was ONLY a "junior editor" which meant she needed unanimous approval in committee to "buy me." One editor balked because I'm an "unknown," so the contract was cancelled.

Crushing, huh? So you can probably see why I'm NOT ready to throw down my cards, leave teaching and get a 9-5 job just yet. This all happened in 2003-2004. Then I took some time to just develop my craft and I wrote the next few novels.All My Friends are Men, felt like it was worthy, so I gave it to Victoria, but she didn't care for it, and I was dumped. Back to the slate I went and got a new agent, Joan, in Florida. But Joan's not a famous agent, and the novel went no where. So, back to the slate I went and I wrote this new novel Welcome To Rock County in 2007-2008.

I'm now revising it, and I think it's my best work to date.Hopefully, I've learned enough that this will NOW be the break out novel. I'm confused though. When the time comes, which agent should I submit it to? Joan, the nice helpful agent who's a nobody? Or Victoria, the famous ex-agent who's hard to get along with? Victoria is good at what she does, but she's a HUGE crank to work with. That's where I'm at.

I've had some short stories and poems published in academic literary journals which were prestigious (but no pay), like last year I was published in 13th Moon, out of University of New York-Albany. They asked me to present my work with 12 others at a convention in Cincinnati, but my school wouldn't fund my plane ticket to go (cheapskates). So that's it in a nutshell.

Want to know about Welcome to Rock County or ever feel like reading something, just ask.

Anyway, there's your glimpse into the world of a novelist and why I'm not quite ready to abandon it just yet. Wish me luck.


Theresa said...

It just depresses the hell out of me to read this. Hits too close to home I suppose.

You've GOT to see Sideways. Get a big box of wine, put Bennie on your lap, and rent it.

A said...

A) Has Joan perhaps gotten a promotion yet?
B) Hopefully Victoria has much more important things to do than read your blog?

It will happen for you someday--I'm SURE of it!