Every once in a while, “How I Got My Agent” stories trend on Writing Twitter.
At first, I gobbled these up, drawing encouragement from the sheer variety of journeys. There is no such thing as normal in the publishing industry, no matter the stage. Eventually, though, I had to stop reading them. I got overwhelmed thinking about being in the query “trenches” for five, six, seven years. I started assuming that if an agent didn’t jump on my query right away, it would turn into a rejection (which I still find to be mostly true). I can’t imagine ripping my novel apart at the seams and starting from scratch.
But of all the challenges that writers face while seeking representation, the most difficult for me to swallow is the fact that many authors shelve finished novels and move on to the next one before querying again.
In theory, I am completely fine with this. I understand that it takes practice to write a good novel, and it takes time to learn industry trends and what will sell. Of course, it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to set aside a book I’ve poured my heart and soul into, a story and characters that I love with every fiber of my being. And it doesn’t mean it will be shelved forever. Some agents even prefer not to sign writers until they have multiple finished manuscripts, and that also makes a lot of sense to me. I bet a lot of those finished novels get resurrected once an author is established. Plus, I have no shortage of ideas to explore.
The problem with shelving a novel, for me, is time.
I make a concerted effort to carve out time to write and/or edit, usually every day. But time is something I don’t have a lot of. I work a full-time job. I have four young kids. I’m committed to regular physical activity so I can stay healthy and be around for those kids for a long time, and I make time to read in order to keep up with what’s happening in the world of historical fiction, keep an eye on trends, and keep learning the art of crafting a story and doing it well. It’s true that a person will make time for what’s important, but it’s also true that there are only so many hours in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime. Eventually, time will run out.
So when I think about shelving a novel to work on the next one, I’m particularly discouraged because I don’t know how long it might take to write, revise, edit, and polish the next one. Realistically, shelving a novel and moving on means deferring the realization of my dream for at least a year, but probably more. Yes, I know that continuing to write is still plodding the path to that dream, and I don’t intend to give up until I get there. But it also feels like a huge step backwards when I’ve already been querying a polished piece. And no one likes to take a step backwards, especially for an extended period of time. I’m not quite to the point of shelving my novel yet, but it looms, and menacingly at that.
Will I do what I have to do to get published? Absolutely. Will I step back for a year or two (or more) to get that next one ready? Yeah. Will I keep practicing and making myself better to increase my chances of success? As Midwesterners say, “You betcha.”
But I might cry about it, too.