10 Things People Don’t Tell You About Publishing A Novel
- Finding an agent or editor is like dating. It’s subjective, and when you find “the one” there’s this gushy feeling you two have for each other. There’s no shame in having trouble finding an agent–the timeline works differently for everyone, and that’s OK. It’s an important relationship, and shouldn’t be rushed.
- It can take a long time. I got my first agent in high school, almost sold my novel to an editor when at the University of Maryland as an undergrad. But the editor couldn’t sell it to the house. After that, I dropped my agent (my students were like “Dump her! It’s been 6 years and nothing’s happened”—so again, it’s like dating!) and queried small press editors. After lots of rejection letters, Bob from California Coldblood accepted my novel “Post-High School Reality Quest,” which is coming out in June. Let me clarify that PHSRQ is my thirteenth novel. I had to write 12 really mediocre novels to get one that worked. That’s not the case for everyone, but it’s unlikely the first thing you finish will be “the one.”
- There’s a lot of chance involved. My publishing successes have often been “Lol why not” submissions. For example, the press publishing my novel focuses on sci fi and urban fantasy. Bob even told me, “This book isn’t really sci fi, but I don’t care—I really love it.” I sent my work out constantly. During my lectures (sorry not sorry UMD), I tried to send out about ten submissions. But the more you send out, the more likely your work will find the right home.
- The big houses aren’t necessarily the perfect home for you. There can be lot at stake when you publish with a big house. With bigger investments come bigger expectations. If your book’s not a NYT bestseller, it might be hard to make an argument for your second book. Big houses publish a lot of books, so yours doesn’t necessarily get as much attention as you might like. I love working with California Coldblood because it’s a small operation with a professional backing, and I have only three fellow authors with me in the press. We’re like a family, and I get to work really closely with my editor, and have a say with the cover and everything, which I really appreciate.
- Being young is good. Agents and editors are looking for younger writers. I got my first agent in high school. If you’re a student, don’t let that discourage you–use that in your favor.
- There are strong lit communities–there’s probably one in your home town! I grew up in the Baltimore/DC area but it took me several years to realize all the amazing diverse communities that were accessible to me. Do some research, get connected with writers in your area, and serve your local communities. Volunteer at local book fairs and writing conventions, be a part of a local open mike or critique group, read for a local literary magazine. By giving back, you build friendships and relationships with readers and writers that will serve you well in the future.
- Twitter is where the industry is. Follow your dream agents and favorite writers on twitter. Get involved in and follow twitter chats. Watch #mswl for agents to get a sense of what they’re looking for. Participate in #pitchwars and build relationships with published writers. Follow #2017debuts to see up and coming work and be familiar with what’s happening in the industry.
- Your first sentence is critical. If you don’t grab your reader in that first sentence, that first page, they’re not going to keep reading. If you haven’t already, get a position as a reader or editor for a magazine or journal and feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the slush pile. As I work as a reader for two magazines, I find my patience is very slim for work, and someone has to grab me immediately for me to want to keep reading and not just move onto the next piece.
- Rejection letters aren’t bad. Some of my favorite replies to my submissions have been rejection letters. Some agents or editors will write back with specific ideas of how to improve my novel, or interest in seeing more of my work. I love getting feedback and through rejection letters have learned how I can improve my writing and make my stories and poems even stronger.
Publish smaller work before sending out a full novel. In high school, I sent out my poems and short stories to literary magazines. Then when I queried an agent, I was able to mention places I had already been published. I think this helps a query letter stand out. It says that you’ve already been vetted as a writer, that what they’re about to read is probably pretty good, and can get them excited about reading your work
Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.
After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to live her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.
While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.
Graduation: May 12th, 2009
You are in the cafeteria. There is a high school graduation happening. Mason, the valedictorian, is giving her farewell to the class. It takes a long time.
In your pocket, there is a letter. It’s crumpled and smeared from you reaching in and touching it so many times, to make sure it’s still there.
Exits are: out, back and stage.
Tristan was almost valedictorian. He was about .002 points away from it. And he makes sure to not let any of you forget. Not that you’d ever forget a single word he’s ever said.
You get up from your chair and go to the back of the room. There is a piano. You look longingly at it.
You go over the piano. You run your fingers over the keys but are too shy to actually play anything. That’s what everyone says about you: that you want to do something but never actually do it. That’s why you wear gothic Lolita dresses only at home, curl your hair once a month, and paint on the weekends. Anything else might be too much.
> Exit out.
You are now in the main hallway. It is very long. There are lots of doors.
You wonder if you hide in one of them long enough you can avoid growing up. Everyone says that after today, everything that you do actually matters. That every decision you make will invariably have consequences on your existence and wellbeing. The only consequences you’re used to are not saving before entering the water temple in Ocarina of Time, or using up your master ball before encountering Mewtwo in Pokemon Red.
Exits are: cafeteria, door, another door, bathroom, main office, and out.
You go into one of the doors. It’s not very exciting.
You are now in the main hallway. It is very—
You go into the bathroom. There is an acidic smell you can’t quite place coming from the stalls. Sephora is in front of the mirror, fluffing her insignificant breasts. No one believes her birth name is actually Sephora but no one has any proof to say otherwise. She doesn’t look like a make-up model but you keep that kind of commentary to yourself.
Exits are: bathroom stall and out.
“You dying out there too?” Sephora asks, pressing her hands on her stomach. “It’s so humid in that small room.”
You nod. “Yeah, it’s really hot.” You feel sweat run through your hair, down your scalp.
“When there’s a whole twenty people graduating, you’d think it’d be shorter than this. But they still find a way to make us miserable.” Sephora reapplies a layer of lipstick. “And this uniform makes me look even fatter than usual. Ugh.”
You just graduated from a religious high school. You say religious, because as hard as it is for you to stomach the concept of a God, words like transubstantiation are even less comprehensible to you. And as much as your music class sings about concepts like grace, the signs posted on every door with commandments like: Skirts shorter than your finger tips are unacceptable and Earrings should be no larger than a nickel, have made you eager for the alleged freedom of college.
And not just freedom from rules, but freedom from people like Sephora, who are “your friends” only because of your small school population. Because everyone has to survive somehow, and it’s dangerous to go alone.
But you’ve survived, at least this far. Congratulations.
Sephora sighs, scratching at the dead skin on her cheek. “I can’t wait ‘til the sun comes out again. I mean, look at my skin! I need to tan again.”
Even if you hadn’t seen Sephora in size 00 bikinis before, one look at Sephora makes it clear that she has the Scottish pasty skin that never tans. Just like you. Besides your gender and your love of obscure video games, this is all you have in common with her.
“You know, now that summer’s coming, I’m thinking about trying something new, just for the kicks.” Sephora looks you in the eye. “I’m even thinking about going out with Tristan. Who knows. It might be fun! And I’ve been seeing him eye me…”
You want to tell Sephora that she’s too stupid to date someone as brilliant as Tristan, that he has better taste than that, but you can’t seem to get the words out.
>Wrestle Sephora to the ground.
You wrestle the lipstick from her hands and scream “You whore!” and write mean things on the mirror. Then you stuff her head in the toilet and prevent this horrible story from actually happening.
And by that, you only daydream of wrestling Sephora to the ground.
If you had actually done that, you might’ve beaten the game in record time. Assuming life’s a game and you remembered to save more frequently.
>I don’t like this story.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand “I don’t like this story.” You think we get to choose our stories?
Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is published with California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I’m from Maryland and grew up in my father’s childhood home. I think that home made me become a writer—there was always an adventure, from crickets in the bathtub to snakeskins in the walls, always giving me ideas and making every day new and exciting! I grew up by the woods, and I still feel a need to be surrounded by trees.
Tell us your latest news!
My novel Post-High School Reality Quest is coming out June 13th!
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I started writing poetry in seventh grade, because that’s what “all the cool kids were doing.” Poetry stuck, and I started playing with fiction in eighth grade. I did my first Nanowrimo in tenth grade, actually finished a Nanowrimo after I graduated. I got my first agent in eleventh grade. I still do both poetry and fiction. I can’t really exactly give any concrete number of when I “officially” started writing. I’ve always been creating stories—I was an only child, so I quickly came to enjoy entertaining myself.
The first book I finished was about a high school woodworker named Joanie Dark, trying to start a social crusade to get Chess Club the respect it deserved at her school. Like Post-High School Reality Quest, it was inspired by what I’ve experienced and what I love: I was a big woodworking chess-playing dork in high school J
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
A lot—I love reading widely because every author has something new to teach me. But here are a couple of my favorites:
Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis made me think about how to tell a relatable, commonly told story from an interesting perspective. It tells the story of spiritual warfare from the perspective of a demon, instructing his nephew on how best to screw over humans. Regardless of what you believe, I think it’s a fascinating read and lesson on point of view and voice, and how that can make or break a story.
Japanese magic realism like Haruki Murakami, Kelly Luce and Yasunari Kawabata have been really influential to me as well, making me think about how to blur the line between reality and the magical, and having bizarre surprises in the everyday.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
I’ve had these characters since high school, and they’ve taken different forms and changed and grown over time. They started out, inspired by a bunch of different people I met or knew. I threw them all in a room together to see what would happen. Over time, they’ve become their own characters and increasingly complex and interesting to follow.
To me, characters are my friends. They’re real people. They inhabit and haunt me. Maybe this is from being an only child and having lots of imaginary friends growing up, but I feel a deep emotional connection to my characters. They’re the ones that make me need to keep writing.
What motivates you to write?
Writing helps me cope and process my experiences. It’s a form of worship to me, and a form of therapy. When I write, I can analyze, slow down, and see my experiences from a new angle. I can think out what I’ve done, what I should’ve done, and let go of regrets or bitterness or unhealthy nostalgia. I can also reinvent experiences and give them a positive twist. I write because I need to, because I feel compelled to bear witness—both personally and spiritually—and writing is the way that I speak and express myself.
What is the hardest part of writing?
Moving forward and not getting distracted. And by that I mean: not going on Twitter and Goodreads and comparing myself to others all the time.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
In writing, I’m learning patience, persistence, and humility. It always takes me way more drafts than I want to get a book out. I’m on maybe the 14th draft of a YA project right now, and it’s frustrating. I’m ready to move on. But my goal is to write the best books I can, which means not stopping until it’s right, not just until it’s “good enough.” From sending books out I’ve learned persistence. I usually have to check in and send a lot of emails. I get a lot of rejection letters, and I have to fight to find the right home for my work. I’m learning humility because I always think my writing is better than it is, and then I get a reality check through feedback and rejection letters.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everything I see. I didn’t speak until I was about three—and in part that’s because I am constantly busy observing! When I worked at Kmart, I had a notebook at my register, writing down the weird customer interactions I’d have or ideas that would come to me. I write on napkins if I have to. I’m always reading and watching game play-throughs and television shows, taking notes of what they do well in their work that I can learn from.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family is incredibly supportive of my writing. My mom-in-law is a shameless cheerleader for me and my writing. She brings postcards of my book cover everywhere she goes and tells whoever she runs into about my book. My father-in-law is my writing advisor—I go to him whenever I’m stuck for ideas. My dad empowered me to be whatever I wanted to be growing up, always encouraging my interests, and taught me how to be savvy—which I’ve definitely applied to being a writer. My mom is a book-a-holic and has always worked to instill in me the power of a well-told story. My mom has been an amazing encourager on my writing journey. She paid for my submission fees when I was in high school and helped edit some of my first novels. And of course, she provided the best fuel for my writing, that is: good books!
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
The best advice I can give is to read, write, and submit! I started sending my work out in high school. I have done thousands of submissions to get my relatively few acceptances. Keep reading, keep writing, keep sending, keep editing. Give back to the writing community, and you’ll make valuable friendships and relationships. Put yourself out there, go to conferences, volunteer at local literary magazines or events, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Send your work out, and send persistently–even to places that reject you five, ten times. I wouldn’t be where I am now if amazing people didn’t encourage and mentor me along the way.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes, and don’t be afraid to declare what you have done.
What book are you reading now?
Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World, some amazing ARCs for fall and spring releases, Videogames by James Newman, a bunch of poetry literary magazines, and Keep a Quiet Heart by Elizabeth Elliot.
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