The subject of waiting for news reminded me of a blog post written seven years ago by author Keith Thomson.
I've known Keith since about the time he posted this, though we've never actually met. We've traded many e-mails and had a longish phone call once when he was exploring co-marketing strategies. Kinda guy he is, thinking ahead, looking for angles. He read and gave me good feedback on Chance.
He's also a damn good writer. His Twice a Spy recently came out in paperback, following his first thriller named (you guessed it) Once a Spy. He also blogs for the Huffington Post, but most notably he wrote Pirates of Pensacola, which I still say is as funny as any novel I've read. (And yes, I've read Terry Pratchett, Doug Adams, Dave Barry and Christopher Moore.) I couldn't find this blog online, so I wrote to Keith who sent it to me, along, with his permission to post it here. So what follows was written by Keith Thomson, NOT by me. Thanks for letting me share it, Keith. And you can read lots more about Keith here.
How Selling A Novel Can Kill You
D-Day, landing at Normandy, unsure whether you’ll live or die: that’s more suspenseful than the wait once your agent has sent your manuscript to publishers. With a good literary agent, whose recommendation can have editors reading within hours of receiving it, you’ll know whether you are an about-to-be-published novelist or not within two weeks. Two weeks that will seem like five years. If you have a crappy agent, take consolation that the process will be more months long, offering you hope relatively ad infinitum. I have a good agent. Nothing I’ve experienced was as suspenseful as the days following his sending out my manuscript to potential publishers ... I spent two solid years writing Pirates of Pensacola. Authors routinely devote half a dozen years. You hope yours will sell of course. You dream of nothing else. But if it doesn’t, not only will you feel devastated and ruined and judged as crap by an expert panel, you’ll have to face your friends—and worse, your enemies, and even the best answer to “How’s the writing going?” will still eat at chunks of your guts each time you give it. Also you’ll have to put up with your father telling you he “told you you should have gone to law school.”
Here’s how the process might, hypothetically, go:
Day 1: No sweat. You feel good actually. All 350 pages of your ms (publishing lingo, which you’re hearing now, and think is cool, for “manuscript”) have been xeroxed, boxed, and messengered out! After two long years sitting and drawing blood from a stone, a large, powerful agency is sending your ms to a bunch of great publishing houses.
Day 2: No word. You know that sometimes editors will read a hot property that night. Ergo yours is not a hot property. You’re a loser.
Day 3: Still no word. You resist impulse to be like every other client and bug your agent for word as to whether there might be word of potential word.
Day 4-5: Still zip. See day 3, multiply by five and subtract two years from your life due to anxiety. Get prescription for anxiety medicine, triple whatever amount doctor prescribes (unless doctor has had a manuscript up for option, then just double it).
Day 6-7: Weekend, so no word expected. But still, part of you hopes some editor reading it will love it and not be able to contain herself ’til Monday. So you’re discouraged the phone hasn’t rung. Then you realize it was ridiculous to have expected smart, literate, busy, busy publishing people who are deluged with books and proposals to be reading your stack of paper at all, let alone on a weekend. You go online for applications for law schools and to investigate loans. Make note to google Peace Corps.
Day 8: Monday. Agent calls and tells you there are bites per weekend reads. This is wonderful news, but you know with certainty that the Fates have it only to make the fall harder for you. In unlikely event that the Fates have finally grown bored of conspiring against you, you sit by phone like a fifteen year-old girl and eat your remaining nails (interestingly, prior to this auction, you didn’t bite your nails. Also, though you’ve been eating compulsively, you have, oddly, lost eight pounds. Likely from the pacing.)
Day 9: Agent calls and tells you to go at once to your church or spiritual equivalent and light candles or whatever you can light that a particular editor who liked it’s boss now likes it. You know 4 in 5 who have read it have not liked it, so odds that this new guy will prompt you to consider. Also, given that it’s your ms, the Fates, those bastards, will somehow ensure the guy has heartburn while trying to read it and/or his sixteen year-old son will total his car.
Day 10: You awake (somehow you finally got to sleep) to e-mail from agent that you have a publishing deal. You suspect it’s a practical joke. You call your agent and delight in hearing even the most mundane detail, like the floor number the editor works on.
Day 11-14: You notice yourself humming hallelujah a lot. And the feeling of hot chocolate warming you on a cold day? It’s 24/7.
Day 15: You get advance word of some of the edits the publisher wants. You realize the Fates were behind the whole deal from word one.