The Eleventh Round of queries went out May 4th, 2015, in an effort to try utilizing the ways of the Force to get the attention of a literary agent.
But it would seem that I may have made yet another mistake for everyone to learn from by example, as I realized days after the fact that last year about this time, I sent out the Seventh Round of queries on Cinco de Mayo to a chilling silence (see "The Seventh Round"). And during that post, I was commenting on how the previous year I had done something similar by sending out not one but two rounds at a time on Christmas Eve (see "The Fourth and Fifth Rounds"). Internet articles and chat boards would quickly clear up this latter rookie mistake, but for the life of me I can't understand why early May is yet another Bermuda Triangle when in comes to launching correspondences into the void.
And so here we are again, approximately one month after this Eleventh Round went out, and with the exception of some immediate auto-responses and a few legitimate rejections, there has been no word from the fleet.
It may just be time to concentrate all power on that Super Star Destroyer.
Frank Lapidus, if you're reading this, would you like to take a stab at a book cover design?
According to FedEx tracking, as of yesterday morning my first full-manuscript request has arrived at the door of a potential literary agent. This is a big deal! Last week when I was scouring the Internet just to find out how best to format such a thing for delivery, the first few sentences of every post I read said that I should first congratulate myself, because this alone meant that I've made it through the slush pile and attracted the kind of attention that only a few attain.
It certainly is a glorious feeling sending something like a manuscript out in the mail, knowing that the physical pages themselves are being carried across country packed neatly in their own form-fitting, 8 ½ by 11 box. And even now I think about how great those pages are going to look when that box is opened to reveal all of my hard work. I told some friends of mine recently who seem to be quite optimistic about this new step in my writing career that for me this is comparable to opening a business or building a house, that having had no children of my own, these are the kids that I'm raising and sending through college.
Writing to me has always been a constant, a thing that I'm simply wired to do regardless of whether or not I reach any level of success, and so even the smallest of victories feel tremendous. Being home in New Orleans now for a little over two months, I find myself still hunting out the same old quiet places to write from my comparative youth, a habit of mine that only in retrospect did I realized I'd been doing for the better part of the past twenty years. I've done this everywhere I've lived, and it's consistencies like that one that make it easy to understand who I am at my core.
And so now as my fingertips gently brush the golden ring that I've been reaching for since the First Round of queries went out almost two years ago, never before have I felt so much in the game for real. Believe me when I say that email submissions and hard copy submissions are two different beasts. Right now with any degree of luck, the industry person who requested to see more of the rooms in this house that I've built is thumbing their way through the structure page by page and one square foot at a time, and it takes every bit of my writer's imagination not to think that they're hopefully enjoying all of the amenities that I've put into place for their visit.
Since returning home to New Orleans last month to stay, of the many places that I've revisited was this one, the New Orleans Museum of Art. As I walked all of the conjoined rooms, I was stunned into humble submission as I realized the consistency of the artistic temperament. Last night I was reading through an English Literature textbook before bed (wanting to get into Dickens and got sidetracked) and I started reading Victorian writer and art critic John Ruskin's Modern Painters, in which he says that there is no difference between the painter who uses his series of skillful brushstrokes and the poet who uses language, for they are both simply the tools used to express their visions.
I might add to this, visions that will make them immortal.
And so there was that visit, but then there were also visits to small theatres where I saw stand-up comedy performed three feet in front of me, legendary music clubs where friends embraced me and asked me where I'd been all this time, private movie screenings and restaurants and bars and all those things that make up my roots. The streets materialized around me again as I instinctually just knew where to go, like a great city map that had begun rendering itself block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Never before in my life can I recall ever having had such a sense of belonging, part of a community of creatives that take from this city that which is all that it really has to offer, first and foremost a never-ending spring of inspiration embedded in every square mile.
But back to the Rounds, and the Eight and Ninth have gone out within a month of each other, the latter of which actually produced a request for a partial. Self-publishing has not so much gone by the wayside again, but has dropped down the ladder a few rungs. At some point I'll begin submitting to publishers in addition to agents on a monthly basis, and I'll continue writing new things, and with that nothing has changed much at all.
But can I get back to how wonderful it is to walk these streets again, how nourishing to the soul it is to have conversations that require no background or context and that go on for hours and hours until it's time to go home and begin these days again, and how a man can indeed go home?
Transition, powerful and sudden, a miraculous revelation that put me at one with the universe.
But let's start with Cinco de Mayo.
I wasn't aware that this holiday may or may not have been one of those times of the year when agents automatically delete queries sent to them, much in the same way I'd lamented my rookie mistake months ago (see "The Fourth and Fifth Rounds") by sending a batch off on Christmas Eve. I suppose it's still too early to tell, being that the Seventh Round went out a week ago, but I have to admit that the reception so far seems icy. But paired with some things that have crossed my mind quite a bit lately due to an illness that hit me in the beginning of March and ended with a surgery in mid April, a span of two months that put me in an intense state of self-evaluation about my role if any in this world of publishing, it became apparent to me that maybe my patience is wearing a bit thin.
So, take your time, prospective agents. As much as I wish one of you would latch on to my project and give it the representation that it deserves, I think I may be putting up that particular fishing pole for the time being. Well, at least I'm putting away the one with the kung fu grip in favor of multiple, lighter and less important ones.
The plan is to send out a batch every month, to the few agents that are left all over the country and beyond. But in the meantime, I have been exploring self-publishing options in a turn of events that anyone following this blog probably didn't see coming. Things change, and the marriage of media and technology is no exception.
To say that the world of self-publishing has changed since I did it last would be an understatement, but at the same time a lot of the same things still hold true. For instance, without the backing of a traditional publisher, for the most part marketing and publicity is still left completely up to the author. But that's okay, because hand-in-hand with the strides that technology has made in self-publishing, so has the means of getting the word out.
And then I've heard through some confidants of mine on Team Torres that authors who self-publish now can actually earn a little bit of royalty that amounts to more than just a few cents here and there, something that in the past has always made me look forward to receiving my 1099 every year just for a good chuckle. As a musician, I still gig on the weekends and earn a little money here and there. But the way I see it, with pricing structures now in the hands of the authors, I can now count my books as things that actually make me some cash on the side.
All the arrows are pointing in this direction, even now as I have the manuscript out to three different beta readers whom I don't actually think realize they are beta readers yet. I will follow up with them and initiate them officially, making then card-carrying members of the newly formed Team Torres. Yes, the process has begun.
I'm still keeping one eye open to traditional publishing, because I do still plan to consistently chisel away at least once a month in both the agency and publisher markets. But I've already begun to imagine the cover design, and already have a member of Team Torres ready with his mighty Photoshop sword. There was always something special about the control of self-publishing, about the time leading up to and including the process, knowing that ultimately I would have a say on when and where my children were born.
I have pelted the east coast with queries at this point, with the Sixth Round deployed on March 3, 2014 to ten carefully chosen agencies. Some have come back within a day with rejections, while others are still pending within the time frames dictated on their websites. These things take time, and these agents are swamped by writers of varying degrees of determination, and this is the glacier-like nature of the business.
But it looks as though, at least for now, my attack on the east coast has ended. There seems to be no more agencies left that would be appropriate for my special brand of psychosocial thriller, which while falling under the classification of "genre fiction" is still a bit of a rare subdivision. More and more I'm thinking about re-entering the self-publishing trade, if for no other reason than it seems that the business has evolved exponentially from I when I first published The Petrified Christ and Scenes from the Blanket over the course of the past fifteen years.
And so the next rounds will spread out into the rest of the country, hitting the smaller less selective agencies that may find great interest in the subject matter of my unpublished New Orleans-themed manuscript. They're out there, and I would think that it's a rarity that authors with aspirations such as myself ever really consider querying anywhere outside of Manhattan, while still thinking that they were accomplishing something. But I totally do, because there comes a time when fishing in the big pond that houses the fewer fish may not be the way to sustain the hope that we as writers need to keep going, and this is just where I am in the beginning of my 42nd year.
I'd like to start off this post by first apologizing to the few literary agents that I queried over the holidays. Leave it to the rookie to foul-up the game by not knowing the rules. But I'll get to that soon.
I sent the Fourth Round of queries out on October 6, 2013 after a lengthy revision process to both the manuscript and the query letter itself, making the whole package more accessible based entirely on what I'd learned form the first three rounds and from reading more books. That last part is important. I always feel the need to stress in this blog how I do indeed read in addition to write, but I suppose what I really mean is that I've read a variety of different books in different genres just to get a feel for flow and structure and so forth from one type of book to the next.
The result was not only a more readable manuscript, but also a grabber of a query letter that managed to get ... and may I get a broken snare-drum roll here ... my first request for a partial! Sure, it's since been rejected, but damnit if I didn't frame that thing! In a way, it was the most important correspondence I've gotten to date!
The months then went by as the rejections came in, as well as one more request for a partial that went unanswered. While waiting, and building on the idea that writers are always either submitting or writing new stuff, I continued to hammer out the first draft of a new book. In this area I'm back to my old self again, feeling that sense of peace that I mentioned in a previous blog, where nothing else quite compares. A writer is at their happiest when they're producing new pages.
On Christmas Eve 2013, I sent out a round of resubmissions to agents who I hadn't heard from in a while (who didn't specify on their website the "no response=rejection" policy) in addition to a new, Fifth Round of queries. The latter was a huge mistake, as some came back with immediate auto-replies saying that their offices were closed, while one in particular said that my query would be deleted. It made me wonder how many of the few I sent out in Christmas Eve were actually going to be deleted, and so I now plan to send them out again strictly as a technicality on the first of next month, hoping that these agencies will grant me the Mulligan. In the meantime, the Sixth Round will be put together with an updated query letter.
The lesson: there are bad times to send out query letters, one of which being the holidays. Some blogs disagree with this, but most simply explain the point by asking the prospective author to put themselves in the shoes of the agents and/or their assistants. Would you want to deal with anything at your job coming in when you should be heading out?
Likewise, the first week of January automatically puts you in the "resolution pile" of authors who vowed at the beginning of the year to finally get those query letters out once and for all. This can be an insulting thing to consider if in fact you've been querying all year. But again, put yourself in the agent's and/or their assistant's shoes, and all is understood.
And so it goes. I'm making progress in that the manuscript is floating around out there in some important hands, and maybe some not-so-important hands, and I can only assume that my name has been uttered by more than a few literary agents and/or their assistants. A new book is being written, and so far so good.
A very conclusive Third Round of queries was sent out on February 6th, 2013, and I say that because for now I am content with the idea of waiting. This was another small round, but one of increasing amount which brings the total queries out now to a whopping twenty. For the Fourth Round, which will happen after a certain thing occurs which I'll mention here in a bit, will consist of twenty and will bring the query total to four rounds equaling forty.
More rejections have come this time around, making me think that this Third Round has been crafted well enough to be accepted regardless of the yeas or neas. Slowly but surely the rejections are trickling in, and I couldn't be more thrilled! The material is circulating this time, quite possibly being a topic of discussion in some New York offices as agents shrug and make their decisions with their interns and fellow agents alike.
This is fun to imagine.
On the other hand, it may be time to review the submission guidelines for the first two rounds and go ahead and either resubmit or mark them as "Rejected." It really doesn't make a difference when one considers that some agents have a policy of no response = rejection, and so why not clean up my list for this new revision that I ... uh-oh. The cat's out of the bag.
Yes, I am doing another revision of the manuscript that I'm currently submitting because quite frankly, I can and because I've done lots of reading lately and I need to bring certain things up to par. The Internet has been a great resource in this regard, following Twitter feeds of certain agents that literally walk you through their query review process and reveal what they did and didn't like. For an example of this, check out Ann Collette at the Rees Literary Agency on Twitter @Ann_Collette.
The Internet has also been invaluable to the imparting of wisdom to us writers, especially the ones who are knee-deep in the query process. While finding it hard for me to work on my next book with all of this query uncertainty, I stumbled across Noah Lukeman, President of Noah Lukeman Literary Management, and his blog where he says among other things:
Finally, there should never be any downtime in your writing. Writing is a muscle, and the more you write, the better you will become. When you finish one book, turn immediately to the next, and don’t use a submission as an excuse to take a break and not do the hard work of continuing to write every day. A writer should never be "waiting" -- only "writing" or "submitting." In fact, the word "waiting" should not even exist in the successful author’s vocabulary.
Wow, huh? Because of this very blog I have not only started up on my new book again, but I am simultaneously doing a very brief and more-readable revision of the book I'm submitting. It's as if I'm starting over again, and in this case, I couldn't be happier.
The reading research also continues with the recent completion of the very-successful industry goliath, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. I will say this: I understand the appeal, but this book was so horribly written that as a writer I found it hard to finish. It has thus gone right up there now with some of the most densest of dense English prose that I've ever had to wade through.
Fifty Shades of Grey walks that fine line with me of learning what I don't want to do, yet seeing what it was that someone did do in order to get published.
Early last month I sent out the Second Round of query letters to prospective agents in and around the New York City area.
With regard to the First Round, I didn't get so much as a bite. But there was a certain peace that came with the waters being that calm, knowing that I was learning how to swim by being thrown into the pond, and that this would be my first feel of just how cold the temperature of those waters really were. I'd read somewhere that email queries to literary agencies sort of exist on a quid pro quo basis, which is to say that emails in theory don't take much time to write and send, so why should agencies even bother with a response?
There were two lessons learned here.
The first lesson was that, at least for me, the obsessing over format right down to the font size of these emails was quite time consuming in itself. Even now as I get ready to send out my Third Round, I'm constantly modifying what I've sent the first two times according to what I think worked and didn't work, and this includes revising the actual Query Letter and Synopsis over and over again on an agent-to-agent basis. That being said, the bigger lesson learned was that these agencies receive hundreds upon thousands of these emails regardless of how much work was put into making the submissions beautiful, and they have every right to just not respond if the material doesn't fit their needs.
But I did get a few nibbles on the Second Round, if only just pecks at the hook as it dangled in the water, in the form of a grand total of two rejections to date. And as I knew would be the case, I was exhilarated, knowing that at least I was playing the game and getting some sort of return. Someone, somewhere, now knows that I want in.
And so the learning continues as I move forward with the Third Round (which I plan to send off this week), a batch that was originally intended to be a blitzkrieg covering both coasts, but has now been downsized to make room for more of those valuable lessons to occur. It's much more important to send out quality versus quantity at this stage, because if there is some sort of deal-breaking mistake being made on only your second round of queries, it's better to be able to take that data and refine it for fishing in the next pond rather than having no more ponds to fish because you've thrown out all of your hooks. Oh, look, I've burrowed deep into a new metaphor.
But I like the investigative reporter one better (see "All the Publisher's Men ... and Women" above)!
And as was the case the first time around, I read in order to get a better understanding of what it is that I write and am trying to sell. And it looks like what I write is the difficult-to-market, non-genre classification that has become a genre unto itself, the lofty-sounding "Literary Fiction." John Grisham's A Painted House was instrumental as part of this discovery, as I found myself missing the characters and their struggles long after I turned the last page of this modern-day and off-trajectory effort from the author, a To Kill a Mockingbird for this generation.
Considering my obsession with numerology and the fact that I haven't posted in a while, is it any wonder that not only am I resurfacing today on my own blog, but that today I've sent out my first round of queries to some possible literary agency contacts?
I might as well share some thoughts on this special day, and by special I mean the culmination of lots of energy toward actually taking this next step toward my dreams of traditional publication, and not so much the 12/12/12 thing. Although I have to say that again, with reference to my love of number sequences especially when it comes to dates, I'll always remember the day that I quit drinking as 9/9/09. So there.
But back to the agent hunt, and first I'll say that like anything else, I plan to learn from this experience. I know that this won't come easy, and I'm quite sure that I've made some mistakes even on this very small and selective round of agency queries, the lessons hopefully benefitting me for now more than the prospect of actually landing representation. Second I'll say that I have another round that is slightly bigger than the first that I'll begin working on and modifying according to the outcome of this current round, and even after that, I have enough leads to fill many a day and month and even year while I continue forward with new writing projects.
Because that's what we writers do.
Another thing that has happened over the course of learning about the process of finding an agent is the pleasant discovery of the amount of different kinds of books and genres that there really are out there, and I would like to say that this is refreshing, because it seemed for a while there that at least to me everything had something to do with solving some sort of a crime. It got to a point that I started playing a little game with myself while on the road with my band, where during visits to truck stops I'd snatch random paperbacks from the spinning displays and count the number of FBIs and CIAs and former-this and former-thats of the FBIs and CIAs on the back covers, and it was all very discouraging. I refused to believe that the novel existed in this day and age merely as a medium to tell cops-and-robbers stories.
I've read many books recently as a result, and that being said, I recommend Velocity by Dean Koontz (which, okay, was a mystery but was also a writing course for me) and The Beast House by Richard Laymon (which is one in a series but reads well on its own as an almost "grind house" horror novel).
As you can see, fingers are crossed during this first round of queries, even though they may not be fingers of my own. There's no way I could do that. Just ask my chiropractor.