Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Unleashing the Muse

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I'm an avid reader. Fiction -- whether it be literary, commercial, historical, multicultural, romance, or children's -- has always piqued my interest. And like my profile to the left says, I'll even read cereal boxes to kill time. Writing has also been a secret love of mine, but I've never really given much thought to bringing it to the next level. Sure, I loved writing English essays on The Great Gatsby back in high school, and the argumentative essays on euthanasia and abortion were fun to tackle in Religion class (remember those, Caro?). But I never thought I could actually pursue writing professionally or even think of making a career out of it, because really, only Writing Gods like Nora Roberts and Stephen King have the great fortune to do that, right?

But this past August, with graduation looming over the horizon, I twiddled my thumbs and thought, There's never been a better time than now. I figured that after graduation I was going to be bogged down with other things, like, oh, I don't know, figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. I'd always wanted to write a novel, but figured that I'd just take a stab at it when I was sixty and retired. However, when a great idea came strolling into my head one day in August, I finally sat myself down and started writing. Before I knew it, the manuscript sort of consumed me. I would spend hours typing away, and whenever I wasn't typing like a crazed fiend, I would be plotting away in my head about my imaginary characters and whatever crazy situations I could throw them into.

But after about 100 pages, I wavered and self-doubt washed over. What was I doing this for? I don't even know the first thing about publishing. Heck, I'm not even an English Lit or Journalism major -- what do I know about writing? All I had backing me up was my life-long love for books and great stories. But then the story refused to leave me alone and a few close friends who knew I was working on the manuscript continued to egg me on to complete it. So finally, after leaving the manusript on the back burner for months, I picked it up a few days after graduation and started cranking at it again. And boy, did it feel good. It literally came out of me like, well, proverbial diarrhea; in two weeks, I'd finished the rest of the manuscript and after a few more weeks of editing, I finally had a 395-page novel that I was proud of.

Now came the next step -- what was I going to do with said manuscript? Let it sit on the back burner again? But I loved the story too much to not even try to give it a chance at publication, so I started researching the whole publishing thing. And boy, was it much more complicated than I'd originally thought. Mind you, I had absolutely no idea what the whole publishing industry was like prior to writing my novel, so I was a real newbie. I didn't have any writing or critique groups to join and ask for advice from, because there obviously aren't any in Thailand. So instead, I took a crash course and scoured the Net and various books for the nitty-gritty on publishing. Here's what I learned:

To get my foot (heck, forget my foot, let's just say my pinky toe) into the big world of New York publishing houses, I was going to have to find myself a literary agent. And not just any literary agent, but an agent who was enthusiastic about my work and had sales to reputable publishing houses under their belt. I quickly learned that literary agents are like the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and without one, very very few editors will be willing to look at your manuscript. In fact, all the major NY publishing houses (Simon & Schuster, Random House, Harper Collins, Penguin Putnam etc.) will refuse to look at manuscripts that are unagented. So with this in mind, an agent was the first thing I decided to look for.

But how does one go about finding a literary agent? Are they as readily available as a go-go bar girl along Soi Cowboy who promises every single passing male a good time? A reputable one (agent, that is...not the Soi Cowboy go-go bar girl!), unfortunately isn't. I learned that the first step in the agent-acquiring process is to send out query letters. So that's what I did. But after reading this article, I quickly sobered and learned just how daunting the whole process can be. I mean, can you imagine? Some agencies receive up to 200-300 query letters a week! That's about 1,000 queries a month! Even more daunting than that, I also read that most agencies only go on to offer representation to about 1% of all submissions that come through their door. That means 99% of the submissions get rejected. Ouch. So with that in mind, I realized that not only did my manuscript have to be as polished as it possibly could, but my query letter had to be my sales tool, so to speak. I wrote and re-wrote that query and tried to make it the best I possibly could; this was, after all, my trusty piece of bait that was going to either reel in some interest from an agent or instead garner me a "thanks, but no thanks" rejection. Basically, if your query letter can't pique an agent's interest, they're not going to want to request the first 3 chapters of your novel, even if it's the world's next The Da Vinci Code.

To make a long story short, I started querying agents in early February. I got many requests for the partial manuscript, a few nibbles for fulls, and of course, as is a part of the whole writer's experience, a handful of rejections as well. Finally, just this past week, the wonderful Caren Johnson of the Peter Rubie Literary Agency in New York City offered me representation. You have no idea how thrilled I am. She said she loves my story, and I'm just really excited to work with her to make my manuscript tighter and stronger before we start pitching it to the publishers. She's doing great things for writers in the fiction world, especially in regards to commercial women's fiction, multicultural fiction, and romance. I'm literally grinning from ear to ear and am really looking forward to taking that next big step with her.

As for my novel, it's commercial women's fiction, or to be more specific, chick lit (if you're wondering what the difference between chick lit, women's fiction, and romance is, check out this great article from RDI author, Cathy Yardley's site). I think my writing voice fits that genre best, and to be perfectly honest, chick lit is just so much fun to write!

P.S. I know I have about a gazillion emails to get back to. I promise I'll get to them... right now, in fact!

Currently Playing: Four to the Floor By Starsailor (Do yourself a favor and listen to this insanely hypnotic song. Now try not to dance along to it! It's Brit Pop at its best.)

Currently Reading: The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho


At Friday, June 10, 2005 6:39:00 PM, Blogger jeremy said...

congrats on finding yourself an agent! it's certainly not an easy thing and a great step forward. if you get published, let me know as i'd love to check it out. i'm sure a 'chick lit' book on my bookshelf would get some raised eyebrows. hopefully it won't have a bare-chested fabio type man on the cover. ;)

a friend of mine works in hollywood. he had an idea to make a movie about our experiences in thailand so we collaberated on a script, mostly for the fun of it (at least from my perspective at the time). turns out that a production company has decided to fund shooting of the first half-dozen pages using it to shop the picture. there's also a professional script-writer working on cleaning it up. i'm keeping my hopes in check but it's pretty exciting stuff, so i know how you feel!

i've got about a week's worth of blogging access as i'm in the usa now- thought i'd drop you a note hello as i haven't been able to read for a long time because of the great china firewall.

hope you're doing great!!


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