Now comes the agonising waiting, and painful rejections, and crazy bureaucracy that sometimes you think was formulated for no reason other than to frustrate and annoy writers.
I came across this manuscript, tucked comfortably away in the Documents file on my computer at the of 2012, and feeling nostalgic after not having seen my creation for maybe four years or more, I figuratively dusted off the old book and settled down for a nice read. Unfortunately, I couldn't exactly enjoy my read of first baby: instead, all the thoughts of the laborious and emotionally draining process of searching for a literary agent came flooding to my mind. My writing is never very genre-specific, so I understand the automatic aversion within the rigidly structured, label-loving literary world - but the struggle for authors, particularly first-time authors, to capture the support of a literary agent can be the absolute most painful thing a writer ever has to go through. Ok, literary agents are all generally quite nice, and in their defense, they generally tend to stick to certain genres because they've carved out niches and made the appropriate in the publishing world geared towards those specific types of books. Sadly, the rejection they send can (and oftentimes does) make a writer feel consistently more and more despondent - eventually resulting in many an author tucking away their work into files and folders and packing them away into the recesses of their minds.
For writers, writing is a joy: a true expression of their innermost selves. The putting together of a manuscript - whether the result is excellent, mediocre, or awful as hell - brings a writer such an incredible feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment. You look at the manuscript like it's your child. You've nurtured it; you've made sacrifices to write it; you've given it your all - and no matter what the world may think, it's yours, it's wonderful, and it's perfection.
And then comes the publishing process - and you realise that the process of birthing your manuscript was actually the easiest part of the whole thing and would probably be the last time you'd feel happy until you get signed by a publisher, or start writing again.
Because, now comes everything that has nothing to do with creativity. Now comes the agonising waiting, and painful rejections, and crazy bureaucracy that sometimes you think was formulated for no reason other than to frustrate and annoy writers. First you have to find a literary agent. Then you're going to be told that your manuscript needs to be edited. After that you're going to have to deal with being rejected by publishers. And interspersed throughout it all, you're going to have to find the ability to patient, and if you can't be patient? - well, you're just going to have to learn how to be, the hard way.
You either come of it all with a book deal, or you come out of it without a book deal. Either way, the emotional strain and unnecessary anxiousness would have taken it's toll. No writer is exempt from this painful step when it comes to publishing (unless they go that taboo route of self-publishing and are thus treated as outcasts in the publishing world); even JK Rowling - the most commercially successful author of all time - writes openly of the constant rejections she received from every literary agency she contacted. This crucial first-step of finding a lit agent (which some hypothesise is an unnecessary layer in this complicated procedure) is the most harrowing of them all as it is the most difficult to check-off on your list of getting published. Like an upside down pyramid, there's a tiny, narrow opening into the publishing scene, through the rejection-happy conduit of the literary agent. After that, things get generally easier. The stamp of "represented by" (insert agent's name here) gives an author a sort of visa in their literary passport which allows them to travel freely - vertically and horizontally - throughout the publishing world.
Some are lucky, however. A wonderful, plucky friend of mine, came across an editor and managed to inveigle a book contract for her excellent manuscript after nearly two years of trying to get signed by an agent. Yes, it is possible to by-pass the literary agent step, but one has to be well-researched, and, more importantly, well-connected in the publishing world. For the vast majority of writers, we are going to have to fight through the established channels and accept the status quo as it has been since books began to flow freely throughout the world and writing no longer became a purely creative process.
In my first attempt at writing all those years ago, I struggled to find an agent, and, like the thousands of other writers who went before and came after me, I sent out queries willy-nilly and received the expected "Thank you, but this is not right for us. But keep in mind, this is a highly subjective industry and while we may not be right to represent your work, someone else will" standard rejection time after time after time. Of course, I also received the occasional "Yes! We accept!" from the conmen who abound in publishing like they do in any other field (be aware of them! Any literary agent who charges to read your manuscript, or accepts you unconditionally without having read your manuscript in it's entirety, or will conflictingly act a money-collecting editor is, undoubtedly, not a literary agent and is just in this to wheedle money out of you), and I was lucky to receive critiques from two literary agents - one of whom actually became a regular pen pal of mine (the late Harry Preston - may he rest in peace).
I'm the sort of person who isn't very thick-skinned, and so, after a month of non-stop querying, I threw in the towel, shed a tear or two, and put my manuscript away. Did I give up too easily? Perhaps. But remember, I was only twenty-two at the time - and very inexperienced about how things worked in the publishing world. I will be honest with you, my writing wasn't the best thing out there: my manuscript was a bit messy and not very focused - there were parts which were very literary and very avant garde, but reading it today at twenty-older-than-twenty-two, I can ascertain that it wasn't the best thing out there and it reflected my immaturity. The fact that I managed to capture the attention of two literary agents and become long-term friends with one of them really was quite lucky!
So although my first manuscript reminds me of that not-so-good month of fighting for a literary agent and being left down in the dumps and feeling rejected, I am proud of it - and I stand by it. It is a part of who I am, as a writer and as a person. As I said, it was a somewhat autobiographical piece of work, and having captured that special moment in my life in my manuscript makes it all the more cherished to me. Writing, like any skill, can only be honed with time and with an undue amount of practice. Read the writings of any writer at an early stage in their career and then read them again in five years, or ten years, and you are amazed at the transformation and ripening of skill and ability. I am of the school "Everything happens for a reason", and my reason in writing my first manuscript was multiple-fold:
1. I had to learn to not be so sensitive; a rejection of my query to an agent means that agent simply doesn't have the contacts to connect my work to (and their loss, at the end of the day, right?! Ha!),
2. I deepened and honed my writing skills - in reading the beginning of my manuscript, and reading the end, it is an obvious evolution in the voice, tone and maturity of the writer. Furthermore, in comparing writing from today to my first manuscript, it's almost like reading the work of two entirely different people (although the humor is still most assuredly mine - no matter how immature I was then, and how mature my writing is now!). I can't wait to write something when I am ninety years old! - definite Nobel Laureate in Literature, definite!
3. I made friends with Harry Preston - a brilliant writer who was published at the early age of fifteen, and went on to write way into his eighties. The advice, correspondence and overall friendship we developed will be something I will cherish forever. Had I not been despondent about rejected by him (and all those other literary agents), he wouldn't have continued correspondence with me, because he was an encouraging fellow all-around.
So, it all happens for a reason - or in this case three.
But I'm once again at a juncture - I've written my second manuscript and very nearly done and ready to move on from the creative portion of publishing (writing the story) and onto the daunting and tedious portion of publishing (trying to get published). I'm excited, and a bit apprehensive, but I'm not the thin-skinned person I was at twenty-three (God, I hope not. I hope I don't get my first rejection and say to myself "So it's happening again? Better give up while you're ahead of yourself, Nick." I hope I don't have a hard fight to get recognised, to get accepted by an agent, to begin the process of publishing. As much as I've spent all of this blog touting my first manuscript and how much I love it - I also love my second manuscript, which reflects a deeper part of my soul, and a different aspect of who I am. It, too, is my baby - and I love them both.
As I begin this process again, I hope to succeed - please keep your fingers crossed for me.