My mother is usually the one who reminds my wife when it’s our wedding anniversary. Our daughter will make our birthday cards on our birthdays, which will come as a surprise to us.
My wife and I are not big into anniversaries and ceremony, which is why the fact that I’m writing about this one feels so odd.
In 2007 and 2008, I began writing an epic fantasy novel. Keep in mind that although I had been writing for most of my life, it was mostly technical and nonfiction. The last creative writing I had done was as a 12-year-old dungeon master in my parents’ basement in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
But after reading Stephen King’s On Writing, I felt like I completely understood what it took to be an international best-selling author. Easy.
I wasn’t even sure that was what I wanted when I started writing my epic fantasy. I had been reading epic fantasy and thought that I could probably write something better. I know this is heresy to mention, but I found Lord of the Rings to be an incredibly difficult book to read and even though I finished it, I really didn’t understand everything until I watched Peter Jackson’s adaptation. His movies filled in many of the gaps and eliminated so much of the unnecessary dialogue in Tolkien’s work.
So, as I was writing this epic fantasy, I began to get an undeniable itch, something I couldn’t scratch. This was just before the Kindle revolution, and at that time, I still believed the only way someone else would read my fiction would be for me to find an agent and have that agent sell my manuscript to a traditional publishing house.
I don’t remember when it happened, but I do remember thinking that simply writing this story wasn’t going to be enough. Yes, I had some sense of fulfillment from beginning this task as it seemed insurmountable to most other people in my life and me at the time—writing an epic fantasy novel. But starting the project wasn’t going to ultimately satisfy me. Not only did I want to write this story, but I wanted people to read it.
I had purchased a Kindle e-reader at some point in 2009 and then stumbled across Kindle Direct Publishing not long after. Self-publishing didn’t look promising, in fact, it looked downright scammy. I still believed that my only option was to query agents and see if I could get interest from the New York City publishers.
So, in 2009, I had a choice. I could take my chances with this weird self-publishing thing that most authors thought was only reserved for hacks, or I could begin the long, traditional process of rejection known as querying agents.
On July 21, 2009, a little over 10 years ago, I sent out my first set of query letters. I’d read a few magazine articles, looked in the Publishers Weekly for agents, read their blogs. I listened to what people said online about the type of work that agents wanted to represent, and the manuscripts that publishers wanted to buy.
I started a spreadsheet. I kept track of all the agents I queried if they responded, and what they said. What I didn’t realize was that I wouldn’t need to keep track of what I’d sent out because rarely did anything come back.
In 2009, some agents still required letters on paper to be sent in the postal mail, while others were beginning to accept queries in electronic form. I sent 57 queries in the summer and fall of 2009, and out of those, I received five rejections. Looking back on that now, I’m quite proud of the fact that I received five. The other 52 thought my writing was so bad they didn’t even bother sending a rejection.
In their defense, that epic fantasy project that I sent them was god-awful. I mean, it was really bad. I did edit and self-publish that novel but unpublished it a few months later, mostly out of guilt that some readers had paid money for it.
I can only imagine how tedious it must be for agents to sift through the slush pile and read manuscripts as terrible as mine was in 2009. Hundreds, possibly thousands of words, are written by aspiring writers who have yet to even begin to master the craft.
It’s been 10 years since I attempted to break into the publishing industry, of sharing my written words with other people. I have no idea how much better my writing is now than it was 10 years ago. I believe that I’ve improved after publishing 2 million words of fiction, but I’m still not sure if my work is worthy of getting plucked from the slush pile.
On this 10th anniversary, I’ve decided to try again. I’ve made my living as an independent publisher, but part of me wants to know if I can play that New York game, to see if I have what it takes to run with the big dogs.
It shouldn’t matter to me whether I can or not. But it does.
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