(Experienced authors: I hear you. Quit laughing.)
Today, however, in this new series that will count down to the publication of my traditionally published debut novel late next year, I will not tell you how I got my agent. Because representation is never the beginning of a novelist’s story.
Yet in search of that holy grail I went to my first meeting of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, nearby in southeastern PA, to learn from other seekers.
I got there early. The preceding board meeting hadn’t broken up yet, and the agent/editor chair for the upcoming conference was talking about which agents she’d contacted and whom she might yet approach, tossing names around like she knew these people.
- I wondered if any of those agents would think my manuscript was good?
- I felt completely overwhelmed by all I had yet to learn about the industry.
- I desperately wanted that knowledge.
- I had no idea how to get it.
The realization came like a slap: I wasn’t nearly as far along as I had originally thought.
That kind of early ego pummeling created fertile ground for my first true step down the road to publication: joining hands with other writers. Because it turns out that becoming an author is not a lone activity.
Writing itself is—only the writer can get the words out of his or her head and onto the page. But publication requires a public. A give and take between writer and reader. And for this GLVWG became my playground.
I once heard an agent say, “Give me a so-so story that is beautifully written and I won’t be able to do a thing with it. Give me a great story that is written so-so and I can make a best-seller out of it.” The all-important feedback I received in my early years of critique groups, workshops, conferences, and even agent rejection told me I was weighing in on the wrong side of that equation. While I was indeed a wordsmith, I was not yet a novelist.
I was deficient in storytelling craft.
Each year, while deepening my commitment to both organization and conference, I met my needs by creating programs that featured the teachers I needed, all the while learning the ins and outs of the ever-changing publishing industry. I ate up everything I could learn about the power of story, improving my novels while unknowingly laying the groundwork for what would become my developmental editing specialty.
Along the way I joined an ever-increasing number of comrades in delivering tough love, cheering one another on, scraping each other off the floor of despair, and holding tender hopes aloft on united fingertips. They helped me hang in there for the long haul. How could I ever turn back, when so many had supported me?
Flash forward ten years, to last fall. Of course I had no way of knowing I'd soon have an agent. Understanding fully the power of writing communities, I probably couldn't have told you how many I benefitted from, including you all at the BRP, but GLVWG and The Write Stuff conference still served as home base in my writing life. With the confidence born of experience, however, I could definitely tell you my perspective had changed.
- I knew my current manuscript was in good shape.
- I was no longer overwhelmed by the submission process.
- I could toss around the names of agents and editors as if I know these people—because many of them I’d met, hired, corresponded with, picked up from the bus station, moderated on panels, or pitched to in person.
- For years I'd already been helping newer writers see that agents and editors are not tyrannical gatekeepers determined to bar them from their dreams. They are entrepreneurs who love great stories, just like we do, and when they find a story they love they will not stop until they put it into print.
It’s realizing you need all the help you can get to produce a great story.
If you are on the road to publication, how have you relied on others to support you?
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her article, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," co-written with Janice Gable Bashman, is in the current Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," will detail the traditional publication of her debut novel by Sourcebooks in late 2013. Her essay Memoir of a Book Deal tells the larger story while also serving as a primer on story structures. To follow her writing please "Like" her Facebook Author Page. She follows back most writers on Twitter.