A little over a year ago I started telling people that I had decided to try writing a book that would be good enough to land me a literary agent and ultimately be published traditionally, and because I made this desire so public, I’ve fielded all sorts of questions from people curious to know how it’s all going.
So here I am, at the podium, fielding questions.
How’s It Going?
It’s all going great, thank you, but I have neither landed a literary agent, nor I have come close to publishing anything.
Oh. I’m Sorry to Hear That.
It’s okay! I promise! The truth is those things haven’t happened yet because I haven’t gotten to that point in the process. It turns out book publishing is a long, slow-moving train. It can take years for even established, agented writers to make their way from idea to publication, and since I am neither established nor agented, it could take even longer.
And That’s… Good?
Look. Here’s something I picked up on Writer Twitter at some point over the course of the last several months (I can’t remember where), and I think it explains my lack of tangible process thus far fairly well: The one advantage rookie writers have that they never will again is time. Publishing is an industry of deadlines, but right now I don’t have one. That means I get to toil over putting my best foot forward because I’m only getting one chance at that first impression, right? I want mine to be one of a writer that did his homework and navigated the process the right way.
So What Have You Been Doing This Whole Time?
I’ve been writing a lot and reading a lot. I’ve finished two full manuscripts in the past 14 months and read more contemporary Young Adult novels than I have in years.
Well, I mean, that’s not all I’ve done. I’ve also spent a lot of time learning about the industry itself and making connections with people in it. Publishing is “fun” in that there is pretty much only one way to do things if you want to be agented, and while completing that process can feel a lot like solving the Riddles Three of an under-the-bridge troll, it understandably serves as a failsafe allowing agents to eliminate people that can’t follow simple querying guidelines.
In a job that requires as much attention to detail as writing, doing what’s asked of you is important. I don’t want to be turned away at the door before I even enter the club because I didn’t get the dress code right, ya know?
Do You Think You’ll Find an Agent Soon? When Will You Be Published?
I’m being patient. As a younger writer, I wanted everything to come easily and quickly. Nothing could happen fast enough, and I considered anything short of immediate gratification equal to disappointment.
I have since learned (mostly through 15 years of being a high school teacher—the profession with the least amount of immediate gratification in the history of professions) that it’s okay to be patient. It’s okay to want to get things right before revealing it to the world. If these books that I’ve written (and will continue to write) are going to connect with people, I’m going to have to give them the time and energy they deserve.
That means taking it slow, which is fine in an industry that also likes to take things slow. Unfortunately, moving slowly doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of exciting updates to share. I truly don’t know if or when I’ll ever get an agent, let alone end up with a book people can buy.
That’s It, Huh? There Truly Is No Exciting News?
There are things I consider minor victories. I’ve won a couple of Twitter contests to get free feedback from professional editors. I once again am planning on applying for a mentorship program that I did not previously get into back in the fall. I like the new book’s chances more than I did the first book’s chances, and getting selected would put me in contact with a professional who could help make my most recent book the best possible version of itself.
I’m also starting to mull around ideas for a third manuscript, but I’ve got too many to count. I’ve got an idea about a teenage YouTube musician getting a shot with a bigtime band he admires. Another idea centers around a kid who uses his synesthesia to try and find the perfect girlfriend (with disastrous consequences). I had one idea about a kid who gets a new wish every week. No genies, but maybe a talking cat.
Okay so maybe that last idea is a stinker. Still, it’s hard to decide, and it’s even harder inventing new characters that people will root for and against. I will figure it out as I continue to work on other stories with an eye toward querying agents at some undetermined point in the future.
I Guess I Wanted More from This Q&A.
That’s fair. Frankly, I wish I had more to give.
The bottom line is this: I’m trying really hard not to be in a hurry, so I spend my days listening, learning, interacting, making connections, and of course honing my craft. I’m looking at this the way Olympic athletes must view their training: four years of intense work with an eye toward an ultimate goal. That means constant hard work, unceasing focus, and an undeniable feeling that it all will be worth it eventually. Those athletes can’t make the actual Olympic Games show up on the calendar any more quickly than I can make a book magically appear on Barnes & Noble’s shelves.
Like I said, I want to do this right, and so far, I feel like I’ve done a good job with that.
I’ve got time, but if all goes according to plan, I’ll never have time like this again.