By Lyndsay Ely
January 22, 2013.
That was the day I sent my first query to an agent. I had to go look that up because, whenever someone asks me how long I’ve been working on a novel or trying to get published, my mind goes blank. (Probably out of some kind of self-preservation, to keep me from remembering the many, MANY rejections and failures that took place after.)
The query letter was, unsurprisingly, terrible, sent along with a terrible synopsis, and a pretty cliché first chapter to boot. This was the first novel I’d ever finished, and it went on to receive exactly one request out of fifty or sixty more queries before I finally shelved it.
In retrospect, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about querying a novel. I didn’t know enough about high concept storytelling or current market trends or how to write a strong, succinct pitch. About the only thing I did know was to keep writing, and while I was sending around my ill-fated first novel, I went on to start what would eventually become GUNSLINGER GIRL, my debut.
At the beginning of 2015, manuscript complete, I was ready to try my hand at querying again. This time, I felt more confident. I had done a lot more research about writing query letters, reading every successful one I could find posted online. But I’d also come to learn more about the alternative ways of getting my manuscript in front of an agent, specifically online contests and Twitter pitch parties. (Which, I can’t stress enough, are awesome. Sometimes when I ask writing friends “Hey, are you entering/participating in [contest]/[twitter pitch party]?” and they say no, and I’m at a loss. Querying sometimes feels like a game of numbers, and it’s my opinion that every chance at getting your manuscript noticed is worth a try. A minimal investment of time could have a very big professional pay-off.)
Anyways, my manuscript was lucky enough to be chosen for a couple of online mentoring contests that year, including Pitch Wars. During both contests, I worked with mentors to revise and polish my manuscript. And between these, I was also participating in Twitter pitch contests like #pitmad and #sffpit. Both avenues yielded modest but consistent interest, as did my general querying.
And yet…no offer.
But anyone in publishing can tell you that almost nothing happens quickly, and sometimes you just have to be patient.
It wasn’t until the very end of 2015 that I received an email from Laura Zats, who, nearly six months earlier, had favorited one of my tweets during #sffpit.
She wanted to talk.
I tried not to get my hopes up—not all agents who want to talk make an offer—but, lo and behold, Laura did. And even better, she really seemed to get the book. (Note: this is something you want in an agent.)
So, only a few weeks from shelving GUNSLINGER GIRL, I had an offer, and then an agent. And just so no one thinks the work done before this was for naught, when I signed with Laura I had a newly polished manuscript to hand her, thanks to Pitch Wars. Yay!
Hard work done, right?
You’d think so, but nope.
My mom once said to me that she thought all you did was write a book and once it sold to a publisher, that was it. And to be honest, there was probably a point where I thought that too. One of the biggest revelations about writing a novel has been how many times it can be revised before it’s done. I’ve genuinely forgotten how many rewrites, editing passes, and last minute tweaks I did on GUNSLINGER GIRL, both before and after sale. (Did I recently try to change one word, only to find out that the final pages were already with the printer and it was too late? Yes, yes I did.)
In the end, nearly two years passed between beginning to query GUNSLINGER GIRL and announcing its sale. By the time this is posted, it will be only a few weeks from publication, and almost exactly five years from when I first began querying. To some writers, five years doesn’t sound like very long. To others, it probably sounds like an eternity. But, as is often said, no two paths to publication are the same.
For me, five years is how it played out. And chances are that, at this exact moment, I’m a frenzied mess of nerves desperately trying to stay distracted from imminent publication by churning out word salad in order to hit my NaNoWriMo goals. Because, even if my first book is about to come out, the next one still needs to get written.
Lyndsay Ely (pronounced “eel-y”, as in those eels are looking very eel-y today) is a writer who currently calls Boston home. She is a geek, a foodie, a feminist, and has never met an antique shop she didn’t like. Her favorite color is crimson, and her favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo.
Gunslinger Girl (James Patterson Books) is her debut novel.