The virtual studio of author and artist Stephanie Rose Bird brings together artistic process and reflection with the literary arts in a manner that is designed to be instructive and inspirational.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Query Burn Out
Last year I finished the manuscript for my first novel. Through the process of writing it I had several readers and hired an editor. Things didn't work out with the editor so I trudged onward on my own. I also workshopped the book several times in professional writer's groups.
I read the manuscript and re-read it, editing all the while. Finally, I was ready to send out queries. I had read that if you don't query at least 100 places, whether that is agents or publishers that allow queries from authors, that you haven't really tried hard enough. So, query and query some more, is what I did.
I had highs and lows. I had a very prestigious literary agent in New York immediately request to see the whole manuscript, after receiving the first chapter. I had several niche small publishers ask to read the whole manuscript. Two of which, took months to reply back after receiving it, raising my hopes.
I got some nice rejections from that effort. Saying they loved the book; thought it was well-written and a good story but they had no idea how to publish such a book. I inserted in my mind, the word strange, so what they said would read, "I don't know how to publish such a strange book." In reality who knows what they really meant. What it meant to me, is that I did not have a home for my book.
Then, I started grasping for straws. I had my top agent candidates and my top publisher's list at first. Then I went mid-level. Toward the end of my four month process, I started submitting anywhere that seemed remotely open to what I was doing.
I have a lot of books on publishing and have read many blog posts and online articles on publishers and agents. I have successfully had published 5 nonfiction books and have a 6th under contract. I knew nothing was wrong with my query letter because it got bites of interest but I revised it anyway, when my inner critic said so. I tried submitting the beginning of the book, the middle and the end, when I had a choice of which part to query with. All this to no avail. Bites but no one really on the hook, committed enough to publish the novel. I tried breaking it down into short stories and submitted those to literary journals--still, no go.
I never thought I'd give up on one of my manuscripts but that is what happened. I shelved it reluctantly and started a brand new novel. The new novel gave me hope and it has been exciting to develop a fresh, new story. I am in a course called Novel in a Year. Every month we need to write at least 30 pages and so far I have stuck to that. It is a bit of a lighter story, involving Greek mythology and African American culture, set back in the post-war era in rural Alabama.
As for the first novel--I still wonder about it. Was it the subject matter itself that people couldn't stomach? It is about a young African American girl who is a witch and shape-shifter who gets molested by an aunt, and physically abused by her father, while being psychologically abused by her mother and bullied at school. She has an uncle who is also involved with magical traditions, who takes her off to Australia. There she finds healing through a group of Aboriginal women healers. She returns home a more whole person and she has been empowered by her experiences down under. Her parents had an explosive and violent event while she was away from home, leaving the father dead and the mother in prison, so that she gets resettled in a more functional household with her grandfather, who was one of her heroes in the story,and her cousin who she adores--so there was a happy ending after much grief and suffering.
I thought I was completely burnt out on querying for this book to be published. Recently though, I saw a small publishing house that once again seemed the perfect fit, so I reluctantly queried again, restarting a process that will hopefully, like my novel, have a happy ending.