Thursday, March 29, 2012

Submitting a Novel: Proof That Time Stands Still

What do you call the period of time that spans the day you submit your novel to the moment you hear back--thumbs up or down--from an agent or editor?

Back in the day (pre-email), the time between mailing a query letter (or partial or full) and getting a response could be weeks... even months. I know this from years of calendar-watching experience. These days, however, thanks to email, you can get your rejection in minutes. This I also know from personal experience.

In either case, I believe that that period of time is known as "eternity."

It doesn't get any better after you've been published. In fact, there's the added pressure that accompanies a sophomore effort. As soon as you send off the manuscript you've obsessed over for two or three years, those inner demons start happily planting the fields of negativity and uncertainty that line your neural pathways:
  • "S/he hates it; that's why you haven't heard." 
  • "They're all gathered around your manuscript, pointing and laughing."
  • "Do you really think this is better than the first one?:
  • "That was your one shot, kid. This one is going to finally expose you as the fraud, the one-hit wanna-be writer."

The best advice I've received for handling this situation came on the day I learned Bill Warrington's Last Chance would be published. I learned it from Susan Petersen Kennedy, the president of Penguin Group. "Have you started on your next one?" she asked, soon after we'd met. I mumbled something about experimenting with a few different ideas. She shook her head. "No," she said. "You need to get started on the next one right away."

She was right, of course. I did. And a few weeks ago, I finished it. And I'm starting on the next one. Right here, smack dab in the middle of eternity.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye."
Jack Kerouac, ON THE ROAD
 For the past two-and-a-half years, I've been obsessed with the internal and external lives of the characters in my work-in-progress. I finally finished the story and sent it off to my agent. And so begins the waiting. And yes, Mr. Petty, the way-yay-ting is indeed the hardest part.

In the meantime, I've been fiddling around with some new story ideas. But what's surprised me is how much I've already let go of the characters that I've lived with 24/7 for a thousand days or so. Oh, I know I'll be spending plenty of quality time with them after my agent and editor read and (please, God, please) accept the manuscript. But in my mind, the characters are pretty much pacing the waiting room, bags packed. They're itching to escape the danger of yet another change to their appearance or motivation. They're tired of words being put in their mouths, of constantly being asked if their actions and reactions are realistic or "in character."  Some of the secondary characters are especially nervous, knowing that if it's decided they're not pulling their weight in pushing the story forward, they'll fall into the already over-crowded pit managed by that Charon of the keyboard, Delete.

I'm eager to make sure my beloved characters are in the best possible shape before sending them out into the world. But for quite awhile now, they've been the uninvited guests at the King house, occupying my thoughts in the early and late hours and, more often than not, during breakfast, lunch and dinner. They've dominated the conversations on "date nights" with my wife, and my children are becoming less and less tolerant of my grumpy battles with the main character. It's nearing time to say good-bye.

It will be nice for a while. A bit freeing, actually. But I know that soon things will start to get a little too quiet around here and it'll be time to meet some new friends. In fact, just this morning while shaving, I met an interesting character in a terrible predicament who needs a place to stay for a day or so. Or maybe a thousand.