Potholes on the Road to Publication - Easy-peasy!

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… write a manuscript, get a literary agent … get a reality check …

I thought life would be less hectic and complicated after I left the world of television production. Life had other ideas.

I’d almost finished writing the manuscript that had been rumbling around in my head for ages when I gave birth to my son. I had little to no experience with babies and was surprised to learn that they aren’t born self-sufficient … so my son took up a lot of my time.

I did, however, have lots of experience as the primary caregiver/driver/moral supporter of various relatives.

Soon after my son was born my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and, because my mother worked insane hours, I had to spend a lot of my time taking care of him and taking him for regular transfusions.

Then my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and I had to drive him to and from his treatments at the Princess Margaret Hospital (and tried to keep his spirits up as we sat in so many waiting rooms).

Then my mother needed emergency abdominal surgery, followed by a long recovery time. Then she fell and broke several ribs; repeat the recovery process thing. (We'd already had lots of practice in our patient/caregiver roles during her bout with ovarian cancer and the resulting chemo and radiation treatments; and the surgery for her broken hip and the resulting months of therapy.)

Then my marriage exploded. After the first emotional bomb hit me I often quoted Princess Di – “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” When the second bomb came flying in out of the blue I had to change that to “There were four of us …” and so on … and so on … The end result was an incredibly nasty legal war that lasted three years and took a bigger toll on my psyche than it did on my wallet.

Despite being thrust into absolute single parenthood, despite the multiple parental and medical obligations, despite all the legal shenanigans, I somehow did manage to get that manuscript finished. Escaping into the fictional world of my characters was a very therapeutic escape from my reality during that time.

I knew next to nothing about the publishing world and bought two books that gave me invaluable information – Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market and Guide to Literary Agents. I learned how to query (starting with learning what a query letter was!). I researched all the agents who looked like they might represent my kind of story. Then I picked the top 10 recommended agents in New York, wrote what I hoped was one killer query letter, sent it off … and waited. And waited. And waited. Then the replies started to come in – rejections. Some were nice, encouraging even, but they were still rejections. I was gearing up to query the next 10 agents on my list when what to my wondering eyes should appear? A request from an agent to see the full manuscript. I sent it off. More waiting. A lot more waiting. (And the agent had requested an exclusive so I couldn’t keep querying other agents until I heard back from her.) When I did finally hear back from her it was worth the wait – she offered to represent me. I had a New York literary agent!!! I was set. Visions of bestseller lists danced in my head.

Those visions faded over the next two years. She rarely replied to emails. It was like pulling Arthur’s sword out of the stone to get her to tell me which, if any, publishing houses she’d approached (she begrudgingly told me about three of them). Then she started living in a soap opera. Given the soap opera that I’d been living in, I was willing to give her some understanding and leeway. But her stories started to stretch the limits of my understanding – and belief. A scheduled telephone call had to be cancelled because the taxi she’d been in a week earlier had been T-boned and she was too upset to reschedule the call anytime soon. Her assistant left and she didn’t know how to work the computer, so she couldn’t access the submission records for my manuscript. One close relative, then another, died in sudden and tragic and/or bizarre circumstances. On the second anniversary of us signing her representation contract I sent her one last email. I thanked her for her efforts and suggested that maybe my manuscript just wasn’t right for a New York publishing house and that we should part amicably. That time I got a quick reply. She agreed. She also suggested that, given the state of publishing, I should consider trying to break into publishing by writing a romance or two because my odds of success would be greater due to the simple fact that more romances are published than any other kind of book.

I sent out more query letters. I got more rejections. I lovingly tucked my first completed manuscript away and perfected my origami skills as I found a good use for the rejection letters and emails that I received from other agents. (We didn’t have fidget spinners back then.)

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Then I sulked. And questioned whether or not I even wanted to write at all. I’d miraculously written an entire manuscript, got signed on by a top agent and … zilch.

A romance, huh? Was she right? I didn’t know anything about romances – I hadn’t even read one … but if she was right, I’d have better odds if I tried that genre.

I fell into a truly bizarre pothole going down the romance publishing road. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and boy-oh-boy is that ever true with what happened next. I’ll post that story once I figure out a way to edit it down to just the almost believable bits. (Even I wouldn’t believe the unbelievable bits if I hadn’t lived them.)

Janet Forman