Slowly coming back to myself . . .
On a couple of author blogs I lurk, folks are writing about the progress of their novels. They provide daily word count updates, sometimes post excitedly about plot breakthroughs, or post their frustration about stories that seem to be going nowhere. One or two have even completed their novels and begun the dreaded quest for an agent.
It's strange, but having pretty much given up on ever finding a market for any of the four novels I've written, it's hard to describe my emotions when reading these things. I too remember the excitement of sending out query letters and the receipt of endless rejections. The oh-so-close feeling when a respected agent asks for a partial. Though I'd polished them as best I could, and had close friends read them and offer criticism, I knew they still needed work. But I figured it was the kind of work or insight that a professional agent or editor might offer.
I did get close once or twice. An associate in the office of a respected New York agent asked for a partial of my first novel almost immediately. After three months, I politely followed up using the e-mail address they provided. For my trouble, I got an immediate blast back from the Famous Agent himself, telling me the associate who had asked for my work was no longer with his firm, and by the way, do not ever use this e-mail address again. Ever. To add insult to injury, his e-mail offered a link to his own book on how to get published.
The second close one was another big firm that asked for a partial. I politely followed up after three months and heard nothing from that either. I assume it was a no.
And so it was, just a few days ago, I got the final rejection on one of the novels from a small press. Frankly, given their unprofessional demeanor revealed all over the web, I would have been embarrassed to go with them anyway. Oh, don't get me wrong. I would have gone with them. They have a couple of early books in their catalogue from writers who later went on to bigger and better things. But still.
So anyway, in the midst of my illness last week, I received a voice mail from a friend. He was (and is) one of my beta readers. His cryptic message was regarding my very first novel, which I wrote in 2005 and have long given up on. It's a semi-autobiographical tale of a young boy from a large Catholic family growing up in the suburbs of Boston. His message said that he had just finished re-reading it and wanted to talk to me about it.
Intrigued, yet with some trepidation, I returned his phone call. What could this possibly be about? Was the main character a putz? Did the whole thing fall apart the second time around? Did he spot some mistakes he didn't catch the first time around?
What he told me was this.
He had dug out my self-printed copy and begun re-reading it. He and his wife went on a car trip and he brought it with him. With her driving, he read aloud some parts and they both laughed. He said it was even better this time around. It hit him harder. He said he finished it up within a few hours.
And then, this Gulf War veteran and father of two, this card-carrying member of the NRA, told me he was crying when he finished it. He said he was even crying when he dropped me the voice mail. He said there were so many things he missed the first time around. He told me it was really, really good.
So maybe I gave up on the thing too soon. Maybe I've used self-pity or excuses not to flog it hard enough. Maybe my query letter just needs a little work.
Maybe . . . just maybe . . . I'll try again.