I guess this first post should be about getting the call from the publisher who decided that my book would be a perfect fit for her press. I'd been published before--several short stories and poems in various literary magazines--but the only experience I'd had that involved publication and payment with actual money was a few years ago, with a lovely little short story magazine called Glimmer Train. My story, "We Cry for Us," which I'd written in graduate school, won second place (and a heart thumping $1000) in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open.
Fast foward four years and about 40 rejection letters later, and I'm sitting in my tiny office, listening to a woman tell me how gorgeous my story is, how she hopes I'll be able to publish it with her. I've heard about this call. I'd read about the whole novel-breakthrough business in King's On Writing. But it didn't prepare me for the euphoria I felt when I actually got the call.
About that number, 40, above. I didn't send the the entire manuscript out to 40 different publishers. (Frankly, I don't think there are that many publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore.) I did what every serious and ambitious writer does, but most keep as a dirty little secret: I multiply submitted. To be fair, I did inform the editors on my cover letter that the manuscript was, in fact, being submitted to other publishers. And I don't know if that hurt my chances of getting the coveted call. But I tried sending it to one publisher at a time, and I don't care what anyone tells you, you just can't wait 8 months for a faceless agent in New York to hem and haw over whether you're a good "fit" for their line-up without wanting to claw your eyes out.
So, I sent out a blend of cover letters, first chapters, first three chapters, and query letters to 20 small and large presses. I followed their particular instructions in my Little Presses encyclopedia and on their websites. I paid a small fortune in self-addressed stamped envelopes, packed my babies up, and hand-delivered those large manila submissions to the post office. About a year later, I had collected 19 rejection letters, which had been ritualistically three-hole-punched and placed in my Rejection Letter Binder. (Stephen King had warned me that a nail wasn't weighty enough to handle all the rejection letters a writer should expect, so I was prepared.)
I wasn't depressed or even sad. Some of the presses had closed shop before my letter reached them; others, resembling a kind of nepotistic, narcissitic commune, didn't publish "other people's" fiction; still others just didn't feel my story "fit" their needs. I got that. It wasn't until I received rejection #20, accompanied by 3 reviewers' comments that each contained 2 single-spaced pages of pretty harsh criticism, that I plunged into despair. Skipped right over Depression and shelved the manuscript from sight for more than 3 months. It wasn't until my beloved partner urged me gently but persistantly to resubmit, resubmit, resubmit, because this story matters. This story is beautiful. He believed in my writing. I did, finally, resubmit.
Twenty more submissions. Nineteen more letters that said, "Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately,..." and "We no longer publish...," sometimes in a form letter, and other times thoughtfully handwritten. I just needed one more letter, and then I could lay to rest my baby while she still had a tiny bit of dignity left. This was my state of mind when I picked up the phone and listened, dumbfounded, to the steady voice on the other end, saying all the things a young writer needs to hear. My heart was thudding. Thudding. When I hung up the phone, I opened my office door, let out a scream, and danced--danced --in the basement before accosting my collegaue across the hall and sharing the good news.
So that's it. That's how I turned from a short story writer into a "novelist" in a matter of minutes. That was over a year ago. Next post: the waiting game.