Click here to read Part 2.
I've always been grateful toward Kaleb Nation (author of Bran Hambric and Harken): he used to talk a lot about writing and publishing, giving inspiration toward other writers and describing how the whole process had worked out for him. I was in college around this time. So he was kind of like the motivational speaker I was hearing, the person saying that you can do what you want to do and you can make it work. So even though I was always reluctant to say that I wanted to be an author (because I've always been a writer), Kaleb helped me remember that if I wanted to, I could be.
And he also gave some practical advice. He pointed out agentquery.com, which has information about literary agents and about how you write and format query letters to them asking if they would like to represent your book. I would visit this book from time to time, reading different sections of it. And then when I had finished writing and editing my book, I started putting together a list of agents who might be interested in it and writing my query letter.
This was unbelievably difficult.
You know how, when you're in school, you adopt a certain writing tone for essays? One that isn't really yours, even though you're also graded on "voice?" That's how it was writing a query letter: it has to be professional and include certain information. Except the thing is, you have to adopt a certain tone while also demonstrating your specific writing voice as a sample of the tone you take in your book. And that's hard. You have to play by the rules while also trying to stand out, so to speak. Oh, yes, and you have to give each agent specific reasons why your book will appeal to them specifically.
I wrote one letter that I sent out to a few agents. Then I rewrote my letter and started sending out that one instead. And from this second letter I started getting some results: I started getting the occasional rejection. At first I thought, this is fine, they say that getting rejections is good because it means that they took the time to at least give you an answer (as opposed to not answering you at all, which happens quite a bit). And a few people asked to see either a full or a partial of the manuscript. But after a while, as months were passing, it was all starting to wear on me.
I started to feel like I was wasting my time, like no one that I was trying to reach out to would be interested in my book, anyway. So many of these agents want a book that has mainstream potential: my book, in theory, doesn't really. It's more localized, more specific; I know there is an audience for it, but not (in theory) a mainstream one. So trying to convince a busy literary agent in New York that my Arizona book is worth their time just wasn't working out. I had one rejection at least tell me that my book sounded too abstract for their agency; I was grateful that they were so specific.
Given the fiction that's generally considered abstract ("The Wasteland" or Endgame or even something like Mrs. Dalloway), I don't exactly like to use the term toward my book. Abstract also implies that it's difficult to understand; yet I find my book very straightforward and simple to understand in its almost blatant expression of them (blatant sounds like a negative word; I would look for another word, except that this one gets my point across so easily, you see). It doesn't have much of a plot, but does that really make it abstract? To agents and publishers apparently it does. (I've been toying with the phrase "poetic fiction" lately--how does that sound?)
So I came to realize that, unless there was something very wrong with my query letters, my book just wasn't what literary agents look for. And that's okay. If the problem was that my book didn't sound mainstream enough, then that was just fine with me: I did want to create a very specific type of book, so if only certain people (especially at first) found it interesting, I had no problem with that.
Next time: I approach smaller publishers that don't require literary agents.