(If you enjoyed reading this check out part 1 here )
Stick with it.
You too can get an agent for that book.
In 2001 I was lucky enough to land an agent for my first book, Casco Bay Ferry Tales. The day after I signed the contract, jihadists crashed a pair of planes into the twin towers and our country went into a period of deep mourning. My book never sold. In the grand scheme of things, the fact that my book never made it into print was not the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It doesn’t even make the top 20.
With time and distance, I’ve realized, like so many things in life, there were valuable lessons learned.
Lesson #1 Take a good close, honest look at why you failed.
Here’s what I came up with: The book wasn’t very good. It took me a while to acknowledge this. Okay, 14 years is more than a while. But I also concluded that within the good and not so good writing, riveting and not so riveting characters, there was a story that I should refine. Writing about my medical practice on the Casco Bay Islands in Maine was worth another try.
Lesson #2: Get outside help.
Like most of us, it’s hard for me to accept advice. Getting outside help and listening to it, truly listening, is painful. I asked (read: paid) Bill Roorbach, a prominent Maine writer and creative writing teacher, to read the book and offer suggestions on how to make it better. As an author, he knew how to balance direct criticism with praise for chapters which really worked. He was an excellent guide.
After re-working the book, I decided to try and find an agent again. Some people have connections to the world of agents and publishing houses. I don’t. But I naively believed that because the book was picked up by an agent before, an even better book should not be a problem. After thirty or so rejections, I wasn’t so sure.
Lesson #3: Maybe self-publishing isn’t such a bad idea after all.
The corollary to this is: Why do you want your book published in the first place? I have to admit a sliver of vanity is involved. Every author wants their work seen by as many people as possible. We want to be acknowledged, perhaps, even celebrated. Self-publishing nowadays has never been easier. With a little work, you can get your book on Amazon and carried in local bookstores. Book clubs may invite you to discuss your book. There are examples of self-published books which become popular and are picked up by publishers. Ultimately, I decided to keep plugging away and find an agent.
Lesson #4: Be prepared to follow-up on the slightest pretext.
After another 50 rejections (and these were specific agents I wrote to who represented my genre: creative, medical non-fiction), I decided to switch gears and wrote to another entirely different swath of agents who might be interested in representing a book I’d written in the interim about patients with rare autoimmune diseases. Not a bite.
I kept at it. One day, an agent wrote back, I enjoyed your writing in the autoimmune disease chapter you forwarded, but I don’t feel I can represent it. Hmm. Now that’s complimentary. I wrote back: I have another book. It’s about my years practicing as an island doctor. She asked for and read several chapters and liked what she read. We signed a contract. I thought I was all set. Not so fast.
Lesson #5: Congratulations, you have an agent. Are you ready to do almost everything you would’ve done to self-publish by developing an extensive platform for your book?
I wasn’t. Okay, I knew that publishers expect authors to promote their books, but I wasn’t prepared for the request to build my “platform” on social media. I’m an older guy, one of the few people on the planet who has never been on Facebook much less Instagram or Twitter. Before my agent would go to a publisher, she requested that I rethink my aversion to social media. She informed me that the chances of a publisher picking up my book were logarithmically increased if I had a gazillion followers.
So that’s where I am now. Some of it is fun. And some of it is like passing a kidney stone: slow and periodically excruciating. I’m trying to increase the fun aspects. I’ve connected with people who seem very nice. My son-in-law and daughters have been a great help. They use their thumbs and fingers tapping messages on their phones like they were born to be publicists. And I’ve had another revelation. If this time, the book doesn’t sell, maybe I should self-publish my book. Now, there’s an idea….