By Amy Brown
When I began writing my first novel years ago, a middle-grade novel about a young American girl who moves to Sweden, I thought the most daunting aspect was simply completing it to my satisfaction. This meant years of rewriting, editing, fellow writer critiques of my manuscript, the comments of test readers until I considered it ready for the outside world. Little did I know that the mountain I thought I had climbed to reach that point was actually a foothill. My journey to becoming a published novelist was far from over—in fact, I’m still hiking up that mountain.
I once had an agent
You see, once the novel was ready for the big time, five years ago, I began the process of trying to find an agent. Some 62 queries later, a New York agent agreed to take on the manuscript. Yipee! I thought this was it. He sent it around to several editors at top publishing houses. We waited for their responses. Invariably, frustratingly, the editors were complementary and encouraging, yet there was always a “but.” “I didn’t quite fall in love with it,” they’d write, or “I don’t feel I am the right person to champion this manuscript.” Eventually the agent told me he had done all he could, exhausted his list of editors, and advised me to try small literary presses or publishing houses that might be more likely to take a chance on a first novel. He still believed in my novel and its publishing worthiness, but admitted that the publishing world was tough, especially the world of middle-grade and YA fiction.
The loooong break
The editors’ rejections, the agent’s “I’ve done all I can,” made me weary. That hike began to feel so arduous that I sat down and took a very long break—too long, in fact. I stopped writing as much. I didn’t continue to pursue publishing. And it killed me inside—because once a writer, you’re always a writer. And writers want—and need—readers.
The Venice Book Fair and Writers’ Festival
This past weekend I put on my hiking boots again and finally got over the first ridge to glimpse a new horizon—and I owe it to the Venice Book Fair and Writers’ Festival this past weekend (and my constant cheerleader of a sister Toby Brown, who reminded me to sign up for it). In the coming week, I’ll be posting a three-part blog with the best wisdom and advice gleaned from the festival, from the best-selling Florida-based authors who are actually—miraculously—making a living from doing what they love—writing novels. They give me hope—and maybe they’ll do that for you, too.
Making a pitch
Today I focus on the part of the festival that most excited me: the chance to “pitch” to an agent or editor. The pitch is that golden moment at such conferences, where you may get ten, fifteen or even as little as five minutes with an agent to sell them on your book. I’d done this before, but not in a long time, so I was determined to take this chance. Only the first eight people in line on Saturday morning would get a slot. I got there an hour ahead of time, was #2 in line. So far, so good. As the editor Camille Cline took our names, we were told we’d get 15 minutes; just before the pitch session started, we were told it was 10 minutes. Panic set in. But my pitch was down to under three minutes so I could use the rest of the time to hopefully “talk shop” with the editor or agent.
And that’s exactly what happened. Camille Cline listened with seemingly genuine rapt attention to my pitch, declared it a “wonderful” story and then when I shared my “I once had an agent” tale, she said, “We’re going to talk shop, okay?” She helped me try to figure out why it hadn’t sold and urged me not to give up on it—that there were lots of publishers out there. “Try Publishers Marketplace,” she said.
She generously gave me more than the allotted ten minutes, but I walked out without her recommendation for the name of an agent or a publisher as I’d hoped. Yet I did gain something of great value: the reminder that my work was worthy of publishing and to never, ever to give up.
On Wednesday, look for part two of this blog, to learn how four Florida-based novelists (David Hagberg, Ward Larsen, Don Bruns and Susan Klaus) never gave up and now have thriving careers.
Don’t miss Part 2: How to make a living as a writer.