I’ve been sending out queries for Line of Flight since November, about 10 months, now. So much for any naive assumptions that I’d find a literary agent sooner than later. I’m up to about 40 queries, so far, and have received a variety of form letter rejections and a couple of more personal notes, as well as two requests for the manuscript—one full (declined) and one partial (waiting for an answer). As a good friend reminds me, it only takes one agent to say yes. But finding that perfect match is a long journey.
After the first dozen or so no’s, I took a step back and hired an editor to review my query letter and first 10 pages, as well as to help me write a synopsis (much harder than it sounds). I also took a Grub Street workshop on writing queries. Both investments helped me to sharpen my language. Even before sending out the first query, I had hired one of my former Grub Street instructors to review the entire manuscript twice, for the final round of revisions. I feel confident about my novel. The question is how to break through the competition.
So, what’s the best metaphor to describe this process? There’s a search for the needle in a haystack, but that quest seems next to impossible and also mind-numbingly tedious and endless. There’s running a marathon, not a sprint, but (a) I’m not a runner and (b) marathons have a defined beginning and end, usually within a day, and this is taking far longer. Then there’s slogging through the trenches. Clearly, finding a literary agent is not a life-or-death matter of warfare, but given that my novel is set in World War I, that’s the analogy that fits, for now. Especially because of the mud that made trenches so treacherous.
Mostly, I feel like I just have to push myself to keep plodding forward—slogging through the deep mud of rejections, uncertainty, market trends that don’t match what I’ve written, self-doubts, distractions of our precarious political moment—until I find that agent who loves my story as much as I do and feels it has real potential.
Meanwhile, I continue to write. I’ve been working on Draft 1 of Novel 2 since spring and making good progress. That’s actually what’s keeping me going. Telling stories is what I need to do. And trust that I’ll find that perfect agent in due time. Amen.
Evelyn Herwitz writes about the journey of writing her first novel—a work of historical fiction set in World War I—the vagaries of the creative process, and her quest for publication, at evelynherwitz.com.
Image: New York Public Library