I started teaching creative writing in 1985. Since I wanted a well-rounded program, I studied everything I could on how to get published. The books said to go to writers’ conferences. I did that. I bought countless How-to books, How to Sell You Novel, etc. I talked to published authors for their advice – “Well, first you get an agent and the agent will help you get a publisher.”
I jumped in the game. In January of 1986, I sent a query letter about my first novel to agent Jean Nagar in New York. My wife had seen her on TV and liked her. She was Jean Auel’s agent (Clan of the Cave Bear). A week later, my Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) came back – great news – she wanted to see the whole thing and would get back to me within three weeks.
Three weeks became three months and then six months. Just like the books said, I sent polite reminders. No response. That summer on the verge of attending another writers conference, I broke the rules – I called her office. A woman answered, not Ms. Nagar. I explained everything, how I was going to another conference and needed to know if her agency was interested.
“What’s the name of the book again?”
“Prisoners of the Williwaw.”
I had to spell Williwaw for her and explain what it was.
“What’s it about?”
“Three hundred hard core prisoners¾”
“Just a minute.”
I heard a definite negative tone in her voice, but I still hoped. “Just a minute,” became ten minutes, for which I was paying long distance charges.
I was crushed, more than I thought possible. I debated throwing this writing thing from my life completely, but somehow I carried on.
Things didn’t get any better in my publishing efforts.
- An agent returned my novel, “There are too many men to make it a woman’s novel and too many women to make it a men’s novel.”
- A publisher (Hancock House in BC) returned a manuscript to me three years after I sent it to them
- A Texas literary agent rejected a work of another author and sent it to me.
- Some publishers said, “Get an agent,” and then an agent would say, “Get a publisher.
I went forward despite all these rejections and I used Print On Demand to print my three novels and two works on non-fiction. That was great for local readers and family, but it made no dent in national markets.
Then along came E-books. I’m back to 1985, learning how to sell my books all over again. But it seems to be a wonderful new age for writers. The Gatekeepers (publishers and agents) are no longer in the loop. Kindle, Smashwords, your social network platform – all new things to learn. A colleague of mine put his novel on Kindle and it rose to the top.
It’s a new age and now there’s hope.