I’m not a chicken. In South Carolina, if you’re a chicken, you’re a Gamecock and I am most certainly
I’m a Tiger. I write the Life on Clemson Road. So, when Wordsmith Studio writer, Khara House, issued her Submit-O-Rama Challenge for October, I should have been roaring. At least I should have accepted it. But I hid behind a tall wall called Revision. Polish. Perfection. Readiness.
Submit-O-Rama was Khara’s way of getting all of us newbie writers out of our comfort zone of composition and into the scary world of submissions. The rules were easy: submit at least one piece per day to some kind of literary outlet — a publication, an agent, what-have-you. Just get it out of your hands and in to someone else’s.
Sometime mid-month, I decided to just give it a try. I decided to get off the wall and ask someone to dance. I got the October 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest, found a few agents to query, read the piece about the “perfect” query letter and wrote mine to spec.
The article said comparing your work to published authors is a good idea as long as the comparison is relatively humble and accurate. I wrote, “(My book) can be compared to Ethan Hawke’s The Hottest State.” Simple, true, and obscure enough to indicate I had a real comparison, not a fantasy. I hadn’t suggested I was the female version of Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame).
I read the part about “what not to do” and made sure my query hadn’t done those things. The article suggested editorializing by suggesting who the target audience might be is a no-no. If I could do a good enough job introducing the main character and the main conflict, the agent could determine the fit for himself.
I read the agents’ profiles in the issue and chose a few that identified “adult fiction” as a focus genre. I made a short list of these agents and decided to query three of them in October.
I read the submission guidelines for each agent and made sure my three individual (and personalized!) emails met them. I proofread every word, every sentence, to make sure there were no silly errors that would get my query indiscriminately deleted.
The agents all said they wanted a query to follow the specific directions for their firm. When I recognized the directions said to include the first 10 pages in the body of the email, not an attachment, I made sure to copy and paste the first 10 pages into the email. This required a bit of formatting – paragraph indentions and such – but it was the following of directions that was most important.
Then I dropped 3,000 words of my first novel into the email and clicked “Send.”
And it went.
It was that easy.
When I was a sales rep I was told that email introductions would never work. They created a false sense of security. It was a “I’ve done my part, so I’m off the hook” mentality. So sending an email, especially one with 3,000 words of my first novel, felt especially passive.
“Get on the phone,” my sales manager used to tell me. “Force them to tell you, ‘No.’ Not just ignore you. Tell you, ‘No.’”
Surely this send-a-query-by-email-off-into-the-big-wide-writing-world strategy would not work. But, hey, this was how it was done. Writer’s Digest said it was. And so I’d done it.
Apparently the willingness to send my work into the big-wide-writing-world was the whole point. It was sort of a filter. Sort of a rite of passage.
I didn’t expect to hear anything from the first agent. Or the second one. Or the third. But submitting was so easy I just kept doing it.
I sent a short story to a literary magazine. Then another story to a different literary magazine. Then an essay to a monthly publication.
I even wrote a bio that said, “Kasie Whitener is a freelance writer living in Columbia, S.C.”
What? I’m a what?
It’s a new world for me and it probably is for you, too. It’s crazy to think of myself as this writer person. It’s crazy to be allowed to write.
And it isn’t an easy thing, this writerly life. We all have a bit of Sally Field’s “You really like me!” incredulity whenever we receive comments or affirmations. But the biggest obstacle to earning those accolades is putting the work out there. Being willing to reach out, connect, and audition.
My approach had been to shine everything up to a gleam and then submit it to the perfect venue. But that’s like singing in the shower for years and then stepping onto the stage at the Super Bowl to sing the National Anthem. Why not try a few notes at karaoke first? Why not audition a few dozen times? Why not let yourself be bad at this but still be seen?
WIP means work-in-progress — which indicates you’re a) working and b) progressing.
Submitting means it’s done, right?
I don’t think so. I think submitting means you’re acknowledging your work has merit and your message needs a bigger platform. I think submitting means you’re brave enough to take rejection.
Rejection email #1 read:
“Hey there Kasie, Thanks so much for giving me a shot at your novel. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!”
Rejection email #2 read:
“Dear Ms. Whitener, Thank you for thinking of me for this. Though I truly appreciate the chance to consider your work, I don’t quite feel that I’ve connected with your material enough to be the best possible agent for it. Please know that this business is highly subjective, and that what doesn’t work for one agent may work perfectly for another. With that in mind, I do hope you will continue to search for a home for your manuscript. I wish you the best of luck as you move forward with your writing career.”
That sound you hear is my ego staying intact. Thank you, kind and gentle literary agents for letting me down easy. I’ll accept the, “It’s not you, it’s me,” rejection. You’re right. It’s you.
The agent who recognizes my main character, who believes in him, is out there. I just have to find him or her. And with these first few “no thank yous” to bolster me, and Miss Khara House to thank for the encouragement, I’m off to put myself out there. Again and again and again.
No longer chicken. Hear me roar.
What’s keeping you from submitting your work? What would it take for you to commit to finding an agent — or submitting a story or poem — in 2013?
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Kasie Whitener is writer, mommy, wife, Gen X fictioneer, freelance editorialist, and recovering chicken. She blogs at http://lifeonclemsonroad.blogspot.com, hangs out on facebook.com/KasieWhitener and tweets @KasieWhitener.