I was the student that teachers dreamed about in school. My work was complete, correct, and on time. I was not prone to disruption, and I mastered an Attentive Face even though my skewed hearing and subsequent lack of attention translates, “Turn to page 311 to the heading Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address-” to “Tur-uh to page shree-11 to the boop-boop-boop-BOOP-boop-BOOP-burg-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP-” and then my mind would drift away to last night’s episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I turned the page when the other students did, and as long as the teacher didn’t ask me a question about the material, I was home free to fly after those dastardly Ferengi.
I took them down, Cadet. Captain Hunter took those big-eared bastards down.
When I began to research how to get a book published, I threw myself into it with the same industry in which I did my schoolwork. If one can’t process or retain verbal information well, one has to double down on visual. I was used to spending enormous amounts of time studying at night since I couldn’t remember anything from class, and my good grades (with the exception of the A from my English teacher Mrs. Bra-Strap, who gave everyone an A) were hard-won achievements. I reported to the library and checked out every single book on the process of publishing. I visited countless websites of authors and agents and publishers to collect information. And then I got to work.
My queries were crisp and concise and professional. There was always a SASE. The envelope was addressed to the correct person in the department, not Submissions or Mr. Editor. I targeted agents and publishers who represented my fantasy and science fiction genres and books similar to mine. I knew better than to disobey the NEVER CALL command. Rejections were inevitable, but it was because the topic of my book hadn’t caught the intern’s fancy, not because I’d written:
Dear Mr. or Mrs. Agent!!!
I want U to publishicate my fantasy kids’ fiction novel ROMANCE ON THE RIVER THAMES for a SIX-FIGURE ADVANCE!!! WOW!!! I’ve called UR office 10 TIMES IN THE LAST 10 MINUTES and U ARE NOT PICKING UP!!! Don’t U want to get RICH with ME??? AND I FOUND YOUR HOME ADDRESS ON PIPL!!!
P.S. The word count of my fantasy kids’ fiction novel ROMANCE ON THE RIVER THEMES is 1,000,342 and it would make A GREATE MOVIE with BRAD PITT!!!
P.P.S. Or Johnny Depp!!!
P.P.P.S. Don’t miss UR chance!!! This is bigger than HARRY POTTER!!!
Rejections came in floods, along with frequent nibbles. At the time I was trying to break in, the industry was changing. Publishers were closing by the boatload to unsolicited submissions, referring hopefuls to agents. Many of those who remained open demanded NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS, and some of the agents did as well. But this is problematic when it is not uncommon to wait six months for a response, limiting you to two submissions a year. Sometimes you never hear back at all. Do you resubmit? You’re not allowed to call. Do you keep waiting? I had a terrible fantasy that I would give up and submit a book somewhere else, just to get a call from an excited editor, “OHMYGODILOVEIT! I finished your manuscript right this minute and . . . oh, you just made a simultaneous submission to another place? Well, NEVER MIND THEN.” CLICK.
After my agent dumped me, I evaluated my position. Now I was 25, and back at Square One. What had I done wrong here? First, I’d picked a lousy agent. Second, I let myself be so intimidated by this powerful older man that I was too afraid to push for information. He said he would call when he had something to report, and I trusted him to do so. Those commands of DON’T CALL NEVER CALL WE HATE WHEN YOU CALL had made an indelible imprint on my psyche, so much so that I had been afraid to call my own agent and risk pissing him off.
I started querying again, mostly agents and a few publishers. The next time I got signed, if three months passed without word, I’d give a fourth out of politeness and then email. I had a right to know what was going on with my work. But I was still very frightened of these powerful people in New York who would determine whether or not Macaulay C. Hunter had a career. I resented how often it boils down to luck. You can write a good book, but that doesn’t matter. Your query might land on the desk of an intern who is professional and well read, and will give it a fair shot. Your query might land on the desk of an intern with a headache and your name reminds her of someone who bullied her in preschool and she’s at the end of her rope from a slushpile that reaches to the moon. REJECT. In one case, my book made it past the interns to the office manager, who called me (I believe he was drunk, and I know that he landed in rehab later and was fired) to rave about it and then passed it on to someone who hated science fiction. REJECT. Maybe the agency just accepted a book with a similar theme. REJECT. Maybe the agency is in financial straits and not interested in anything. REJECT. You need a lightning strike.
When I was 26, I got not the lightning strike but a nice electric shock. I’d sent a query to a publishing house and gotten a request for a partial. I sent off the partial and got a request for a full. This was one of the Big 6 in publishing, a tippy-top company, and I’d made it through their slushpile and to one of the editors. She enjoyed the book. She wanted another one I had mentioned in the query. I sent it off. She liked both and was passing them along to her senior editor in the company, who she was sure would love them. Although you read that in seconds, this exchange happened over many months.
The fulls were exclusive, so I had to stop querying for them. We were in the waiting game again. Then the company had a massive shakedown and those editors were let go. The replacements liked the books but couldn’t envision them in hardcover. REJECT.
Now I was 27, and still at Square One.