All I can really say is thank you.
I have written since I was 4. Those early stories were not great but they were cute and came with pictures. Then my writing was just plain bad because I was a teenager and using writing as therapy. Then my writing was mediocre because I was learning a thing or two but still had some deep angst in my soul and wrote mostly wish fulfillment stories and tragedies. (Kind of still doing that, but SHHHH.) Then my writing was better because I learned how to control the angst. Now my writing is pretty good, I think. This is all to say, I am 38.
My novel was on submission since June 2011. I have had two different agents during this process, Sarah LaPolla and Maria Massie, both wonderful. I would recommend both to you, without hesitation. I got many rejections on the novel that were so flattering they kind of made me mad because if it’s all that, just… say yes. Still, my book is… complicated. It is violent. It is explicit. It is quite long. It is honest. These choices are necessary to the story I am telling. They’re not gratuitous. These things do not bode well for a debut novelist.
I actually started working on new novel projects because I thought, “Maybe this isn’t the book.” Don’t get me wrong—I believed in my work but I also accepted that maybe I needed to try something different. That was pretty soul crushing but it actually worked out because now I have new novel projects I’m working on and that I am really excited about and that I think will have a much easier time finding their way into the world.
I did one major revision based on some feedback from a lovely, interested editor. The book went out again with a new agent and was on submission for about 3 months as was my essay collection for which there is no dramatic story. It’s true. Nonfiction is indeed easier to sell. I was lucky. I encountered some very generous editors along the way. Editors, I think, are the most interesting people in publishing. Publishers, I am confused by what they do but I know it is fancy. I was very frustrated by certain parts of the process but I cried to my best friends like a normal person. xTx and Michelle Dean had to deal with the bulk of my crazy so if you’re looking to nominate for sainthood, start with those two, but there are lots of other really awesome people who helped me keep the faith. I will thank everyone, properly, in person and in my acknowledgments.
I only tell you this to say that those overnight magic six-figure deals we all read about and envy are the exception and not the rule. It can take a really long time to sell a good book. There’s not a lot of information out there about how long it can take, about the false starts, about the disappointments, and maybe there should be.
Now, people often say they don’t need agents and blah blah blah. There are always some corrupt folks in the bunch buuuut you kind of need to stop with that madness. If you want to sell a book to a bigger publisher, you need an agent and a very good one. In addition to submitting my work to their contacts as well any editors who solicited me, my agent has done all the negotiating and dealing with the stuff that I have absolutely no interest in or capability of dealing with. She’s working on foreign rights and this and that and the other thing. Not a week goes by when I don’t get an e-mail from someone saying, “Your agent was gushing about you to me.” Nothing is perfect, but I know my work is being hustled and respected. She also dresses very nicely and has flawless hair.
Both agents did all the breaking the rejections to me gently and propping my sad ass back up, the professional guidance, the listening to my insecure crazy, while believing in my work unequivocally in the hope they might someday get paid. They took a chance. I am grateful for them.
I am also grateful for all of you who read me and write to me. I look forward to sharing both of these books with you.
I have some books to give away because that’s the best way I can think of to say thank you! Some of these are galleys with gently loved pages. E-mail me at roxane at roxanegay.com WITH YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS as well as the title of the book you want, and I will mail it to you. Please e-mail me your name and address and title rather than use some alternative means of communication.
The Miniature Wife by Manuel Gonzales (2) An End to All Things by Jared Yates Sexton Spectacle by Susan Steinberg The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayanna Mathis This Close by Jessica Francis Kane Real Man Adventures by T. Cooper What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam Holding Silvan by MOnica Wesolowska The Next Scott Nadelson by Scott Nadelson Hikikimori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhouse Drifting House by Krys Lee