As many of you know, last year I finished my very first novel, Children of the Light. Having never revised anything of that magnitude before, I was daunted by the task ahead of me. I scoured writing blogs, hoping to find the definitive answer to my burning question: how do I make this book the most appealing book an agent has ever seen? Unfortunately, the one definitive blog post that answers that question does not exist. I know, right? Shouldn't someone out there be all-knowing? The reality is that the publishing industry is a fickle beast. You polish and shine your baby up until you almost can't stand to look at it, you tell yourself that it will stand out like the Arkenstone in a sea of dull jewels, that it will be pulled from the slushy depths to be snapped up by all. It is, after all, brilliant and perfect and you really did bleed your life into it.
But nobody knows that. And another reality is that the publishing industry is inherently cynical, in my experience. Not the people who work in it, most of them seem to be lovely, knowledgeable and passionate individuals. But the industry itself, the monolithic entity that churns out thousands of books a year and rejects many thousands more? Yeah that is where the cynicism lies. You're told it's a one in a million chance your book will find itself an agent. Then it's another slim chance that you will get a book deal. Then ANOTHER infinitesimally slim chance that your book will exceed sales expectations, become a NYT bestseller and make you as successful as J.K. Rowling (okay that's never going to happen, at least not all three).
So I started to feel very small. I started to feel a little foolish. How did I ever think my tiny, insignificant book would ever make a splash in the vast publishing ocean? I read posts on trends, and dead trends, and I realized that I had written my masterpiece a few years too late, or perhaps several years too early. Posts about what agents are tired of seeing in their slush piles started to mock me. "But MY book is different!" "It's not like all those other post-apocalyptic copies of The Hunger Games" "My book is really more science fiction anyway!"
But in my defensive internal monologue I found a sliver of truth. My book might be brilliant, or it might not be. I might have a potentially halfway decent seller on my hands, or maybe not. But in the cynical publishing world, I knew that putting my best foot forward is of the utmost importance. In a world ruled by luck, chance and a hefty dose of talent, I knew that you have to stand out. You don't want a query that attempts to apologize for your genre, a query that is defensive about your different dystopian.
You want a query that celebrates your book in every way. A query that is intriguing, different, compelling. One that doesn't turn agents off before they've even given your pages a chance. So I put away my baby, promising it that I will unearth it when the climate is more favourable. I was almost embarrassed when I told my boyfriend, friends and family. I didn't want them to think I didn't have faith in myself, lest they lose their faith in me. But I started something new. Something that excites me unlike anything else I've ever written.
There's nothing wrong with being honest with yourself. There's nothing wrong with massively lowering your expectations. In fact, that was something I really needed to do as a writer. There's a pretty good chance that the book I'm working on right now will never see the light of day, despite my devotion to it. I may have to query five, ten, twenty different projects before I find myself a kick ass agent. Or maybe, I'll be one of the lucky ones and find a home for my second or third book.
The thing is, these are things I do not know, things I cannot predict or control. What can I predict? Well, maybe I'm naive, but I do truly believe that if you do what you love long enough, you will find success with it. And what can I control? My own expectations and work ethic. So I will continue with this book and it will become the first book I query. And if I don't succeed I will write another, and another, and another until the glorious day that my dreams come true.