Nothing. Because we don't talk about it. Because we are not supposed to talk about it. It is the "He Who Must Not Be Named" to our writerly dreams.
Whether your agent is submitting your manuscript to editors or whether you're querying agents, the rule of thumb is: stay mum about the process.
And I get that. You don't want an agent/editor googling you or tripping across something that indicates you are harping on the process or being a total snark-bot, because frankly, no one wants to take on a complainer. And no one in her right mind wants to jinx it by sounding ungrateful or just plain grumpy.
But here's the other thing: by not talking about it, we give it this sort of power, allowing it to take on an almost mythological quality and soon, it overshadows other more important things.
Yes. It is a big damn deal to sign with an agent. Yes, it is a REALLY big damn deal to get a book deal. But I would argue that an agent and/or book deal do not a writer make. And I think we do a disservice to ourselves as writers and to the industry as a whole by not talking about a) how hard it actually is and b) how easy it is to let publishing itself get in the way.
Everyone's heard the story. You know, the one about that writer who wrote that book that sold at auction in a major deal and landed on the NYT Bestseller List during its first week of publication?
Except, I would wager that 9 times out of 10, that writer actually worked her ass off for years, sacrificing time from her family/spouse/partner/boyfriend etc., her job, school, or her sleep and had many trunked manuscripts and false starts before that ONE that took off.
The thing is, we never hear about all that. Which is funny, really, because who wants to read a book about a person who gets everything she wants with no obstacles or conflict? It would be like The Hunger Games minus, well, the Hunger Games. Katniss wakes up in her empty bed next to her sister's ugly cat and then proceeds immediately to Victors Village. I mean, would *you* publish that novel? Heck no!
But where our publication narratives are concerned, that's exactly what we seem to want to read.
The thing is, anyone anywhere on this journey knows it's not that simple. You write, you revise, you rewrite, you get betas, you revise, you send it out either to your agent or the agent you hope to have. Then you revise some more. And maybe some more. Then your agent (if you are fortunate enough to have landed one) sends it out. Then you wait. And wait some more. And just when you think the silence is going to drive you batshit crazy, you get a rejection. Then you wait some more. Then you get another rejection. Then a close call or maybe an R&R. Then you revise. And repeat. Over and over in perpetuity. Because not only does your manuscript have to be great, it also has to be timed just right so that the editor has a place on his/her list and it doesn't compete thematically or otherwise with another book on said publisher's list. Oh, also? That editor has to fall in love with your book AND be able to convince a whole host of other people that your book is worth taking on. And then the figures have to shake out.
There's so much to it, so much to think about and worry over that a writer can easily get lost.
Well friends, I'm here to admit that lately, I've been LOST.
I've been writing for 10 years but only began to pursue publication seriously in the last year or so, first with finding an agent and then submitting to publishers. But something happened to me as I started on this submission journey: I allowed myself to focus on it to the point that it has crippled me creatively. I started aborting buds of ideas in my head before they became full-fledged concepts or characters, vetoing them due to being too commercial or not commercial enough, saleable or clearly, not.
Never in my life have I been so inorganic with my writing process. Usually, I listen for the still, small voice of a character and open myself up until it consumes me and I have no choice but to write the story that must be written.
Instead, I haven't written a word in almost a month.
Even in writing this, I am ashamed to admit that yes, I allowed myself to be tempted by that elusive idol of publication to the point that I forgot why I want to be published in the first place.
Is it wrong to want to see my book on a bookstore shelf with my name on it? Is it wrong to want people to want to read my work? Not inherently, no. But I think that should be my indirect aim.
The direct aim is to write the truest story I know how to tell and if I find readers along the way, so much the better.
There. I've said it. And hopefully by doing so I'm taking back the power (rise up with fists!).
At the very least, I am thrilled to say that I've found my next story AND have started writing-- actually writing!-- it yesterday. Maybe it will be my NYT bestseller story (ha!). Maybe it won't ever make it off my hard drive.
Either way, it will be the truest story that, in this moment, I know how to tell.