Friday, May 8, 2009

Meg Waite Clayton: On Getting Published

megGrowing up (isn’t that when most dreams start?), I was a huge reader. I dreamed of writing books like A Wrinkle in Time, but the adults I knew were businessmen—not even business women; the “ladies” were moms and teachers and nuns. Even a girl going to law school was a stretch. My husband, Mac, was the first adult to whom I admitted my childhood aspirations to write, and he gave me a great big push. He said, basically, “Your dream, Meg. How will you ever know unless you try?”

I used to think that to be a published author you had to be able to leap tall literary buildings in single bounds, something I'm quite sure I'll never do. I don't think I bring any unusual talent to the blank page, but what I do bring is an unusual amount of determination. Every writer I know who has gotten published does.wednesdaysisterspbackcoverbenchfinal

I can't tell you how many times I submitted my first novel to agents, and how many times I revised it after getting rejected, before I found an agent to represent it. I actually found three agents in the last round, so those last revisions must have done some good - but not enough, apparently, because the first agent I went with didn't ever sell it. That happened a few years later, after I'd gone back to the drawing board, starting writing stories and essays, and found a new agent.

The first thing I published, an essay in Runner's World, sold quickly. But I collected hundreds of rejection slips for short stories after that. My approach: sumit, revise, submit again. And again. And again.

How did I find an agent? I am a big fan of the cold query. The over-the-transom, you-have-no-reason-to-pick-me-except-that-I-can-tell-a-story approach. I honestly believe every agent worth having dreams of finding a great book, and brings nearly as much passion to his or her dreams as we writers do. If you were an agent, wouldn't you?

An introduction might garner you a slightly more polite rejection - maybe a letter rather than a form. An engaging query letter, though, no matter where it has come from, will find most agents flipping to your first page, and if your first line is engaging, they'll read on. If your work looses their interest at any point, they'll likely set it down - again, no matter how your work came to them. If you're not sure how to write a query or find agents, visit the Writers' Page on my website, and don't miss the goodies in the desk drawers there.

The path to publication for my second novel, The Wednesday Sisters, was not a straight line by any means, either. I left the agent who sold my first novel and found another to represent it, only to unraveled the literary knitting I'd done with him six months later and put my needles to work again, alone. I signed with a new agent - my true-love agent - and even then I went through half a dozen drafts, to get it right.

When it was pretty close to right, it sold quickly to a publisher.

Did I revise more then? Yes, indeed. But when The Wednesday Sisters was published, it hit the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list in its second week out, went into a second printing in its third week, and a third printing in its fourth, becoming a national bestseller, too. Moral of story: revise, revise, revise.

But don't just take my word for it. Visit my blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers get Started, to see lots of stories, mostly written by the authors themselves, about how much persistence it takes to break into print. Even Jane Austen faced rejection: it was fourteen years - yes, fourteen! - from the day Pride and Prejudice was first submitted to a publisher until it was published. And it sure wasn't because it wasn't good.

And continue to believe in your work. As Linda in The Wednesday Sisters says, if you don't believe in your own work, how can you expect anyone else to?

Best of luck with your writing!


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