First Book Contract: Part Three

{Read parts one and two from last week. Also note that I am retitling this series “First Book Contract” rather than “The End of the Road.”}
To recap the journey from submission to agent to contract for Flashes of War, it’s time for some hard numbers and facts about the manuscript:
  • Sometime during the summer of 2010, I realized I had a themed collection of war stories on my hands and that with a little more honing and adding, I would have enough pages for a full manuscript. At that time, I began submitting individually finished stories for consideration in literary magazines while also researching and writing new stories to lengthen the book.
  • From July 2010 through October 2010 I submitted 25 war stories (full length and flash fiction) to 16 different literary magazines, 7 of which were accepted for publication, awarded prizes, and/or anthologized.
  • By the end of October 2010, I submitted the “finished” manuscript to the independent publisher who had directly solicited the work. Hearing nothing, between December 2010 and March 2011 I submitted the manuscript (or sample, as per various submission guidelines) to 6 more independent presses.
  • While waiting to hear back from those presses, from December 2010 through April 2011 I revised the collection and added to it extensively, meanwhile submitting 12 war stories (full length and flash fiction) to 10 literary magazines, 0 of which were accepted for publication (and 1 I never heard back about).
By May 2011, I felt I’d tapped my own resources–I had written the stories, revised them, added to the collection, submitted across a wide spectrum of contests and publications, and hand-picked and researched the independent presses I wanted to work with most (that also seemed like a good fit for war-themed work). I didn’t feel my work was right for large publishing houses based in New York, but I also didn’t want to look back and regret not trying. A few authors, including Doug Stanton and Molly Gloss, had read samples or all of the work and encouraged me to think bigger. Their support still means a lot to me. But how to query a NY agent? How to summarize my own work, write the pitch, and find the agents? That brings us up to speed with last week’s post, where I detailed hiring John Sibley Williams for help creating these documents.
Understanding that I was a motivated, disciplined, self-employed writer, John agreed to be my agent while also freeing me to query other agents in New York City that might have larger ties or connections that he hadn’t yet established for himself. Somehow, he knew that I’d only be satisfied if I could still have a little hand in what was going on. It was an impressive and kind agreement–John would query smaller presses that only talked to agents (and therefore had been previously inaccessible to me). He would also query a few others (including the university press we’re now dealing with) that I hadn’t heard of yet. Meantime, our agreement freed me up to submit to first book contests and query those NY agents I’d always wondered about. This kind of autonomy is virtually unheard of in the industry because, at any time, if a NY agent took an interest in my work my time with John would be done.
Roughly one year into realizing I had a themed collection of fiction growing at my fingertips, I felt I’d come a long way. And yet…I still couldn’t find a publisher, I still couldn’t get quite the recognition I was going for. With John on my side, the solo-sport of writing and self-employment suddenly felt like a team effort. Even though we’ve never met in person, it still feels that way. My, what a relief.
Our work continued through the summer and by my count, between May 2011 and the end of September 2011 I submitted Flashes of War to 14 more presses and queried 23 NY agents and John queried 15 additional presses. Of the 23 agents, 2 requested to see the first 50 pages and asked for exclusivity on the work, but ultimately rejected the collection because a) I am an emerging (not established) author and b) the work didn’t have mass-scale NY publishing house appeal (partly because novels and memoirs sell much more than debut story collections). I was told I was a talented writer, I was wished good luck, and I went on my merry way–no hard feelings about it, because, after all, I’d just wanted to give it a fair shot and indeed I did. Of
those 29 presses between John and myself (not counting the 7 I had already submitted to), we heard back from 1 that listed me as a
semi-finalist in their contest (but did not offer publication).
Meantime, from May 2011 through November 2011, I submitted 24 stories (remember many of these are “repeats”–stories I had submitted elsewhere but that were rejected, revised, then sent out again) to 15 literary magazines, 1 of which was accepted for publication.
But in November 2011, we heard back in the affirmative from a university press John queried. They told us that I’d made the first round of cuts in consideration for publication. By December 2011, they emailed that I’d made it to the executive editors/final round and they even reviewed the newest stories I’d added to the collection. From December 2011 through July 2012 I submitted 10 stories to 6 different literary magazines, 2 of which were accepted for publication and a handful I’m still awaiting notification about. I also sent Flashes of War to 8 more presses or book contests, some of which I am still waiting to hear back from.
By the end of my three-year tour to take The Writing Life on the road, I had submitted nearly every single story in the manuscript to a total of  37 different literary magazines, with 9 of the stories published and 2 more stories being distributed as letterpressed broadsides by Gold Quoin Press (coming next February!). And a grand total of 15 months after John sent the original query for Flashes of War to that university press, they emailed me a book contract last week.

{Next post: contract negotiations…}

Showing 2 comments
  • Lynn Lovegreen

    Wow, it has been a long journey! Good for you for sticking with it! 🙂

  • james claffey

    i'm taking notes! also gleaning some hope from your struggle. thanks.

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