First Book Contract: Part Two
About the time I finished my third residency nearing the end of the first year of the tour, I felt I finally had a completed manuscript on my hands. This feeling was bolstered–however wisely or unwisley–by a solicitation from the publisher of a small, independent press whom I had crossed paths with off and on over the course of several years in the North Carolina literary scene. I’ve always been one to feel something is “finished” before it actually is, and his solicitation bolstered my pride. I proofed the stories, made minor changes, ordered the chapters, and sent the manuscript off to him. I felt quite confident at that stage–the publisher himself had even held the copy of my printed manuscript submission up at an awards ceremony I attended one evening, telling the audience that he looked forward to reading it. Eight months later when the rejection came, thankfully I already had a thick skin and had likewise sent the manuscript off to at least half a dozen other presses.
Rather than dwelling on the rejection, I kept sending out the work while simultaneously adding to the collection and getting individual stories published in literary magazines. It felt strange to be submitting a manuscript as “finished” and “ready for publication” while also writing new stories to add to the work as a whole. But I felt motivated knowing my work was out there under the microscope and I knew if I received an acceptance, adding a few stories would likely be a plus, not a downfall. I’d submitted to the independent presses I respected most that I also felt my war stories were a good fit for. I had also submitted to a handful of book contests, and even became a semi-finalist in one, though the manuscript was again ultimately rejected. When my dream indy press–Graywolf–sent me a personalized rejection letter telling me I was quite close, but not close enough, I will confess to getting stuck in the mud for a little bit. It took a long bike ride and a good cry and beer with a friend to get over that one.
|A serious photo for a seriously great guy…and agent, and writer, and publicist.|
But I did…and a few weeks later I was at it again, revising the work while on retreat at Imnaha Writers’ Retreat and contacting John Sibley Williams to help write a book synopsis, cover letter, and marketing plan for the book. I wanted to query NYC agents and larger presses, but didn’t feel motivated to “summarize” or “pitch” my own work. I knew John’s reputation was small and new but also very good, and I liked the fact that he was connected to the Pacific Northwest literary scene–my original home and still a home away from home. John read my manuscript free of charge, quickly and professionally prepared the materials I needed, and all for a very affordable rate. For the first time in my writing life, I had hired someone else to help me–rather than the other way around. It felt good and it felt right, and above all else, it empowered me to continue submitting the manuscript on my own and widen the circle even more. Hiring John as my publicist for that small job made me feel like I had somebody on my side, and after a year’s worth of rejections for the manuscript, that felt pretty darn good.
What I didn’t know at the time was that John would eventually become my agent for Flashes of War under a very special and limited contract. I also didn’t know that the university press we’re now dealing with even existed, despite my thorough research and all the online and print reference guides I used. But John knew about the press and, well…now we’re negotiating a contract for my first book.
Before that contract, though, came the decision to move from hiring John for help with that single job to asking John to consider being my agent–a very different kind of relationship and one that is contingent upon many factors. Next week’s post will address my experience with John, the hesitations and enthusiasms I had about being represented, and the unique nature of the agreement we came to.
(This is part of a longer discussion on this blog that began last weekend in this post.)