A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a writing friend about the query process. Surprising, it isn’t like I’m obsessed or anything. Sigh. And by conversation, I mean I said something like, “It’s never going to happen, I have a better chance of winning the lottery, blahblahsuckageblah. And my friend said something lovely and supportive like, “Oh, Mrs Fringe. Don’t say that. It can happen for you, it will happen for both of us, you have to have faith.”
I don’t play the lottery on a regular basis, maybe I’ve purchased five tickets over the course of my life. I wasn’t disappointed when I checked the numbers for the same reason I don’t play regularly–I don’t expect to win. I’m no math whiz, but I can look at the odds and know this is not a sensible way to spend a dollar.
I was saying there’s a specific aspect to querying that’s completely illogical, no different than playing the lottery, and yet here I am–hoping to “win,” even sometimes believing I have a shot. My guess (I’m not looking up the numbers and doing math) is that my odds are even worse than if I bought a lottery ticket for every query I send. If you pick the “right” numbers, you win your money, less the government’s share. Fair enough. But if a wannabe claws their way through the slush pile with sharp words and a clear, enticing plot to receive an offer of representation from a reputable agent, that’s just the first step. Because the jackpot (for a wannabe who wants to be traditionally published) isn’t receiving an offer of rep, it’s seeing your book in print, in a bookstore. So step two is the agent querying editors, in hopes of a publishing offer. Only a percentage of agented debut writers/manuscripts actually see a publishing contract. Step three is (hopefully) revisions with an editor and an advance, and then if nothing goes awry–step four, publication. That’s the winning ticket. Golden ticket is if the book actually takes off and you see good sales numbers.
There’s a disconnect, and even a wacky old gal like myself can see it. Too practical to buy lottery tickets, but oh yeah, I’ll query. And I’m lucky. Lucky to be receiving requests from agents to see the full. I wonder if full requests are like winning $2 on a scratch-off ticket, just enough to entice me to keep trying. Each request is a step, but quite far from an offer of rep–not to mention the neuron marbles lost with every ping of my email as I check to see if it’s an agent response. Patience, Mrs Fringe. Patience and faith.
Because I don’t play, I don’t know–do people have systems for playing the lottery, formulas and equations, the way people sit with the racing form at the track? I admit, I used to enjoy going to the track, where I had an elegant formula for which horse to bet on, using the names I liked the best.
Above is my system. Sure I use the laptop to write and edit, but it’s a basic composition book for notes on the manuscript, and keeping track of queries. With, of course, my lucky pencil. Yes, it’s true, it’s that one specific type of pencil, exclusive to a Staples near you (maybe, they could be in other office supply stores also).
I had pushed this line of thinking out of my mind, but this morning on Twitter, I saw a tweet from an agent I follow. I think he’s an agent, he tweets anonymously as Agent Vader. For all I know he’s another wannabe, or a she, or the real Darth Vader, or the most powerful literary agent in existence. I don’t care, as long as he doesn’t send me to Jabba the Hutt in metal underwear. He’s often funny, and offers many great one liners about this whole business. Today he tweeted, “Writing is art. Art is subject to perception. This is a lottery. Most people don’t win the lottery.”
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. But I’ve got this little pile of winning scratch-off tickets that say please send me the full. And I’ve got beta readers and family and friends and Fringelings who say keep going. I’m even fortunate enough to have a couple of experienced, knowledgable-about-writing-and-the-publishing-industry friends who have read my work and tell me to keep going. But I’ll be honest, seeing and hearing the realities of this business, the long, long odds that involve the magical combination of writing that’s good enough, story that’s good enough, landing on the right desk at the right time, making the right numbers on a projected Profit and Loss statement in a publishing house, these are equally important. I’m wacky enough to believe I have a real shot, but need to keep my eyes on the sanity of facts and odds at the same time.
(I’ve posted this song/video before, but can’t think of anything more appropriate)