Checking in after a long absence

Two years have flown by so fast it’s scary.

I completed the draft of my first novel – a sci/fi thriller called Bent – last fall. Writing it, while incredibly gratifying, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The writing, itself, wasn’t hard. That’s not to say I didn’t toil over some scenes until my eyes went blurry, but the true challenge was sustaining my spirits over the course of the eighteen months it took to complete. Some days I was awash with confidence, certain that I was penning the next chart-topper. Other days I knew without a doubt that whatever drivel I’d managed to spout up to that point would never see the light of day, consigned to some literary purgatory far, far from any eager readers. The highs were great; the lows excruciating.

Yet on I wrote, one word after another, weaving sentences into paragraphs, pages into chapters, until, at last, on September 7, I wrote the final two words every author longs to see at the bottom of the page: the end.

After letting it marinate for a month (thanks for that suggestion, Stephen King!), I began revising. Those who know me are aware that I harbor an irrational fear of the revision process, dating back to high school when I was required to chop a twenty-page paper to ten – the most difficult writing assignment I ever undertook (until Bent, of course). Consequently, I wrote my draft with painstaking slowness, hoping that I was nailing every word so that I wouldn’t have to revise a thing. Yeah, that didn’t work.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed revising, and I can laugh now when I remember how frightened I was to begin. Between October and December, I chopped nearly 25k words (of the original 130k) from the draft while cleaning, polishing, and reworking the parts that remained. Just before Christmas, satisfied that I’d whipped it into shape, I printed five copies for my first beta readers. Up until that point, no one had read a word. Nerve-wracking!

Initial response has been very positive. I’ve fielded a number of helpful criticisms, some of which I implemented, some of which I filed away as “that’s interesting, but I don’t think I’m going to use it.” For the most part, I just wanted to know whether the story was entertaining and the characters believable. From the feedback I received, the answer is yes.

In January I began working on my query letter (for those who aren’t familiar, this is a one-page pitch to literary agents consisting of a high-level synopsis of the story, an introduction to me as the author, and an explanation of why I’m contacting that specific agent for representation). I soon discovered that this little one-page letter was, in many ways, more difficult to write than the book itself. When you have 350 pages to make an impression, there’s not nearly as much pressure to make each and every word pop as there is when you’ve got one lonely page to sell yourself and your work. I joined an online forum and got some great feedback which helped me hone my query into a sharp little missile of self-promotion, then began sending it out.

Just when I thought I’d jumped through the last hoop, I discovered that many agents also request a detailed plot synopsis (yeah, try condensing an entire novel into a page or two while maintaining narrative voice) and author bio. Back to the drawing board I went and produced these two additional submission samples.

I’ve now queried nine agents, received three rejections and one request for a partial manuscript for further review. Upon receiving the first rejection, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Many agents have a “if we’re not interested, we won’t reply” statement on their websites, so the fact that someone took the time to write back and say “thanks but no thanks” was incredibly validating. I’d been noticed! You can imagine how excited I was when an agent e-mailed me to tell me how intriguing my premise was, asking to see more. So the waiting game continues. Nothing moves particularly fast in this business and I’m just going to have to deal with that. But damn it, I want to know! Meanwhile, I’m continuing to search for agents and sending out additional submissions. After all, John Grisham received something like 28 rejections for A Time to Kill before someone finally bit. And J.K. Rowling only made it when an agent’s daughter picked up the manuscript he’d brought home, read the first three chapters, and promptly asked for the rest. You just never know when lightning will strike.

And last week, I began my next project, another sci-fi/thriller tentatively called Time Lapse. Regardless of what happens with Bent, I’m moving forward, pursuing my passion. What more can I ask for?

I intend to make regular updates to this blog now, describing my progress, thoughts, and challenges as I write Time Lapse while also tracking my attempt to publish Bent. I hope you find this interesting and will follow along with me. Please feel free to share this link, too, with anyone you believe might enjoy it.

Off I go!

ETH

About E.T. Hourihan

I am a science fiction author pursuing his dream of publication. View all posts by E.T. Hourihan

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