May 1, 2008

It’s been a great 2008 so far, finally having time to sit down full-time and work on my book, Fast Times in Palestine. I’ve had to do a lot of research about the publishing world as well to find out the mechanics of the whole thing. My parents have been kind enough to let me stay in my old room in my old house in Stigler, OK, until I get my feet under me on this. It’s been a lot of trial and error (and terrible first drafts, and helpful feedback, and days and days of editing), but it’s finally starting to pay off a little.

I spent most of February researching literary agents, then I drafted a Query letter (the one-pager you send to agents to try to get them interested in reading your proposal and sample chapter) and sent it off to the 60 or 70 agents I thought had the best chance of being interested in representing my book to publishers.

While I waited to see who would respond, I wrote a Book Proposal (twenty-six-page document that describes the book’s outline and potential market and my credentials to write it) and sample chapter. Reputable agents only accept about five new clients per year, if that, so I expected to get a lot of rejections, and I did. Out of about 70 queries, I got seven positive responses and 63 rejections.

I did background checks (i.e., I googled them) and found one of the agents to have been involved in shady dealings in the past, so I exed her out. Another liked my Book Proposal but not my sample chapter. I spent most of March completely re-drafting Chapter 1 based on her feedback. Two others rejected the Book Proposal, which left three potential agents.

One of them, Susan Ramer in New York, who works with Don Congdon Associates, liked the proposal and (new) sample chapter and said she would like to represent my book to publishers. Another agent was still on the fence, and the last agent was my back-up in case Susan and the other agent weren’t interested.

But I preferred Susan anyway, so I signed a contract with her, and she’s now my agent. It was an enormous relief, after hacking away alone in an upstairs room like an old spinster aunt for so many months, to finally get some encouraging feedback from the outside world. We had our first phone meeting today to go over my Proposal and sample chapter, and she gave me a lot of great feedback. She says she feels pretty good that she’ll be able to sell it. Once I have the proposal and first three chapters polished up sharp, she’ll start shopping them around to publishers, hopefully in the next two or three weeks.

Susan’s agency is kind of old-school and very reputable. Her boss represented Ray Bradbury and David Sedaris, among others, and she has a good record of recent book sales with big publishing houses. If she does make a sale, she will get 15% of whatever the book makes, so her incentive is to sell it to whomever will pay the most — a nice little system. The reason I need an agent is because agents already have their foot in the door with major publishers and proven track records of finding books worth publishing. If I tried to go it alone, not only would I have a much worse chance of getting published at all, I’d also have no idea how to negotiate the best contract.

I’ve spent April drafting and editing Chapters 2 and 3 and reworking Chapter 1. So everything is a lot different from when (if) you saw it last. If you’d like to read the new Chapter 1 or 2, or if you wouldn’t mind reading through a draft of Chapter 3 and letting me know what you think, I’m happy to send them out. Everything’s much shorter and more streamlined than it used to be, thanks in part to a lot of helpful feedback. So thanks very much for that. Even the smallest comment can make a big difference and open my eyes to problems I couldn’t see before, so I really do appreciate it.

And I could never have gotten all this done if I was also working full-time at a real job. Or in any case it would have taken years instead of months. So I’m extremely grateful to my parents. Hopefully I can find a way to make it worth their while.

I’m hoping to have a full draft of the book done by the end of the summer, but it will probably take a bit longer. Luckily, non-fiction books have an advantage over fiction in that they can be sold before they’re finished, and I’m hoping to have a publishing deal and an advance before too long because, ya know, income of some kind would make me feel just a teeny bit less like a cosmic slacker. (Funny that I should feel that way when I’m working longer and harder hours than I’ve ever worked in my life… That whole ‘image vs. reality’ thing still gets me sometimes.)

It can take anywhere from two weeks to six months (to never) to get a publishing deal, and if I get one, editing and production will take another several months. In the ideal case, I would probably be looking at a publication date around the fall of 2009. In the worst case, I’ll print a few copies at my own expense and sell them on a street corner for booze money. Just kidding. Really it will be for crack.

Aside from that, there’s not too much going on. I write pretty much all day except to take a break to watch Survivor, The Bachelor, and the Daily Show. It’s getting bad, I’ve actually started having dreams about the characters on reality TV shows. But it’s my one break from thinking, and they’re my only friends within 100 miles. All work and no reality TV makes Pam… something something.

I also go on walks sometimes, and I’m in the middle of reading about twenty books. I’ve been recruited as a pinch-hitter for the Stigler Methodist Church handbell choir. We played a couple of songs in front of the church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and we didn’t do half bad. My bells are the G, G#, and A above the treble clef. I miss a lot of people and I miss having a life, but I’m definitely happy to have a chance to get this done. It’s fun to relive so many things and sort of capture them in amber.

Spring is in full swing and everything is newly green and gorgeous here in Oklahoma. I hope you all are well, and I look forward to seeing you anon.