I needed to justify the hours I spent writing, not only to others, but myself, as well. How do you explain to friends and family that you are doing something of value when there was nothing to show for it, except for the hours of being hidden away in one's room? Just what was I doing up there, anyway? Besides, I didn't want to write a novel to have it end up sitting in my drawer, especially since this particular story was so important to me. I just hoped it would be as important to publishers, too. So I did what any inexperienced writer would do and packed up the manuscript and sent it off to several big houses. Okay, so that was naïve and foolish, but a reader at one of those houses actually took the time to write back and explain how I needed to find an agent first since most publishers didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. She then told me how to go about it. How rare to find someone take the time to kindly spell it out for me.
By this time, I had written about the third draft for Of Little Faith and started sending out one query after the next to one agent after the next. This was long before any agents accepted email submissions and I played by their rules, always including a self-addressed stamped envelope in order for them to send their rejection, usually in a form letter, on my dime. In addition, I didn't send out multiple submissions per their guidelines at the same time, but waited for that long-awaited reply. Often, it took months; more often, not at all. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Without a doubt, I needed help.
So, I signed up for writing courses, hired a baby-sitter, and brought my manuscript with me for input. I learned a lot. Some of the teachers were generous in their praise and suggestions while one in particular seemed a bit put off by the topic. I polished and re-polished. I traded in my electric typewriter for a word processor, and then for a computer -- one I had to share with my family -- and during a time when America Online offered a dial-up service that was quite the distraction. I subscribed to numerous writing magazines. All the while, I kept honing my craft and was embarrassed to have shown my work when it wasn't remotely close to being ready. Still, I knew I needed leverage. So, when a local Borders Books & Music was about to open up a short distance from my home, I decided to apply for a part-time position as a bookseller. I wanted to learn what was selling and why. I was delighted when I passed the test they gave back then in order to be hired and helped open a new store. My children were getting a bit older and didn't need constant attention, so I soon accepted a fulltime position stocking the literature section. It was during this time that I also started writing for local magazines, knowing that getting my byline out there was important. Not before long, Borders opened the Park Avenue, Manhattan store and I was hired as a Community Relations Coordinator, which meant I got to schedule and host author events.
Imagine how I, this small-town girl, felt when I got to host events for Kurt Vonnegut, not once but twice, Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Tony Bennett, Walter Cronkite, among others. However, it was those novelists who were just starting out that excited me. There was David Baldacci, Melissa Bank, Chris Bohjalian, Frank McCourt, and Alyson Richman, to name a few. I wanted to ask them what was their secret to finding a publisher, but I already knew the answer: Don't give up.
So while I worked and tried to find a home for Of Little Faith, I began writing my second novel that had the working title Place of Angels. I was committed to this writing thing, in spite of the fact that I was continually suffering one rejection after the next. My threats of giving up each time I pulled a return envelope from the mailbox were short-lived and I continued to do what I was driven to do. In the back of my mind, though, I couldn't forget about an article I'd read in one of those many magazines I'd subscribed to about the average time it took to find a publisher. Ten years. Ten years? Certainly it wouldn't take me that long to find a publisher for my first novel.
I was right. It took me about 20.