WELL, THAT HAPPENED: The Isolated Waiting Game

By on March 8, 2016

For writers, being disconnected from modern chaos and culture is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The townspeople gather and fireworks fly as Neskaupstaður welcomes a new ship to the fjord.  (Photo: andrew munz)

The townspeople gather and fireworks fly as Neskaupstaður welcomes a new ship to the fjord.  (Photo: andrew munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Many of my readers already know that this column is not my only venture into the written word. In fact, my ultimate life’s passion is writing fiction and plays, and I’ve been working on getting my novel “Blade of the Outlaw” published for the past two years. Thanks to some suggestions from Jackson writing guru, Tim Sandlin, I got picked up by a New York-based literary agent who helped me edit the book for nine months. However, she and I broke our partnership last summer, and I’ve been searching for a new literary agent ever since.

I’ve learned plenty of patience living in this tiny fjord in Iceland, mostly because there’s no way to hurry the publishing process. Large publishing houses like Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins won’t even touch your manuscript unless you are represented by a literary agent, and the process to get one is long, arduous and full of rejection. A literary agent does not get paid unless you do. So, unlike a talent agent, they require no monthly paycheck. But they are the gatekeepers, and a writer must impress an agent if he or she wants to get published in the traditional manner.

My life here in Neskaupstaður is bizarrely slow; so slow that the arrival of a new fishing vessel becomes the talk of the town. Other than that, next to nothing happens here. Northern lights, occasionally. Sometimes new tourists arrive and depart. There is a free concert this Saturday, but otherwise there’s no major events planned in town until Eistnaflug, a heavy metal festival, in July. Yes, I work most days, but there’s not much else to distract me from refreshing my inbox in hopes that someone, somewhere, likes my novel as much as I do.

But, like I said, writers face a lot more rejection than good news.

To contact a literary agent and pitch your novel, you must formulate a personalized query letter that describes your book and explains why you’re pitching that particular agent. The most common response to a query letter is some version of the following rejection:

Thank you for sending me a query letter describing your work. After careful evaluation, I have decided that I am not the right agent for representation. I can only properly represent materials that greatly excite or interest me. Since this is such a subjective business, I am sure another agent will feel quite differently about your work. I wish you the best of luck finding representation with the right agent and good fortune with your writing career.”

Each time I get one of these e-mails (depending on the agent’s workload, they roll in maybe once every two weeks), a small piece of me shrivels up and dies, making me wonder whether I’m wasting my time with these lofty writing career goals, and if I should just self publish because it’s easier…and admittedly expensive.

But I’m stubborn and refuse to buckle. Therefore, with every rejection I get I try to send out at least one more query letter to a new agent. Sometimes an agent will respond with some good news, however, and request to read your full manuscript. But if waiting a few weeks for a query letter response is taxing enough on your patience, try waiting months upon months for the agent to get around to reading your book.

Currently there are four agents and two indie publishers who have requested to read my full novel. Six requests out of 63 personalized query letters. One of those agents has had my book since July 2015. I’m still waiting for a response.

Normally I would distract myself with busywork and theatre, but Neskaupstaður doesn’t offer much by way of distraction. So instead I obsess over my inbox, refreshing frequently and hoping desperately, that I can take the next step towards becoming a published author. In the meantime I shall continue shucking shellfish, baking loaves of bread, and waiting for the next new fishing vessel to make its way into our fjord.

If you ever hear a writer say that their ideal situation is to be cut off from civilization with nothing but time to write, they have no idea of the hell they’ll subject themselves to. PJH

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