Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Quest for Publisher

July 06, 2005

Conventional wisdom says that the best way to sell a novel is to get an agent first. I tried. For well over a year I tried. Result: a few nibbles, one offer from a must-to-avoid agency, and two or three dozen form rejections. I could do better buying scratch tickets. Conventional wisdom also says that the best way to get an agent is to sell your novel first. OK, I figured I'd try that. I revised my proposal and, with help from Writer's Market 2004, compiled a list of about four dozen prospects. Only one was a well-known commercial publisher -- most of them specify "no unagented submissions" -- but it was one whose list I respect, so I sent Publisher X one of my first proposals. The date on the query letter was May 4, 2004.

On August 1, the retina in my right eye detached. In September the reattached retina detached again. The quest for publisher was put on hold while I took an extended detour: having, recovering from, and working to pay for two surgeries (as a freelancer my insurance options are limited, and none of them are affordable), writing an essay about it, and developing this website. About two weeks ago, just as I was dusting off my faded list of prospects, one of my SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes) came back in the mail. It was a form letter from Publisher X: "Thank you for your letter regarding guidelines and submissions. Like most big publishers, [Publisher X] usually only accepts manuscripts submitted by an agent. There is an excellent listing of literary agents in a book called The Writer's Market, which you should be able to find in a local bookstore or library." If I still wanted to "give us a try," I should send them a sample of my work and an SASE. "Your submission," I was warned, "will then go into the 'slushpile,' where unsolicited work waits for a look. Please allow 3-6 months for a response."

But my proposal has already done time in the slushpile, more than 14 months' worth. Evidently it was the wrong slushpile. Now that the website is up, I intend to submit another proposal to Publisher X. It will be the same proposal with a new cover letter. In it I will ask if I get credit for time served in the slush.

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