In traditional book publishing, perseverance is key – Carola Lovering

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By Carola Lovering

Publishing is a tough business to crack. I could use many words to describe the industry that has brought millions of books into the hands and hearts of readers for centuries, but, to me, one adjective trumps all others: publishing is subjective.♥

That publishing is subjective is something I was told repeatedly while working on my debut novel – as advice, and probably also as a warning. In traditional publishing, all you need is one agent to connect with your manuscript – to see what’s special about your book in the same emphatic way you do yourself – in order for your entire trajectory to change. During my querying phase, when my pitch letter was rejected or ignored by dozens of agents (“I regret to inform you that this project isn’t for me,” etc.), I savored this early advice, holding onto the hope that my agent was still out there, somewhere.

But it’s tough. It can be debilitatingly hard, especially for those of us who approach this process as outsiders to the publishing industry, with only our story inside of us, bursting from the seams to be told, our belief in it uncompromising. My advice: keep believing in that story. Remember why you went to tell it in the first place. Let that be your fuel.

Another key element of perseverance – exhaust your resources. My dad has always given me this advice: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. As someone who desperately wanted to land an agent and sell my book, I had to be a very squeaky wheel. Now, as an author, I don’t think I’ll ever stop having to be a squeaky wheel – it’s just the way book publishing works.

Almost three years ago, as my 27th birthday present, my parents paid for my attendance to the New York Pitch Conference, a workshop that focuses on the art of the novel pitch and gives writers the opportunity to live pitch industry professionals at major publishing houses and agencies. At this point in my querying process, I’d received more rejection letters and a few partial manuscript requests, but I still didn’t have an agent.

It was at the NY Pitch that I was able to identify a critical issue in my approach. For the past year or so, I had been pitching my novel as the entirely wrong genre. My workshop leader carefully helped me amend my query letter. Whether or not the genre issue had contributed to my many prior rejection emails from agents is something I will never know for sure, but, a month after the NY Pitch, I signed with my agent.

My process, though, was backwards. Post pitch conference, feeling optimistic and honing my dad’s age-old advice, I continued to persevere. On a whim, I emailed an editor I had spoken to on the phone several years ago, during my senior year of college when I was interested in pursuing jobs in publishing. At the time, this young woman had recently replaced my cousin as an editorial assistant at Atria Books, and my cousin, having just left the industry, had connected us. I figured it was a long shot to email an editor at Simon & Schuster who I barely knew, without an agent to vouch for me, but I was determined to exhaust my resources. I sent a her an email with my new and improved pitch, along with the update that, no, I hadn’t ended up going into publishing, but I had written this book that I thought might be a fit for her imprint. She replied that she was swamped at the moment, but that if I’d send her the first fifty pages of my manuscript, she would try to take a look.

I expected nothing. So, when she replied two days later saying she’d devoured the first fifty pages and wanted to read the rest, I nearly fell off my chair. In short, I found my editor before I found my agent – something I had been told almost never happened. With a glowing referral from a respected editor at Atria, agents were suddenly responding to my emails at rapid speed, requesting the full manuscript. Within a week I had offers from multiple agencies, and I signed with my dream agent.

There is no clear path to publication. It’s an often foggy, daunting, zig-zaggy road, but let your wheels squeak with all their might, never forget the power of your story, and keep on moving.

Carola Lovering attended Colorado College, and her work has appeared in W Magazine, National Geographic, Outside, and Yoga Journal, among other publications. Tell Me Lies is her first novel. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

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