After pouring through the 1997 Writer's Market for days, I chose three agents who looked promising. I wrote my cover letter. I printed out exactly what the book said each agent wanted, in the format they said they wanted. This one wanted 5-thousand words. This one wanted three chapters. I followed the instructions exactly. I never mentioned my age in my cover letter; I feared it would get my book thrown out without anyone looking at it. I still don't know if I was right or not.
On December 31, just before 5pm, I was at the Concord Post Office with my mother. I remember carefully addressing the padded brown mailers, and sliding a submission into each.
By the end of January, I had heard back from each, with a resounding, Not Interested.
Here is where I will add another piece of advice to young writers (or any writers, really) trying to get published: you will get rejected. Even if you have written the best book in the world, so absolutely flawless that no human being in the world could possibly look away from it (which, quite honestly, is doubtful – drafts of first novels are flawed things, for all of us, which is why we need editors) it still takes sheer luck for your manuscript to end up at the top of a pile on the day when the editor or agent in question is feeling in the mood to read something new.
There was a Catch-22 echoed in every book I read at that time, and I assume it's still true: Most agents won't take manuscripts from unpublished authors. Most publishers won't go anywhere near manuscripts from authors without agents. And no one really likes an unsolicited manuscript.
So grow a thick skin. Your labor of love, that work you've sweated over, bled over, poured your very being into, will be rejected. It will hurt. You need to move on. If you get published, you'll hear worse from critics. Total strangers will feel comfortable trashing this product of your soul. So a little rejection now will is probably good for you. Take the time between rounds to keep revising. Get more feedback from people you trust (not people who are nice to you- this will be covered in "how to edit a novel").
If you get a letter back from an agent or editor who took the time to write you a letter explaining why he or she rejected your work, treat it like gold! That meant they read your book! If it's obvious they're just not interested in your genre, or they say "I loved it but I'm not accepting new material," that's still kind of awesome. You'll be luckier still if they have pointed out something you didn't notice, didn't think of, that's turning agents and editors from your genre off. You might be able to fix it.
But of course I was thirteen, and I didn't do any of this. I got rejected three times by the end of January, and that might have been it. They hated me! All my friends had lied to me. My work sucked.
I had no intention of trying again.
Then the day came, before the start of my second semester of eighth grade, when my class went to tour the high school in anticipation of our moving up next year. Actually, we toured two schools, the regular public school, and the vocational-technical school. I loved the vo-tech school. I had no faith in my academic abilities at that point, but I loved working with my hands. I loved building things. I wanted to go into automotives, or carpentry, or learn to be an electrician.
Sometimes I still look back, and think how handy it would be if I had learned to do any of that...
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