Finding Mr. Write?
Finishing my book was easy. Well, not really. It took about twenty-five years, but it still doesn’t feel as challenging as trying to get it published. I’ve heard it all.
These are tough times in publishing
These are changing times in publishing
No one publishes memoirs anymore
No one reads memoirs anymore
All those things may be true, but I also heard the same types of things when I was forty-five and single.
No one in New York is looking to settle down.
If you are over forty your chances for marriage are less than zero.
Maybe you’re too overbearing.
That last gem was from my mom.
But I finally got married well over the age of forty, and I plan to get published by using the same five rules that helped me land a husband. I share them because I have a feeling they apply to any number of goals people might have.
1. It’s a Numbers Game
This was the best advice my friend Sara gave me when we were both single. I listened to her and did everything I could to meet guys. I registered for online dating. I went to a mixer where you could sign up for gay team sports (even though there’s not a single athletic bone in my entire body), and I went on speed dating events. I even paid a matchmaker a lot of money to set me up on three awkward dinners. In desperation he sent me on a gay group date — eight single guys at one dinner — as a time saver. I ruined my matrimonial chances at that one by accidentally splashing water on my crotch in the bathroom. When I walked back to the table I realized by the looks on the other seven guys’ faces that it appeared I’d had a terrible accident.
Now I’m putting the same effort into trying to get published. I’m writing any agents who I have any type of connection with no matter how remote. I’ve taken classes to get published, attended writers conferences, writers workshops and writers panel — anything with the word “writers” in front of it.
The only thing i won’t do anymore is pay an agent simply to hear my pitch. To me it feels like paying a prostitute for sex. Not that I’m against prostitutes. I loved Pretty Woman. But in both love and publishing, paying for something that should be free makes me feel desperate. Check back with me in couple years. I may have changed my mind in both those categories.
2. No one owes you anything at the beginning
More wise words from my friend Sara (who by the way is now married with two kids so she knew what she was talking about).
She would constantly remind me after one of those magical dates where the guy seemed sooo into me but then didn’t text me back — that even after two dates they didn’t really owe me a thing. (If a guy didn’t text me after a third date though, he was clearly a cad.)
Sometimes I preferred not hearing back. I once had a guy text me after a date to tell me he wasn’t interested. Then for some reason he called me two days later to confirm what he had texted. I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me? Absolution? “Oh it’s okay you find me unappealing! Please don’t feel bad. A lot of guys do!”
The majority of literary agents I send my work to don’t get back to me. It’s an accepted thing in the business. A lot of them tell you on their websites they simply won’t respond if they’re not interested. It must be wonderful to be so sought after. It’s the opposite feeling you get as a writer.
The problem is, when an agent doesn’t respond I’m forced to send the dreaded follow-up. I hate sending follow-ups to query letters (query letters are basically pitches you send out describing your book in one page). It feels like leaning into a punch. “Hi, so far you don’t seem very interested in representing my book, but could you please put that down in writing so I can really feel like a failure? Thanks! All the best, Keith.”
3. Show up for the ones that show up for you
Let me explain to you why I married my husband, Saul. After our first date he told me he would text me the next day and then he actually did. It’s that simple.
I recently sent out twenty query letters to agents. I got two very kind personal rejections (this sounds great, but NO ONE buys memoirs type thing), one rejection form letter and a lot of non-responses.
But then there was the agent who responded five minutes after I sent my query and she asked to see my book. When I followed up with her a month later she immediately wrote back that the big storm that had gone up the east coast had knocked out her electricity for several days and she needed more time. To be honest I was so not ready for an agent to write back to me like I was an actual person. I did some research to make certain she wasn’t crazy.
I don’t’ know if she will like my book once she finishes reading it, but — because she has been so great at responding — if there’s a fight for my book between her and several other agents (hey this is my fantasy), she will always be first in my heart. I might even consider marrying her if things don’t work out with Saul.
4. Have something to offer
A single friend once told me that for years he only had one nightstand by his bed but had recently bought one for the other side to let the universe know that he was making room for someone else in his life. I loved that idea, but since I lived in a tiny, cramped NYC apartment and didn’t have actual room for two nightstands I hoped the universe wouldn’t hold it against me.
I got what he was saying though. If you want something you need to have something to offer.
As a writer, that “something to offer” is easy…or at least more concrete: If someone asks to see your writing, have some writing to give them.
Years ago, I heard a story from the award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein about how her first play got produced. Her mother was asked by a friend how Wendy was doing, and she answered in despair, “She’s not a lawyer. She’s not married to a lawyer. And now she’s writing plays!” Her mom’s friend comforted her but also asked for one of Wendy’s plays to show to a director at Playwright Horizons. The rest is Pulitzer-Prize-winning history. Wendy’s lesson from that? When my mom’s friend asked for a play, I had a play ready to give her.
5. Wait for it…even if it’s taking too long
I spent years and years writing blogs about my disastrous dating life. I’m pretty sure most of my friends were disappointed when I finally got married. They had a lot of laughs reading about my misery. After eighteen years of dating, i finally met the guy who would eventually become my husband. I had absolutely no clue when I got up that morning and got ready for yet one more coffee date with yet one more guy I met online that my life was about to change forever.
But during those eighteen years I kept trying. I took breaks from dating sometimes when it all got to be too much — but eventually I would get myself back out there.
I’m doing the same with getting published. I post stories on Medium even though some people tell me it’s a waste of my time. I go to workshops and conferences even though “nobody is reading memoirs”. I send query letters into the dark void as family members continue asking when I’m finally going to get that book published.
When I get discouraged, my friend Chris reminds me of what he calls the magic — that thing that happens I can’t control or might not even know is happening: Some stranger reads my blog and forwards it to a friend who is a publisher…a person I hold the door for in an elevator at one of those conferences has coffee with me and knows just the agent for my book.
Come to think of it maybe fishing is a better analogy for both love and publishing. You have to dip your heart and soul into the mysterious and murky unknown with the blind faith you’ll make the catch that changes your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is a writer in Lambertville, NJ. He currently lives with his husband who is still very good at returning texts.