I'm Making This Shit up as I Go, and That's All Right

 I hate finding stock photos every damn week. I'm done. 

I hate finding stock photos every damn week. I'm done. 

I passed another huge milestone this week! I’ve officially sent out my first query letters.

To refresh your memory, query letters are essentially one-page pitches that authors send cold to agents. Now that my manuscript is totally finished and proofed, I’m going through a list of about 50 agents who would be a good match for my story. Every agent and agency have different submission guidelines, so this process is much more complicated than shooting off a couple mass emails. Query letters are business letters. They must be professional, personalized, and well-researched. You are literally asking the agent to go into business with you—to take you on as a client. It’s not simple.

I pored over all five queries I sent out this week. I hunted for typos and eliminated formatting errors with extreme prejudice. I wrestled with how to format my manuscript in Gmail (most agents don’t like or even open attachments). I tortured myself as I chose between closing the email with “thank you for your time and consideration” or “I appreciate your consideration.” I went with the former. In retrospect, that’s an obvious one. But when you’re an author staring down the barrel of a draft email, preparing to send your baby into the harsh world of traditional publishing, things look screwy. Topsy-turvy. Warped around the edges. This bundle of 83,000 words has fundamentally changed how I see the world.

I’d like to say I know what I’m doing. I don’t. I’ve done the research, read the examples, workshopped my query, and rewrote my manuscript five times. Don’t let that fool you. I’m making this shit up as I go. Hilariously enough, that has become my mantra for most of my post-collegiate life. Sure, there are rules and bits of advice from parents, but everyone’s story and path are unique. Only you can truly know what you’re looking for out of life. Only you know the exact road you’re walking on. We’re all making this up one day at a time.

That’s not to say I’ve been led astray. If the past three years have been a whirlwind, working on this book has been one of those crazy fire twisters that pop up when Satan sneezes. It started six years ago with a germ of an idea after reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Pearl Poet. That idea became a short story. That short story became an unfinished trilogy in my generous friend’s college literary magazine. That unfinished serial became a feature-length screenplay, a first pass at my film school thesis. Failed screenplay reverted to prose a year after graduation. I was living with my parents at the time. I was working a crap job in a retail pharmacy. When I got back from after-work drinks, I plopped on my childhood bed, decided to write a novel, and created the Microsoft Word file I’d go on to use for the next couple years. (I’ve since upgraded to Scrivener. A move I can’t recommend enough.)

And still, after all this time, I’m flying semi-blind. In my head, I’m just that fat boy who used to scribble fantasy stories in the back of my middle school science classroom. Who do I think I am, sending my manuscript to the same agents who represent my favorite contemporary authors? Who the hell is this chubby kid who used to draw cover art in the fogged bathroom mirror? He finished a book? And he thinks it’s good? Cue laugh track.

I don’t know. I’m making this shit up as I go. And one thing I’ve learned for damn sure is you have to block out that negative voice. It’s not going away, so learn to live with it. We writers rarely have the luxury of being alone in our heads.

As always, thanks for reading. My short story, King of the Rodeo, is on sale now. It would mean the world to me if you bought a copy and left a review. 10% of profits gets donated to Doctors Without Borders.