Andrew Munz, lately of Iceland
Walking into the 2013 Jackson Hole Writers Conference, I more or less was convinced that my novel-in-progress was utterly groundbreaking. It was everything I wanted to write, and represented the type of author I wanted to be. And to know that I would get the opportunity to meet with editors and agents further fueled my dreams of fictional world domination. I was ready to dominate the conference. But when the reality hit me, I realized how out on a limb I was.
Being one of the youngest attendees at the conference was nerve-wracking. There were people here who had already published their third, fourth, fifth novels. How on Earth could I measure up to these experienced writers? But those nerves subsided when I finally gathered up enough gumption to befriend to my fellow attendees.
The other writers I met were so fascinating and supportive, because we shared the same dream: a publishing career. It’s every writer’s dream to be able to make a living off his or her creativity, and the conference was a first step for many of us. Sharing novel ideas with other writers instilled me with tons of confidence, because everyone was hugely passionate about their projects.
And then the time came when my confidence was put to the test.
I had polished and re-polished those first fifteen pages like they were my Willy Wonka golden ticket to fame. All I needed to do was to convince one literary agent that my writing was worth a damn, and I’d be rich, right? (Oh sweet, innocent, delusional Andrew Munz…) I also couldn’t shake the thought that a poor critique would likely cripple me, and make me never want to write again. I put so much thought into the possible outcomes that walking into my agent critique was petrifying.
I sat down across from Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency and introduced myself. She asked me to tell her about myself, about my writing journey and how I came up with the ideas for my book. She took a breath, and placed her hand on the pages.
My stomach lurched as she cleared her throat.
Oh god, oh god, oh god.
“…am obsessed with this,” she said.
And in a moment all of my fears dissolved like soggy Cheerios in the sink. Our allotted time flew by as we chatted about my story. She asked me if the book was done yet, and I was so bummed to admit that, no, it wasn’t. But she gave me her e-mail and encouraged me to query her with the book when I was finished with it.
Cue three long years of obsessive revisions that included three full rewrites from beginning to end, and plenty of self-doubt and mini-projects along the way. But I never gave up.
Tallying up all my rejections, I’ve had sixty-six literary agents and independent publishers tell me “no.” And I refused to toss my book away until I got that “yes.”
Sarah LaPolla responded to my query letter with excitement. I was so happy to know she was still enthusiastic about the story. She said she was very much interested in reading the finished book, and I sent her the full manuscript as quickly as I could.
Once she had completed it, Sarah was still interested. She and I had a conversation to discuss some major edits she thought would tighten up the book. She said that she would love to work with me on my novel, but only if I was willing to do some more revising.
“I think in order for this novel to work for me, I need some deep character work being done, and a lot of sacrificing of darlings,” she wrote to me.
The decision was a heavy one. I think every author worries that a literary agent will make them do massive overhauls and completely compromise the original idea just to make the book salable to publishing houses. And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have that fear as well. But when Sarah and I spoke at length about her suggested changes, I realized that the edits weren’t hindering at all. Instead, she was opening new doors and making me think about characters and plot points in ways I never had before.
Eventually, Sarah offered representation and I wholeheartedly accepted. We still have a long journey of revisions ahead of us before that special submission day takes place, but if attending a writers conference taught me anything, it’s that patience and persistence are paramount achieving a publishing career.
There’s no fast track to JK Rowling-esque fame and fortune, folks.
My biggest piece of advice to any aspiring writer who fears walking into a manuscript critique is that any ounce of criticism can be a learning experience. If I received one bad critique after another (and don’t think I haven’t sat through those), I would want to work that much harder to prove everyone wrong.
Had I given up after then first, the fifteenth, the fiftieth rejection, I wouldn’t have someone like Sarah in my corner. And I have the JH Writers Conference to thank for that.
When Andrew Munz mentioned that the Jackson Hole Writers Conference
helped him get an agent, we thought let’s hear about
from the source. Thanks, Andrew. We look forward
to seeing your book in print.