I arrived at the book fair exhibit hall of AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference hopeful that I’d be able to complete my mission: to convince the editors at a small press that they should publish my novel. After a six-hour train ride that took me several states away. I said a silent prayer and slipped into the comfortable shoes I had packed, my burgundy, suede Crocs. I had a lot of ground to cover.
The book fair seemed about the length of a football field. More than 700 exhibitors filled the space. My plan was to approach the several hundred editors representing small presses that published novels.
Years earlier, at the age of 47, I had entered a master’s degree program in creative writing. Two years later, I had a completed manuscript.
Elated, I sent query letters to literary agents, hoping to get representation. Instead, I got rejection. It often came in the form of a generic email but sometimes the agents sent me a personal note.
Do you really want to start the first chapter with that car ride?
I’m sorry to say your work is rather pedestrian. We will take a pass on this one.
I didn’t stay discouraged long. A literary agent I’d gotten to know personally agreed to work with me. I spent months revising the manuscript section-by-section under her guidance, optimistic she’d decide to represent me. In the end, she had this to say:
I re-read your story twice and I’m sorry to say that I’m not making a connection with your narrative.
I spent months revising the manuscript again. But instead of sending it to literary agents, I selected small presses, which typically don’t require that an agent represent an author’s work and are more open to publishing works that might not achieve the sales of a commercial work of fiction.
Rejection emails arrived in my inbox. Some editors never responded at all. Others said I’d made the second round of reviews. I held onto those responses as a sign of hope.
I searched online and found out that nearly all of the presses I’d contacted would be represented at the writers’ conference book fair. I decided I would speak to each one of those editors and chat with the others there as well.
That day at the convention center, I felt overwhelmed as I took in the vastness of the bookfair. I wondered how I would get it all done. I took a deep breath and got to work, my burgundy suede Crocs giving me the support and comfort I needed. Several editors said, “I remember your manuscript. We’ll take another look at it.” Some gave me an in-person rejection. Undaunted, I spoke to them all, even one whose small press was based in a different country. It took me two days to get to everyone.
I left the conference satisfied that I had done all that I could on behalf of my manuscript.
Months later, I got an email.
I thought your manuscript was fabulous! I went to our board of directors and they approved of us publishing it. Let me know if you are still interested. We’ll send you a contract and a marketing questionnaire.
The editor of the small press based in a different country–Canada—one of the last people I approached on the second day of the bookfair, had accepted my novel for publication.
Months later, I spent a lovely summer day at a park posing for a publicity shot for the back cover of my book. I thought to myself, I’m glad I wore the right shoes.
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