Before I begin, let’s get something straight: there’s no “typical path to publication.” There’s only what happens to you, when it happens to you. Remember, this is a business where the only effective marketing advice are dollar signs and shrug emojis.
That said, my journey is actually fairly typical. I call publishing “the eye of Sauron,” because you’ll find yourself living through long stretches of time where nothing much is happening, and then, boom, the Eye is upon you and you’re taking calls and signing papers and rushing through edits and dealing with situations where you’re the deer and the deadlines are the headlights. That’s typical.
I started querying Architects of Memory in March of 2017. I sent out over twenty queries and started receiving polite form rejections. Of those twenty, five agents requested to see the manuscript. I spent most of the year in a bit of an anxiety spiral, fending off polite rejections. I know twenty sounds like a lot, but I know friends who sent out fifty or sixty before finding an agent that really understood what they were trying to do with their novel.
My agent didn’t find me from a query letter, though. On a lark, thinking nothing of it, I dashed off a few pitches for #pitmad, a Twitter pitch party where authors post their loglines and agents “like” the posts to request the manuscripts. One of my pitches was liked by Dorian Maffei, whose agency I hadn’t previously considered. I looked up Dorian’s background, loved the fact that she was an editor, too, and after a phone call, knew that she would do a fabulous job. It’s important to have an agent that really gets what you’re doing and supports the kind of career you want to have, because that person will be an effective spokesperson and champion for your needs.
After signing, there were another couple rounds of edits to get the manuscript ready for submission, and once that was done, a few months where I passed Dorian the football (which were the hardest months of all for this particular perfectionist writer, knowing that something wherein I’d controlled every single detail was completely out of my control). My publisher made an offer some months later, and then we embarked on more editing and the publication process. That’s where I’ve been ever since.
And that was all still over a year ago.
My point is this: some people do get swept off their feet by agents they meet on the convention floor or the hotel bar. Some do get signed by the first agent they query. Some people get offers from publishers first—and then have their pick of agents to negotiate the deal. Some win contests. (All of these stories are true.)
But even in those cases, the path to publication is long and littered with a lot of rejection, a lot of waiting, and require a lot of backbone. And you’ll end up doing a lot more emotional labor for yourself than you ever thought you would—after all, you have to crawl into a tiny room with the truth (ugh) and get comfortable with your “author brand” or “the person you want to be” or whatever you want to call it, and that’s tough for most writers, who spend so much time alone, faffing about in their own heads (or is that just me?). This is where it helps to have a few good friends who are going through the same thing as you, so make sure to take some of that time and connect with the writing community.
You’ll end up doing a lot of marketing work before you even start querying, too, making sure that agents and editors will see in your book what you see. And you’ll end up sitting on your hands more often than not while the words you worked so hard on circulate in the world, trying to find a home.
So. Don’t worry about being typical. Stick your courage to the sticking place, and get your eyes back on that page.