Project Update: That novel I said I had finished two years ago? Ha! Ha! Ha! Not even close

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post saying I had finished a manuscript for a novel. Well, here’s the deal. It’s not yet done. I’m not talking about publication here. I’m talking about the actual manuscript. It’s still a work in progress and nowhere near done.

Let me fill you in. Here’s what has happened since May 2018.

In May 2018 it was actually done.

But now it’s not.

The draft that I thought was ready for the world was done.

But I went on to learn that it was actually far from it.

There actually is a good reason.

In 2018, I started sending the manuscript out to agents. The exhilaration of it all was too much. I was finally sending my baby out. Even though a few writer friends told me to expect rejections – a ton of them – I thought I would get a few enthusiastic yesses at least. Maybe two? Or one?

This was my process.

  1. Do some research to find an agent who represents the sort of book I am writing.
  2. Find their contacts (usually via their official website).
  3. Structure my query letter to suit them.
  4. Find a chunk of the book that meets their needs (Some want the first three chapters, others the first 10 pages, others, any pages that represent your best work in the book, others 10 chapters, etc, etc).
  5. Put all this in a folder with the agents name so as not to mix it all up.
  6. Do a cover email and send.
  7. Repeat.

Initially all I got were autoresponders which asked me to wait six to eight weeks and if I had not heard anything to assume the agent in question was not interested. Harsh – but agents have a lot of stuff to sift through (There has to be a way of making this process more efficient, right????).

Other than that, there was silence. Even from an agent who had been referred by a friend and who had said “Yes, I’d love to see your work.”

You know when you dread starts building up inside you? It starts somewhere in your gut and then slowly rises up to infect everything else. “Maybe my work is rubbish. Maybe I shouldn’t be a writer. Maybe this. Maybe that.”

After emailing about 30 agents, I took a little breather.

When the responses started coming, they were terse one liners that read something like, “This is not for us right now.” and they came from only one or two agents.

My aim was to send emails to 100 agents and I was working on getting to the next 30 when, on June 1st – my birthday – an email came in from one of the very last of the agents in the first group. lt actually came from her assistant. They wanted to see the full manuscript. Say what!!??? Yup! Full manuscript! I did a little dance and let out a howl of joy. Read the email again. Danced again! Howled again.

They had taken just three days to respond. I found a version of the manuscript that was up to date and mailed it out the very next day.

They said to expect a 12 week wait for a response. The agent herself emailed me on August 9, just over 10 weeks later.

She had written me a 400 word rejection letter. It ended, “While the novel is full of action and reading about Isaiah’s wealth was quite enjoyable, I have to step aside and decline the opportunity to represent you. I don’t feel you’re quite there yet in terms of contextualizing the events of novel, condensing it as a whole, and making your characters as unique as possible. I hope you’ll keep in mind that this is just my subjective opinion and I won’t be surprised if you connect with another agent.”

I was OVERJOYED! Totally over the moon. A professional agent had read my whole manuscript and liked it enough to write 400 words about it! It was the longest rejection letter I had ever received, and, to this date, the best. Most rejection letters are like 10-20 words.

I didn’t agree with some of the things she said in the letter, but I would deal with that later. I had taken a huge leap forward in, more than anything else, my confidence as a writer.

I had also sent the manuscript to some friends who had offered to be test readers. The feedback was positive with lots of suggestions and comments. Some of the things they were saying echoed what the 400 Word Agent had said.

So I decided I would rewrite some parts of the novel. I put a halt on sending it out to other agents and hunkered down to make some edits.

Then, in April 2019, about a year later, and in a different country – I had moved countries in August 2018 – another agent sent a dance-inducing response. She was based in New York so we’ll call her New York Agent.

“I’ve been reading your manuscript with keen interest, and I have some questions.  Assuming you’re in Kenya, perhaps we could set up a phone call. Something like next Wednesday,  10am NYC / 5pm Nairobi.  Please let me know if that works for you.”

More dancing! More howling! Whole family dancing!

On May 1st, we had our call. She had a colleague who had also read the manuscript join her.

One thing New York Agent said that sums up that call, “We love the characters. They were so real and vivid and that takes a lot of skill. But, and there is a but, we need to be able to sell the story to a publisher and we think we cannot do that right now. We feel their stories should intersect a bit more. As it is the story feels a bit incomplete.”

My heart sank. Really? Really, really?

I put the manuscript away for months and didn’t want to touch it. And then the characters started rewriting themselves in my head. They were refusing to be put to death. Except one of them who I totally killed – and I was only able to do that because I had put the manuscript aside for so long. When I started writing again, towards the end of 2019, one of the characters had a totally different persona, different dreams, different motivations.

And then I just stopped again. This whole year, I have hardly revisited that manuscript. I have been writing a lot of stuff, but that book makes me so emotional sometimes, it gets heavy to lift. It touches on many things that are dear to me.

It’s August now and I am feeling it pull at me.

A whole plan has been forming in my head for marketing it, getting it published and bringing the characters to life.

But first, I must finish the book.


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