It’s been a while since I grabbed a moment to sit down and write here, though the reason for that is mostly that the thing taking up the majority of my brain space lately is something I don’t feel like I should talk about publicly in any kind of detail. Before I get to that, though, here’s what else is going on.
Preparations are slowly underway for 2019’s summer opera production, Handel’s Rinaldo. The English adaptation is progressing slowly, and I’m also toying with keeping quite a number of the arias in Italian this time around, if we think the audience can take it. Emotional numbers like “Cara sposa,” “Venti, turbini,” “Mio cor,” “Lascia ch’io pianga,” and so on will sing much better in Italian, and there is so much repeated text, that I’m hoping we might be able to get away with program translations and kickass acting as our main tools. We’ll definitely go English with all the recitative, some of the more explanatory arias (“Sovra Balze,” for instance), and the duets, but maybe it’s time to push the envelope with our local audiences a bit on the rest.
Meanwhile, we don’t have a performance space yet (as usual), and we’re really, really hurting for money (significantly more than usual), but I’ve got a bunch of teens here who are determined that this will not be the year the Opera Workshop dies, so we push on. Related to fundraising, yes I really am practicing for the five French songs I owe you. I’m hoping to record by summer at the latest.
For those of who you keep telling me I should write a memoir about my days in the theater, I feel like today’s post at Musica in Extenso proves that so many of my stories work better live than they do on the page. If I’ve ever told you this story in person, you know what I mean.
So, the thing that I feel I shouldn’t talk much about is querying my novel. I’m new to the world of publishing, but I assume that like most creative fields, it’s ultimately a lot smaller than it seems and people talk to each other. But since most of my family and friends are new to this, too, I thought I’d describe the process a bit, staying away from specifics.
First, the whole thing begins with a book. Mine is a YA contemporary fantasy novel (which is to say, young adult fantasy that takes place in the here and now, rather than a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, or in Victorian England, or on the way to Mount Doom), which I completed earlier this year. Since I want to try my luck at traditional publishing, my first step is to find a literary agent who wants to represent my book, and the way to do that is to begin querying.
“Query” is an elegant term for what is really just a letter addressed to an agent, introducing the book and its author (me), the purpose of which is to entice the agent to request a copy of the manuscript to read. Often this letter is accompanied by a short sample of the work–usually the first 5-10 pages, depending on the agent’s own guidelines, though there are a few who like to begin with more. Since my novel is dual POV (two different characters take turns narrating the story), I especially appreciate the agents/agencies that ask for 2-3 chapters, because the sample otherwise only includes one of narrators, but this isn’t up to me, so I have to follow each agent’s instructions and hope for the best. The truth is, everything about this process would be easier if my book was told from a single POV. It complicates the structure of the query letter–don’t even get me started on the nightmare of Twitter pitches–and there are certainly going to be agents who dislike that structure from the get-go. But it’s essential to my novel, so that’s a complication I have to live with.
Just as important as the letter itself is choosing the agents to which to send it. Most agents have genres and categories of books that they do not represent, and they all have personal tastes, usually documented online in some form, so before sending out the letter to anyone, there is research to be done. To this end, I spend a lot of time perusing agency websites and other online sources (like QueryTracker), and I also follow a list of agents on Twitter, which I update regularly–adding new agents as my query list grows and culling, too, as needed. This lets me get to know each agent’s personality to some extent, and it also allows me to keep tabs on who is currently open to unsolicited queries in any particular moment. The upside of this is that I’ve discovered that literary agents are wonderful people! They are funny, compassionate, politically engaged, and absolutely the kind of people with whom I’d love to share an industry. The downside, of course, is that they can’t (and won’t) all choose to represent me. And not all of them should! Just as I often tell my students that the college audition/admission process, brutal though it is, generally does a great job of matching up each student to the schools that are best for them, I have to trust that the querying process will do the same. If I do this right, it should match my idiosyncratic, super-queer YA fantasy novel up with an agent who can truly love it and advocate for it in a very tough marketplace. That’s what will give it its best chance. That’s the best thing I can hope for.
Then comes the waiting. Friends, this is the part of the process I was not quite prepared for. Everyone talks about how difficult it is to handle the amount of rejection that comes with querying (which is to say, a lot of rejection, though there are lovely moments, too). For me, this difficulty is minimal. I’ve been a professional actor. I eat rejection for breakfast. What I was not really prepared for is the waiting. Publishing is a slow, slow business, and that’s something it absolutely does not have in common with the theater, at least when it comes to casting. For a stage actor, the experience is most often audition-callback-contract (or not) usually within a period of weeks, and occasionally days. On more than one occasion as an actor, I was cast literally days before a job began. “Can you be on a train tomorrow?” is not an especially unusual thing to hear in the world of live theater.
In publishing, on the other hand, the process for a single book usually takes years, and that begins with querying. Yes, some agents will respond within a few days, but for most it takes weeks–and that’s before they’ve requested your manuscript, after which months may pass before they’re able to get around to reading it. This is a feature, not a bug. Most agents receive hundreds of queries a week, so of course it takes time to get through them, and of course each one of us wants them to read our submissions thoroughly and thoughtfully. But wow, do those weeks (or months) feel real. I was not quite prepared for how the speed of this process would affect someone like me–a poor multitasker who thrives on doing one thing at a time. Concentration is my superpower, for better or worse. But I absolutely cannot concentrate just on this, or the rest of my life would fall away for months, possibly years.
And so I wait. And live? And wait some more.