It’s been a full year and a half since I completed the first draft of Boy At The Window. Since then, I’ve added to, subtracted from, rewritten and otherwise edited and revised the manuscript five times, most recently in March of this year. I’ve revamped my query letter so many times that I’ve lost track of what it was I wanted to say originally in it (not really, but it has felt that way at times). Yet with all of that, I’ve managed to interest about two dozen agents in Boy At The Window. Only to find out in a week or two weeks or a month or a year that while I’m a “wonderful writer” with an “interesting story,” that their “enthusiasm level” isn’t high enough for them to pursue an editor for publication of my manuscript.
It’s no secret what this means, at least from the rejecting agent’s perspective. No matter how well written, my mundane story of trials and tribulations of a Black kid growing up in the New York City area only to turn into a minor success story is old news, because there are so many books out there that shed light on the realities of Black males in America (not!). Actually, my book might not be making agents see lots of $$$$, since I’ve only published one book (and a self-published one at that), I haven’t made a $100 million and I’m not an elite journalist on the New York Times‘ payroll. That is the untold secret of the publishing world these days. That the quality of writing isn’t the first thing agents or editors look at anymore. It’s likely not in the top three or five either. Fame or recognized expertise or obvious leadership experience or being a veteran best-selling author or being rich (or a combination of all of these) are the leading reasons for publishing a new book in this business. If I go by this reality, I would probably have to wait until I’m at least fifty or dead before anyone will take a serious look at what I have to say.
So how do I break through, find the right agent, who in turn will help me find the right editor for a manuscript that I know is worthy of publication, that can be both entertaining and of benefit to readers? I haven’t completely figured out what the next steps are. I could put it aside and work on other projects. But if my memoir isn’t getting a lot of traction, I can’t imagine a collection of essays on American privilege and entitlement doing any better. I might want to think about self-publishing, but in light of my limited success with Fear of a “Black” America, I think it would be a disservice to my manuscript and all of the people I interviewed (or didn’t interview) to go that route. My wife says that Stephen King received anywhere between 200 and 300 rejections before finding a publisher for his first book thirty-five or so years ago. But as I’ve pointed out to her, he’s generally a fiction writer, and there are far more agents and editors for those than there are for nonfiction, especially memoirs.
I haven’t given up the ghost yet, though. I do think that I should contact another batch of agents with my refined query letter. I get to first base with it about thirty-five percent of the time these days, which I think is pretty good. Still, I can’t put all of my eggs in the query-letter-as-siege-engine basket, continuing to hurl boulders into the walls of Ba Sing Se (ala Avatar). I’m also thinking that maybe I should talk with some folks about talking about my story and my manuscript, maybe on the Web or TV or radio (it’s all a part of my proposal for the book anyway).
Perhaps the best thing I can do for Boy At The Window right now is to let some of the manuscript see the light of day. So what I plan to do in the next week or two is to post a few excerpts of the manuscript on my website for your reading and feedback, probably somewhere between one and two chapters. My interest here is only to find out from you if this is something that you would read if published, or if you’re only reading my site until Jon Stewart comes on at 11 pm on Comedy Central. 🙂
I’ll continue to blog and blather on all things related to Boy At The Window in the meantime, and hope to see some of your comments about my blogs in the near future. Thanks again for all of your support!