The Full, AKA Second Base

April 17, 2008

I'm writing this post for future release, but wanted to get my thoughts down while they were fresh. I'm not posting this in real-time because I don't want to jinx myself by coming across to the editor involved as a wacko. Or just not very good when or if they happen to see some of the admissions in here. :-)

It's January 12, and I just got my very first request for a full based on sample pages, or a partial.

For those not familiar with the process of selling one's writing, here's the baseball analogy (I'm not sure why so many baseball analogies show up in my blog, I don't even watch much baseball).

You start out with the query letter, or pitch, in which you write a brief summary of your story. If the summary hooks the agent or editor, and piques their interest, they ask for a partial submission, or sample pages (anywhere from 5 pages to 50, typically). Being asked for a partial is the equivalent of getting to first base. Some agents combine the initial query and sample pages into one step, but you get the idea.

If you're lucky, and the agent or editor sees something they like in your actual writing, they will sometimes ask to read the full manuscript. Second base. Most of the time you get a nice form letter rejection after sending off your partial, though. At least, you do if you're me.

Third base would be an offer for a publishing contract. Home plate would be seeing an actual book in print.

At any rate, I've been sending off queries and partials for about 18 months now, and I've never once been asked for a full. I've been firmly planted on first base, with my story hook being enough to intrigue several recipients, but not my partial. Which naturally makes one question one's skills. You start to wonder. Are my writing group friends just being nice to me? Am I like those poor, deluded creatures on American Idol, the ones who are completely tone deaf, but when Simon Cowell tells them they sound like a parrot with laryngitis, they insist they are the next Celine Dion? Please don't let that be me, you start to think. Please no.

Actually, it's not strictly true that I've never been asked for a full. But the one time it happened, the person in question had met me at a conference and heard my pitch, and went straight to the full. So they'd never actually seen my writing. And they never got back to me. So still no external validation by an industry insider that my writing doesn't actually suck.

After 46 rejections over 18 months, you start to dread the mail. You pick up the envelopes, and put them for a moment on the table, staring at them as if they might contain a poisonous snake. Then you open them and just get it over with. E-mail's not much better - just quicker and less of a chance of getting a paper cut. They are all very nice replies, usually along these lines: "Thank you for allowing me to read your novel. Unfortunately after careful consideration I regret that I am not the right agent for your work at this time. I just didn't love it enough. You deserve an agent who believes in your project, but I regret that person is not me." Which does about as much for your self-esteem as "What were you thinking? You can't write!"

So when I saw the reply to my partial submission sitting in my Inbox on Friday, I cringed. I squinted carefully at the screen, anticipating the emotional depth charge it contained, then as I clicked on the message, I opened one eye wider and read the first line. "Thank you very much for sending along the first three chapters of your novel, Untalented." Oh, dear. Oh, no. Here it comes. "I would be happy to read the novel in its entirety, if you are willing and able to send it along."

I had to read it twice. "Willing and able"? Can I wash your feet and give you a neck rub while you read the ensuing chapters? Oh! My! God! My very first external validation that my writing is good enough at least for a second look.

I still may get a rejection out of this. In fact, it's likely. But I feel like the Earth's gravity has been halved. I am standing on second base doing the happy dance. What a weight off my shoulders. What a relief.

And what a great way to start the New Year.

[Author's Note: two days ago I got the rejection associated with the request for this full. I'm choked, but I am still glad I wrote down how I felt that day 3 months ago so I can bring back some of the joy. Onward!]

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