Waiting and the Invisible Structure That Makes It Possible

I’m terrible at waiting.

I finished writing a book a couple weeks ago. Once you finish a book, you have a few options. The first time I finished a book, a novel that I’d started in college and finished in graduate school some seven years later, I shelved it; it was pretty bad and I was busy putting together The Northwoods Hymnal and didn’t feel fixing it. When I finished The Northwoods Hymnal, I went straight to a publisher, the wonderful and small, River Otter Press, where Diane was kind enough to take me and my stories in.

So: Shelf, publisher … self-publisher. Also an option. It seems to me like self-publishing requires either an enormous fanbase or the gift of marketing, two things I am generally without.

Option four: Find an agent. When I first started writing–seriously–I didn’t really think about getting published at all–at least not consciously. I knew people got books published, but I had no idea how. It was a slow agglomeration of tacit industry knowledge: what a lit mag was, how to get a short story published, what a cover letter looked like, how to get a book published, and on and on. This past summer at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I had a couple weeks hanging out with people who had more of this knowledge than I’d ever run into–who knew that people still got advance money for books? Who knew that it wasn’t really advance money because they expected you to have written the whole thing first? You can just email agents? Just put together a query letter–very specific rules–and send it off to New York and see if someone likes your sentences enough to take a chance on your book? You can. I did. Over the past few weeks.

And now I wait.

And in the waiting, I’ve been thinking a lot about the invisible structures that exist in systems like book publishing–and probably everything else. I paid money to go to graduate school and met some people who taught me how to get short stories published, including someone who read for a couple lit mags to choose which stories they would publish, who then got his stories published as a book and suggested I send mine in too. Then that tiny press entered my book into a contest that I was hardly eligible for (I went to UNO and wrote big chunks of the collection while in residence at the Lied Center in Nebraska City) and that book got chosen as an award winner. Then I used that shiny gold sticker and a recommendation from grad school and a big chunk of change provided by my employer to attend Sewanee, where I met a bunch of writers and editors and agents that let me peak behind the curtain.

All this to say: I’m incredibly privileged. And I hope I can remember that. And a little waiting is nothing.

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