Through a combination of good fortune and by diligently following your guidelines I'm happy to say I am now represented by a fantastic agent, with my manuscript currently on submission.
By any standard I should be incredibly proud of that achievement, and I AM, though some two years into the publisher submissions process and more than a couple dozen rejections in, I'm finding it hard to know where things exactly stand.
I recently read Alexander Chee's How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, in which he mentions that the submission process for his first novel, Edinburgh, went for a similar length of time and for a similar amount of rejections.
This was tremendously helpful to me.
At the same time, I know there are writers who have been out there for far longer, and with many more rejections, either ultimately successful in publication or not. So: I don't think my place on this spectrum is remarkable in any way, but I AM finding it hard to find resources that shed much light on what to expect when it comes to expectations for writers on submission, and who have been on submission for some time.
In that vein, I hope you could answer a couple of questions that I am too embarrassed to ask my own agent.
1. In the hopes of getting a better sense of what to expect re: chances, is there a generally accepted ballpark number of how many US literary fiction imprints - independent, big 5 or otherwise - are out there?
2. Is there any even remote publishing industry equivalent to Hollywood's Black List? Or, to re-phrase, do editors ever talk across publishing houses, imprints? Or to re-phrase yet again, does a manuscript's slowly accruing history of rejection contribute in any way to any sort of stink for current and future consideration by completely different editors at different publishing houses?
3. Are there any nightmare submissions scenarios you and your authors have experienced that you might share to entertain and terrify us poor woodland creatures?
(1) You could probably tally them up, but the number of imprints isn't the info you need. It's how many editors there are, and does your agent know them.
(3) You don't have to look too far this week to see the one that scare us all.
Or how about the one that happened to me some years back: sold the book, got the money, the author had completed the copyedits only to learn the entire division was being shuttered. No book. We got to keep the money of course, but oh man, that just plain hurt.
Or how about being told after 19 books that you're not getting a contract for #20 cause the publisher is cutting the list in half. Been there, done that.
There are lots of ways for things to go south, but if you focus on that you might as well go home now. It's not whether something untoward is going to happen; it will. The test is how you (and your agent) deal with it and move forward.
Here's what you need to remember: Phil Spitzer, an agent I admire and respect a great deal, kept a novel on submission for 18 years before it sold. The author? James Lee Burke. JLB is one of the finest writers alive. And it took 18 years.
I've sold novels that were on submission for nine years.
I've got novels NOW that have been on sub for two+ years.
There is no real comfort in this, I know.
Start doing what you love: writing.