I finished my first novel in the summer of 2010, then lay down in a sweaty heap and considered my options. I'd scoured all of my favorite contemporary novelists' online bios and acknowledgements pages for information, then made a long list of literary agents. At the top of that list was Matthew Bialer, Patrick Rothfuss' agent. (I'm guessing you've heard of Mr. Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind &c., but if not, get reading.)
Why did I want to work with Matt? Partly because the buzz surrounding TNotW was perfectly pitched to catch my ear, and I admired the team that had made that buzz happen. Mostly, though, it was because Matt's client list was both broad, including quirky lit-fic authors, SFF juggernauts, and more -- and I'd written a weird book that straddled the line between those genres. He had both the flex and the reach I was looking for, and seemed like a guy I'd like to have a beer with. (This turns out to be true.)
The thing was, I hated my chances. To get Matt's attention, I'd have to hit him in the slush pile -- meaning I'd be sending an unasked-for letter giving a quick description of my novel, then hoping for the best -- and I didn't feel confident in that approach.
So when I saw the announcement for a special auction in Pat's annual-and-then-some Worldbuilders fundraiser, I did a little dance. This, I thought, was the kind of chance I needed.
Now, Worldbuilders is an amazing charity that you should support for all sorts of reasons. They have approximately a basquillion book donations, crazy-cool packages you can win through a lottery, and a slate of ridiculous stretch goals. And all of the proceeds go to Heifer International, helping impoverished families worldwide with sustainable donations of livestock. Check them out, they're worth the click.
The auction item that got me jumping up and down, though, wasn't a signed first-edition -- it was a chance to get Pat's agent to read and critique the first 20,000 words of my novel.
At that point in my literary development, a couple of paragraphs in a query letter were enough for me to clear my throat several times, then squeak and gibber a few times before typing "Sincerely". 20,000 words, on the other hand, would get a reader to the end of my book's first act, giving them all the grotty flavor of Dead City, then leaving them dangling off a big ol' cliffhanger.
"It's a book for book people," I told myself as I entered my starting bid. "If he reads the beginning, he'll read the rest."
So I bid hard. I won the auction. I sent the manuscript. Then I sat on my hands.
That part was really hard. Having a crazy imagination can be a double-edged sword, and living in the real world doesn't do much to prepare you for the months-long waits that are a perfectly normal part of the publishing industry. But I kept myself together, mostly through the healing powers of Mario Kart, and one day I got an email from Matthew Bialer offering to try and sell my book.
So I did what any unpublished author would do. I allowed my head to explode, then I chiseled my brain off the ceiling and said yes.
Now, it's important that I point out that this conversation took place in May of 2011. Those of you with functional calendars will notice that some time has passed since then. That time wasn't easy, either, but if I made it through, it's for precisely the reasons I started thinking about Patrick Rothfuss' career in the first place.
We sold this book, in the end, because I have an amazing team supporting me. Without my wife, without my parents, without my agent, I'd have given up long before we got to a sale.
But we did. Cory Allyn, over at Talos Press, read Dead Boys and dug it. And one "I dig it" is all you need.
Anyway, you can see the current slate of read-and-critiques over at Pat's blog today, and roll the dice yourself.