Every Dog has its Day
by Lesley Kagen
You are a writer.
You’ve put in years developing characters and setting, polishing the plot and voice of your novel. You’ve risen at 5AM or gone without sleep to plop your ever-spreading bum into a chair to pound out a story because writing is good for the soul, and nobody thought you could do it, including you, but there comes a day when there is nothing left to say. You’ve finished your manuscript. The family and friends and odd stranger who you’ve pressed into reading it get back to you much later than you’d hoped. “What a good job!” they tell you, but their praise, though appreciated, it isn’t enough. You want more than a scratch behind the ears. You want a big juicy bone. You want your work to be published. But how does one go about something like that, you wonder. Not daunted, not at all. You’ve already accomplished the near impossible. You’ve written a novel you think is darn good. You are a little full of yourself.
That was me five years ago, widening backside and all. I knew there had to be a system, a way to do this thing. I needed to do a little information gathering. I’d ask around. See if anybody knew anybody in the publishing business. When the closest I got was a friend in Chicago telling me, “I think my cousin dated a publicist at Random House a few years ago,” I proceeded to step two. Read a ton of books on the ins and outs of it all. Discovered that to get the ball rolling, what I needed was a literary agent. What a lucky break, I thought. I was an actress for many years and never had a problem getting an acting agent. How different could getting a literary agent be?
I spent weeks crafting my query letter. Sent it off to the first ten agents on my wish list with tail-wagging enthusiasm. Within three days, I’d been rejected by all ten of them. “Big deal,” I said with a cock-eyed smile. (Rejection is an actress’s middle name.) I sent the next ten letters out. Was rejected by one of the agents in under a minute. But another one…she thought the story sounded “promising” and asked that I submit three chapters and then took a pass. And so on and so on and so on. After rejection one hundred and twenty-nine, the nemesis of all writers—self-doubt—growled into my ear, “These agents…this is their job. They know what’s what. What is good. What will sell. And guess what? It’s not your story. Roll onto your back, woman.”
If nothing else…I can follow direction. I drowned my tears in hot baths usually reserved for the criminally insane. I cried and cried. And cried some more. Ate cheese. Watched The Dog Whisperer, who always seemed to be having a heart-to-heart with a terrier; the kind that gets you around the ankle and won’t let go, no matter how many times you tell it no. That little dog, that stubborn cuss of a thing, she inspired me.
So I licked my wounds, and began submitting the manuscript again. More rejections. Some darn right mean. More tears. But agent one hundred and fifty-two…he called. He sounded old-fashioned, like he had patches on his tweed coat and a pipe in hand. He loved the story. Already had some publishers in mind. Would I be interested in having him represent me? “Does a dog poop in the woods,” I believe I so eloquently replied.
My debut novel, Whistling in the Dark was published by New American Library in 2007. There was no big advance, no tour, and little publicity. But just like my granny used to say, “Every dog has its day.” Much to the publisher’s surprise and mine, the book was selected by the American Booksellers as a Book Sense pick. The national book clubs wanted it. Library events followed. Literary festivals. Word of mouth. Scores of book club appearances. And on a morning so memorable, my editor called. “It made the New York Times bestseller list,” she told me, trying, but unable to keep the amazement out of her voice.
I’ve heard some writers say how those early rejections put hair on their chests, and looking back now, how grateful they are to the agents who doled them out. But little terrier me?
Can you hear me yipping na…na…na…na…na…na? See me giving them my middle paw?
LESLEY KAGEN is the author of the New York Times bestseller Whistling in the Dark, Land of a Hundred Wonders, and Tomorrow River. She lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Learn more at www.lesleykagen.com.