The first time I took to the computer to write a book, or to attempt to write a book, I’d quit teaching. I was so disturbed by what I’d witnessed in public schools I started reading voraciously about education. That research, along with my personal experience, ignited a fire that never went out. Though I didn’t know it then, I had become a writer.
Sadly, I never finished that book. My marriage at the time had taken a nosedive, and my head just wasn’t in it. By the time I took to the computer again, I was remarried and pregnant with my first child. I was 31. This time the book was about the needs of children and how these needs conflict with adult desires. I titled my book The Work of Motherhood.
Needless to say, finding it a home was exhausting. I had no connections, and no experience with book publishing other than a temporary spot as an editor of educational guidebooks. Moreover, the book was controversial. It pushes boundaries that aren’t used to being pushed. So with my infant daughter in tow, I walked into a Barnes & Noble and sat down with The Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents.
After learning how to approach an agent (hint: a query letter—to the right agent, or one who specializes in the material you write), I submitted at least thirty queries. All but one said thanks, but no thanks. The one agent who said yes—I’ll never forget her name: Amy—had a personal stake in the issue. Newly remarried, she was expecting a baby and loved the message of my book.
Now I’d love to say that’s all there was to it, but I can’t. Amy must have submitted my manuscript to at least 40 publishers, from the top tier to the bottom. Almost immediately we got interest from Harper Collins, but they ultimately rejected it when their in-house publicist said I didn’t have enough of a platform, or ready-built audience.
That was as close as I came to a sale.
So I did what any committed writer would do. I went back to Barnes & Noble, sat down for an entire afternoon with The Writer’s Guide (sans baby) and read through the descriptions of every publisher in the United States until I found the one whose mission statement matched my book’s message to a T. It said something to the effect of, “Looking for writers who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.” And their areas of interest included family and the culture. Bingo.
I asked my agent to submit my proposal, and within days I got a phone call from the editor telling me he “loved” my book and wanted to publish it.
It would be another eight years before I would write another book, and by that time my publisher has closed up shop. I’d been home with my two children at the time, so the most I could do was write an article here and there. I also started a blog called No Bull Mom.
Once my children were both in school, I got serious about writing another book. My intent was to produce one giant letter to a young woman about all the things the culture doesn’t say about sex, marriage, work and motherhood. Once again, I went though a series of agents (my last one, ironically, quit her job to stay home) until I found the right one. Unfortunately, she too was unable to find my book a home.
So, back to the drawing board. I began networking like crazy—attending events with like-minded folks—and eventually found a new agent. I also teamed up with a co-author and changed the focus of the book because by then I had become pretty vocal about politics. (A side note: the focus of most books invariably meanders from its original idea.)
Shockingly, my new agent couldn’t find a publisher either (yes: three agents, no sales!). It was I who came upon WND Books and asked my agent to submit my proposal to them. She did. They took it. And the rest is history.
In March 2011, The Flipside of Feminism was published. Since that time, I’ve loved working with my publisher and eventually came back to my original letter idea, which they agreed to publish. In February 2013, my third book, How to Choose a Husband (And Make Peace with Marriage) was released.
About now you might be wondering how I feel about agents and whether I would recommend getting one. And the truth is, I don’t know. I’m sure there are many authors who can’t imagine life without their agents—but clearly, I’m not one of them.
My overall advice, at least for nonfiction writers, is twofold: write what you feel passionate about, and never give up. The goal isn’t just to get published. The goal, as I learned the hard way, is to get your manuscript in the right hands.
Suzanne Venker is a vice president at the The Center for Marriage Policy and has written extensively about politics, parenting, and the influence of feminism on American society. Her latest book is How to Choose a Husband and Make Peace with Marriage. Also available is her new Kindle Single, The War on Men.