The Twenty-Nine Year Old Novel
by C. M. Albrecht
Way way back, somewhere around 1980, I developed an idea for a mystery novel. I’ve always loved mysteries, and for years, I’d wanted to write a mystery of my own. Time went by however, and other things always prevented my getting started.
But this time it was different. I really liked my little idea, and I was actually being paid (in a roundabout way). I wrote the first draft of what would become “The Albemarle Affair” during my paid lunch breaks at work. I drank more coffee than Balzac and wrote with a Bic on yellow legal pads.
In 1981 I picked up an old office typewriter for $10 and transferred the book to the typewritten page. That wasn’t easy because (a) I could barely read my scribbles, and (b) I make lots of typos and the typewriter was not only ancient, but stubborn. Finally however, I got a draft I thought looked pretty good.
Over the next year I continued to work at it, off and on. I got an electric typewriter, and by 1982, I began to think it might actually go someplace. In 1983 I began researching publishers at the library and found one that looked promising. I sent my manuscript off and began planning what to do with my newfound success.
If you’ve never gone through the old snail mail book submission process, let me explain. First you have to make a carbon copy of your book and—after hoping you’ll be able to decipher it later because of all the smudges from erasures on your main copy—then you send a letter of inquiry to the publisher. After all that, you wait.
Chances are pretty good that you’ll never get a response. Sometimes however, months later, you get a letter expressing interest in seeing your novel. Oh joy! You manage to follow all the rules and have your book all typewritten and double spaced on one side of the paper. You package it all up and send it to the publisher with a stamped return envelope inside. Again, you may never get a response, but some months later you may—just may—get your novel back with a printed rejection slip. Those months could easily turn into a year. Once in a while you get a little “sorry” note from an editor, but printed slip or note, it all adds up to: “Don’t quit your day job”.
As you may imagine, in the space of two years you might have your work seen by two or three editors. Of course, multiple submissions were enough to get you blackballed by the industry and I certainly didn’t want that.
I tried agents too. One agent kept my book over six months. I wrote and asked about it. She answered that she was holding it because she really liked it and didn’t want to let it go. I said, great. Then, some three more months later, she wrote and informed me that, much as she liked it, she was going to pass. No explanation. Most agents weren’t even that polite and the “nice” ones wanted money.
After going through this process for a number of years, I gave up and tossed the manuscript into a drawer. In the meantime, I wrote another book with the same results. It too ended up in a drawer.
I sold a really neat story to a magazine. Success at last! I talked to the editor on the phone. She even wanted my picture so I went out and spent a goodly amount on a studio portrait, which I submitted. In the meantime, the magazine died without a whimper and I never heard another word. Lost my picture and my story too, because since I’d mailed it to the magazine over a year earlier, I’d lost the copy I had.
Understandably, I think, I said to hell with it. I tossed my two books into the trash and swore never to waste my time on such foolishness again.
Some years later though, I felt the urge to write another novel. By now I had a computer and it was not only a lot easier to write and edit, but it became a lot easier to submit to publishers too, since I could query them and even submit the entire manuscript on line without the time and expense of printing up and mailing separate manuscripts. A goodly number of publishers even began agreeing to look at multiple submissions too.
I found a publisher for a novel, thus giving me a new lease on life. I got busy writing again, and almost immediately another book was accepted and then a third and fourth.
I began thinking about “The Albemarle Affair” again. I still liked the book and thought it was pretty good. Alas, it was long gone, but the more I thought about it, the more it came back to me, so I sat down at my trusty computer and rewrote the entire book from memory. That wasn’t as difficult as it may sound. It had remained pretty fresh in my mind all this time.
Well, not to drag a long story out even longer, some 29 years after its inception, “The Albemarle Affair” actually found a home.
Moral: In the writing game, you must have patience. Lots and lots of patience, and don’t quit that day job.