The path to publication is paved with tar and tacks and the shards from broken vodka bottles. Literary agents, at least popular ones, receive thousands of query letters a year. They have to read these letters, read through requested partials, read through full manuscripts, and then they must still deal with clients and editors and publishing houses and publicity...and their own lives. With millions of aspiring novelists around the world, the chances of getting published are low, at least from what I hear.
Recently, I've been reading various tips and tricks and statistics regarding publication and, usually, I step away from my computer with this feeling of drowning among an ocean of writers who are all flailing their unsolicited manuscripts in the air, and there, way over there, is the tiny lighthouse of agents searching for that one sign of life among the crashing sea foam. I'm usually depressed for an hour. I think about how much more reasonable self-publication can be. And then, I think about Emily Dickinson.
Because, in some ways, Emily had it right. She kept her poems in a drawer with no attempt to get them published. She wasn't trying to be a star. She wasn't trying to make history. She wrote for the joy of writing. She wrote for herself.
And, along with the personal, emotional stuff that many people will probably chalk up to cowardice or denial, there is also the satisfaction and experience that comes from actually finishing the darn thing.
Nathan Bransford, blogging agent superstar, recently posted a good reminder about whether or not you can query an agent before your novel is done. The answer is simply, no. I mentioned that there are millions of writers out there, but how many of them have actually finished their book? Finishing a novel is a huge step, and one that any writer should be truly proud of. Tied to finishing my doctorate, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish, finishing my first novel has been the most difficult thing I've ever done, and I'm proud of it. I'm not the most organized person in the world. My room is usually covered in dirty laundry and dinner plates and books and manuscripts. And, unfortunately, my mind is no more pristine than my environment. For me to accomplish any large project requires all the concentration I can muster.
So, after you have finished your novel. After you have revised it and developed the characters and revised it and created a plot and revised it and checked it for typos and revised it, stop for a minute or two. Be happy with where you are in the moment. Enjoy the fact that you WROTE A BOOK. Then, jump into the sea if you want to.