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Why Publishing Your First Novel is Like Running For Student Body President

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, What's New.

(How many agents should you contact at one time?)




Guest column by Michelle Haimoff, writer and blogger whose
writing has appeared in The New York Times, The
Los Angeles
Times, The Christian Science Monitor, PsychologyToday.com and
The Huffington Post. Her first novel, THESE DAYS ARE OURS
(Feb. 2012, Grand Central, starred review from Publishers Weekly),
is available nationwide. She can be found blogging on genfem.com
and on Facebook and Twitter.



Picture being a new student at a high school where you don’t know anyone (1). And now picture dementedly wanting to run for school president (2). Lord knows why you want to run for school president, but maybe you think you’d make a terrific president. You have really good ideas and if people would just give you a chance you could make this school the greatest school the world has ever seen (3). You know it’s a long shot but it can be done, so you set out to do it.

1 – writing your first novel
2 – publishing your first novel
3 – it is possible that your novel doesn’t suck

You start making signs (4) and trying to get student groups (5) to let you talk at their meetings . But nobody knows you so they tell you that they don’t have time for you to talk at their meetings (6). The kids on Yearbook (7), Model UN (8) and Debate Team (9) won’t even look at you (10) when you approach them. The ones in Band (11) and Chess Club (12) say no way, but the Community Service Committee (13) says they’ll think about it. You make sure to say hi to all Community Service Club members in the hallways (14) anytime you pass them. They never say hi back.

4 – writing emails
5 – newspapers and magazines
6 – review your book
7 – The New Yorker
8 – New York Review of Books
9 – The New York Times
10 – respond to your emails
11 – Daily Beast
12 – Salon

13 – The Atlantic Salmon Journal
14 – retweet their tweets

Your signs (15) are made out of loose leaf (16) and graph paper (17) because you’re paying for them with your own money and you can’t afford oak tag (18). But you notice that other candidates, the jocks maybe, have signs (19) that are professionally laser printed (20) and hang as banners in the hallways (21). You look at your dinky graph paper sign and then at the enormous sign in the hallway and you wonder how you’re ever going to get anyone to vote for you (22). Also, you wonder where they got the money for those signs. But you shrug it off and keep your head up because you’re an optimist (23). An unrelenting optimist (24).

15 – publicity
16 – Facebook status updates
17 – tweets
18 – a publicist
19 – personal websites
20 – really fucking well designed
21 – come up first in a Google search
22 – buy your book
23 – an idiot
24 – an idiot with an inflated sense of self

Every so often you stand at the entrance to the cafeteria (25) and take an informal poll to see how many students are planning to vote for you (26). One day two students tell you that they’ll vote for you (27)! But moments later the captain of the football team trips you (28) causing you to run and hide (29).

25 – go on Amazon
26 – check your ranking
27 – you were ranked lower than #400,000
28 – Amazon recommends that you check out the Fifty Shades Trilogy
29 – close all tabs

At this point you have a moment of sanity and wonder what the hell you were thinking running for office. There’s no way you’re going to win (30), you should just be focusing on your homework (31) and graduation (32). It is at that moment that French Club (33) tells you they want you to speak at their next meeting (34). You have tried so hard for so long and you are overjoyed by this minor victory. You come out of the meeting knowing that you got more votes.

30 – make any money doing this
31 – getting an office job
32 – saving up for retirement
33 – a blog you’ve never heard of
34 – is going to review your book

The election comes and goes and you don’t become student body president, but you don’t get the least number of votes either (35). The kids that voted for you (36) wish you better luck when you run next year (37). And now you actually have some friends in this school, or at least more people to say hi to in the hallways (38). And because you really don’t know when to quit, you think, “Hmmm. Maybe I will run again next year (39)… maybe I will (40)…”

35 – some books aren’t even in the top #400,000 on Amazon
36 – your readers
37 – tell you that they’re looking forward to your next book
38 – Twitter followers
39 – there is this other book idea I have…
40 – and my second novel will definitely sell better than my first…

GIVEAWAY: Michelle is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: 13sgelda won.)




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21 Responses to Why Publishing Your First Novel is Like Running For Student Body President

  1. Olga says:

    Very clever and so true. Sharing with all my writer friends immediately!

  2. Ardent Muse says:

    2 of my main interests: Children’s books and Screenplays ~ This offer comes at the perfect time as I’m now in the process of changing career directions with promising expectations of getting my stories made into movies. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate. Thank you!

  3. Metruis says:


    Well, maybe I am crazy after all. Great article. It's both hilarious and tragic all at the same time.

  4. Wait, do I know you?
    …I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this piece. You’ve hit the target perfectly: if I had read this before the ill-fated day I typed “Once upon a time,” I’m really not sure I would have started.
    Still, I’m consoling myself, the odds are probably better than winning the lottery ;)

  5. johnmorrisbenson says:

    Imagine being a teacher and relatively new person in a town where there are more taverns than churches and running for city council against an eighth grade drop-out. That was a time before internet and I had less than $50, including $25 from my one support group (the city police), to spend on a campaign. Sixty-five percent of a less than 50% turnout voted for the other guy with community roots and family name recognition.
    Neither you nor I have to imagine trying to get a novel published when we are in a field of thousands of authors, many of whom have major publishing house roots and nearly instant name recognition. My first novel, An Odyssey of Illusions was published in May by Black Rose Writers. Perhaps my sequel, now in progress, will lead to more people reading my first book.
    John Morris Benson – http://www.tincupnomore.com/

  6. R.T.LaBee says:

    Thanks for the beautifully written article from a beautiful author. I cant wait to read her new book…regardless if i win or not!

  7. Great Analogy. I love a good challenge. I have done school politics and never gave up. Patience and persistence always pay off.

  8. nelliemoon says:

    Dear Michelle,

    I live in the UK and your offer does not apply to me. However, I have just bought your book on Amazon, and I can’t wait to read it. I hope somewhere, somehow, part of my 8 pounds reaches you.


  9. mobrien says:

    So, maybe I’m not crazy for wanting to keep doing this!


  10. writingpurcell says:

    What a great way to describe publishing! I love that there is always hope for next year.

  11. Wow … That’s rather eye-opening. The most important part I could take from it is, not to give up. Thank you for the post.

  12. Michelle says:

    SOOO true! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked the Amazon rankings, only to remain mystified at what it all means in the long run! Great article. Can’t wait to read the book!

  13. a.coyle says:

    Nice to see the complete insanity of my plans all laid out with numbers and everything. It’s somehow comforting to have it all on paper.

    Very catchy book title, btw.

  14. jonaysantoro says:

    Way to scare me out of writing for fear of rejection. Just kidding,I’m inspired. Thank you.

  15. 13sgelda says:

    Despite all these setbacks, you’ll never stop thinking–that’s one thing that can’t be taken away.

  16. Backfence says:

    Love this. Great analogy! And yet, one continues to cling to hope because … sometimes the impossible happens.

  17. jennifer204 says:

    This is so true. As an amateur writer I can say that this applies to me very much, but sometimes you just have to keep your head high and get through the bad things before you can really see results from your writing :)

  18. cgillice@gmail.com says:

    Thanks, this put things into perspective for me.

  19. steveashby524 says:

    As the first article read on this website, this was perfect. As an aspiring novelist this article is exactly what I fear and think about. I feel better and more confident that my worries are normal.

  20. kencil says:

    Thanks. Why write fiction if you are just going to bow to reality?

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