first novel – a suspense thriller – still sits in a bottom
desk drawer after receiving 116 rejections from literary agents.
Alex Kava’s first novel – a suspense thriller – received
three offers of representation and went on to be a bestseller with
a first printing of 70,000 hardcover copies, and the recently
released paperback hitting #23 on the New York Times extended
bestseller list. The difference? It may very well be all in the
name, because I wrote both of those novels -- one under my real
name, Sharon; the other under a pen name, Alex.
I randomly sent out that first novel as Sharon Kava, I received
quite a few conflicting responses from literary agents. Notes in
the margins of my query letter said things like, “Wonderful
suspense, but too harsh for a romance.” Or “tone down the
violence and add some romance.” I wasn’t trying to market the
novel as romantic suspense, and yet, it appeared that literary
agent after literary agent was trying to put me into that genre. I
began to wonder if these agents – many of whom are women with
remarkable track records – simply didn’t believe women wrote
hard-hitting suspense thrillers. It seemed as though they needed
to fit me into the romantic suspense genre in order to believe
they could sell my novel.
years later, I quit a full-time job as a director of public
relations for a small college. I was burned out and ready for a
change. I decided to give novel writing one more try. Only this
time, I would eliminate as many obstacles as possible.
I finished the manuscript. I polished, revised and edited, then
revised some more. I was living off my savings and then my credit
cards. I taught part-time and even had a newspaper delivery route.
I could hardly afford the $100 editing fee, but still, I hired a
professional editor to go over the manuscript.
I did my research on literary agents, carefully choosing agents
I’d like to work with and finding out as much as possible about
the current authors they represented as well as recent sales they
had made. I narrowed my list to thirty-two literary agents and
prepared custom-designed submission packages to each agent’s
specifications. But before I sent out a single one, I decided that
Sharon Kava would become Alex Kava.
past experience had left me with what was, perhaps, only a gut
instinct. However, I was determined to remove as many obstacles as
possible, and if there was the slightest chance that a perception
existed that women wrote romantic suspense while men wrote
suspense thrillers, then I would try to remove that obstacle the
best way I knew. So I looked for a name, that when spelled the
same way, could be misconstrued male or female. Of course, it also
had to be a name I liked and could live with, if need be. But most
importantly, I didn’t want agents determining my manuscript’s
plight by a simple glance at my name and pegging it into a certain
genre before they even read it.
A half dozen agents wanted to see
more. Three requested the entire manuscript to read. Those three
offered to represent the book, calling and asking for “Mr.
Kava.” None of them had been able to distinguish whether the
manuscript had been written by a man or a woman. For me it was the
ultimate compliment, my reasoning being that good fiction should
be, in a sense, genderless. After all, isn’t that what writers
strive for is to be an all-knowing force, an omnipotent narrator
who can relate to and see into the hearts of minds of their
characters, whether those characters are male or female? Besides,
I had also just accomplished the first step in what some claim is
the equivalent of winning the lottery – I was on my way to
getting my first novel published, and whether it was as Sharon or
Alex, it was still my novel.
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