Even as I edited from 184K, I continued to submit to agents, burning bridge after bridge and racking up form rejection after form rejection (over 100 in all, by my best guess).
In some query letters I spoke of my 140K word novel. A little while later, I was hawking a 135K word novel, and eventually, a 120K word novel. Somewhere in the 120-135K range, I started getting serious bites. Lots of agents asked for sample chaps. Several agents asked to see the whole MS–from big houses, too, like Writer’s House, Nicholas Ellison and Curtis Brown.
One agent asked to see the whole MS based on the query alone. He requested “a fortnight’s exclusive look.” Although I had no way of shipping my book back to 18th century England, I sent it to him anyway. He rejected it.
One by one, they all turned me down, although very graciously and with helpful feedback. No one mentioned sheer length, though I knew it was still an issue. But in addressing the things they did mention (no one mentioned the same thing, by the way), I would end up cutting word count in the process.
Finally, I had it down to 109K. How, I still can’t remember. Words are not the precious things I once considered them to be. I saved every cut in a separate, disjointed Word doc that I may drag out for readings some day–like a “deleted scenes” feature on a DVD.
Somewhere along the way, I wrote a prologue to set up the first chapter and cut the first chapter by 50-75% (all backstory). I had also rewritten my query for the third time. I had two versions I was test marketing. The only difference was the opening paragraph.
On August 11, I sent an equery to Robert Brown at Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency, the first line of which read as follows:
“People are so desperate to save a quarter on a cantaloupe, they’d give a urine sample at the checkout.”
Five days later, I had a request for sample chaps. Two days after that, a request for the whole MS.
And one month later, I had an agent. Nearly five years to the day I started outlining the novel and more than a year and a half since I thought I had “finished” it.