Posts Tagged ‘literary agents’

Best rejection ever?

March 26, 2011

For the past two months, I’ve been steadily throwing stuff at the wall — um, I mean, mailing out queries for my newest novel.  Mostly I’ve been met with silence. Sometimes that means the agent hasn’t read the query yet. Sometimes it means they’ve read it but get so many queries that they can’t bother to respond. That’s annoying, and Miss Manners wouldn’t approve, but I can understand it.

I’ve also gotten a few rejections. Some are form letters: “Dear author….” Some are nice, personalized rejections along the lines of “You’re a very good writer but I didn’t fall in love with this.”

But this one — I have to share it.  From an agency that shall remain unnamed, it takes the form rejection to a new pinnacle. (Or should that be nadir?)

To Whom It May Concern,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. Unfortunately, we did not feel your project was a right fit for our agency. But we do wish you the best of luck.

Please forgive the form letter, but the enormous volume of inquiries we receive obliges us to respond in this manner. Thank you, and again, best wishes in your future endeavors.

What sets this one apart is its To Whom It May Concern.

To Whom It May Concern!

It’s like they’re writing not to an individual author, but to an entire Department of Rejected Novel Production. Gosh, I hope I can route the rejection to the appropriate person or persons in the department, since there are so many of us here. Let’s see, there’s Rejected Adverb Writer. Rejected Pronoun Writer. Rejected Curator of Themes and Metaphors. I’m not sure if this should to go to our nice Rejected Help Desk people in Bangalore, or directly upstairs  to the V.P. of Global Rejection Sourcing….

And may! And concern!

It “may concern” me that I can’t sell the novel I’ve been working on for two years.  It just possibly may, a teeny little bit. Then again, maybe not! Maybe I am on so much Prozac that I am not the least bit concerned. Maybe I’ve left  this project behind already and am investing in thin-film solar arrays. Maybe I have received so many offers from so many publishers — oh yeah, from a couple of film studios, too, and then there’s that upcoming dinner with Michelle and Barack — that I won’t even notice that this agent is rejecting my work.

Okay, have I vented enough? Any more venting and I will be sitting in a thatched cabana, not a home office.

Despite my spleen, form rejections like this bother me less than when someone has read the entire book and rejected it.

I’ve actually had a good, busy week with some interesting ideas starting to percolate about the publishing world. But I’ll get to those in a future post.

Throwing stuff at the wall

January 28, 2011

There’s that old saying about “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.”

I’m not quite sure what is being thrown there —  mud? spaghetti? Jackson-Pollock-style paint? a toddler’s mashed peas and carrots?

But whatever it is, that’s what I feel like I’m doing with literary agents.

A little background: I’m just starting to send out query letters for Novel # 2.  With Novel # 1, I queried about 15 agents. They were carefully selected, almost all of them people with whom I had a second-degree connection. So I could say in my query letter, “Hi, I was referred by your client so-and-so.” And almost all of them gave me personalized responses. They asked to see a full or partial manuscript. When they rejected it, they sent me nice rejections. Sometimes they offered constructive criticism. A lot of the time it was simply, “I didn’t fall in love with this.”

Novel # 1 is now sitting in the corner, nursing its wounds and sulking. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to put the final touches on Novel # 2 so it too can go out into the world. And this time I’m trying a different approach.

This time I’m sending query letters to a larger number of agents — some that I queried before, but a bunch where I don’t have a personal referral. This is more of a long-shot effort. Because email makes it so easy to submit queries these days, agents often receive 50 or more unsolicited queries per day. Fifty per day! This is known in the industry as the “slush pile,” and the vast majority of such submissions go unanswered or get form-letter rejections.

But one thing I’ve learned over the past year is that fiction publishing is subjective — more subjective than non-fiction. Editors won’t buy a novel unless they are really in love with it. Agents won’t represent a novel unless they are in love with it. And love is famously subjective — one person’s Romeo is another person’s Caliban.

I am hoping that Novel # 2 is more marketable and doesn’t have some of the structural issues that made life hard for Novel # 1. But even so, even if it is a perfectly viable novel, there may be 24 agents who simply aren’t grabbed by it. Then there may be the 25th who “clicks” and loves it.

Finding an agent and publisher has always been a bit of a numbers game, as attested by those wonderful rejection stories like Gone With the Wind being turned down by more than 25 publishers.

But the current economics of fiction publishing — where publishers are reluctant to take chances on anything that doesn’t look like a blockbuster — make it even more of a numbers game.

So…. out comes the mud/paint/spaghetti/peas. 

She winds up, pulls her arm back, releases the pitch — no, make that a dozen pitches —  no, two dozen pitches….

Will it stick?

What not to do as an aspiring writer

August 11, 2010

This morning I ran across two very funny (and very on-target) takes on what not to do as an aspiring writer.

One is a blog of daily excerpts from really bad query letters to literary agents. The blog is called SlushPile Hell. (For those who are happily ignorant of the world of publishing, “slush pile” refers to the gazillions of unsolicited manuscripts and queries received by agents.) Here are a couple of examples, followed by SlushPile Hell’s comments:

  • A little bit about myself:  I have a joyous personality, I love to make people laugh and enjoy laughing myself.  I consider myself compassionate and generous.

Wait, is this a query or an eHarmony ad?

  • Please consider my memoir….I know that my family and friends will, without reservation, pay at least $19.95 to make sure they have not been unfairly exposed or defamed.

Eureka! A brilliant new marketing angle! Publishers, take note: henceforth please be certain to include these taglines on all memoir covers, “Are you sure you haven’t been slandered in this memoir? Isn’t the cost of this book a small price to pay for your peace of mind?”

  • I have the first 5 chapters written. I know first-time novelists are supposed to present a finished work, but I think it would end up a much better piece for having had an editor’s guidance during the last draft.  He, in turn, would have an excuse to ask for a reduced price.  

Brilliant! Or wait, better yet, you should write just one page, let the editor finish writing it for you, and he can buy it for almost nothing. Then I, as your humble servant, shall be KING OF ALL THE AGENTS!

  •  I have attached my manuscript to this email in WordPerfect format, which I’m assuming is okay with you.

Um, the ’80s called. They want their software back.

 The other post that made my morning was by Nathan Bransford, a San Francisco literary agent who writes a blog about the publishing business. His entry today describes various “writing maladies” that people suffer such as:

Yoda Effect: Difficult to read, sentences are, when reversing sentences an author is. Cart before horse, I’m putting, and confused, readers will be.

Chatty Cathy: So, like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but OMG teenagers use so much freaking slang!!! And multiple exclamation points!!! In a novel not a blog post!!! And so I’m all putting tons of freaking repetitious verbal tics into totes every sentence and it’s majorly exhausting the reader because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS.

Repetition: Sometimes when authors get lyrical, lyrical in a mystical, wondrous sense, they use repetition, repetition that used sparingly can be effective, effective in a way that makes us pause and focus, focus on the thing they’re repeating, but when used too many times, so many times again and again, it can drive us insane, insane in a way that will land the reader in the loony bin, the loony bin for aggrieved readers.

Shorter Hemingway: Clipped sentences. Muscular. Am dropping articles. The death. It spreads. No sentence more than six words. Dear god the monotony. The monotony like death.

Right on target! Of course, ahem, um, I would never be caught dead displaying symptoms of any of these maladies.   

Well, except maybe every teeny once in a while. When I might get a little repetitive, just a touch repetitive.

Chutes and ladders, and book writing

August 2, 2010

Remember the board game Chutes and Ladders? Where landing on some squares whisked you up a ladder and toward the finish line, while landing on others sent you plummeting down a slide back toward the start? 

I feel like I’ve just gone down a chute back to start. That’s not terrible, and I’m not feeling bad about it. It’s just a way of visualizing where I am in this process. 

Down, down, down...

This is about the path to publication and finding a literary agent. When I began focusing full-time on fiction writing a year and a half ago, I assumed I was well along the road to publication. I had published one non-fiction book already, and I had an agent who had represented me on that book. 

Combine that with nearly 20 years of newspaper writing, and I felt miles ahead of all the poor souls who stumbled about sending cold queries and collecting boilerplate rejection letters from dozens upon dozens of agents.

Well, here we are 18 months later. After sharing a couple of versions of my manuscript with my prior agent, it became pretty clear to me that she wasn’t going to take on this project – at least not without changes that were bigger than I wanted to make. Last winter I approached a few more agents with whom I had some personal connection and got similar rejections. 

On the bright side, most were lovely rejections – personal, thoughtful, even offering some praise. On the not-so-bright side, there was always a “but.” (“Your writing is lovely and has a good voice BUT…”) 

My main conclusion was that I had some more rewriting to do. My secondary conclusion was that selling fiction is damn subjective – much more subjective than selling nonfiction. 

With nonfiction, there seems to be more of a logic to getting your book sold. Agents and editors ask: Is this an interesting and new idea? Who are the potential readers and how big is the market? Does this writer have the right background and “platform” for this project? These are all questions that can be anticipated and answered. 

With fiction, there’s some of that, but there is also this big subjective element: Does the agent or editor fall in love with it?  

Do they like your characters? Do they want to keep turning pages? Do they feel a burning need to tell their friends about it? Does it make them want to laugh/cry? Does it strike some chord with them personally? 

Do they like it enough to passionately fight for all the additional layers of approval – the senior editors, marketing mavens, finance folks – needed for publication? 

In short, do they love it? 

And love is so personal, so subjective. That’s daunting, but it’s also encouraging. It’s encouraging because it means that five rejections is not definitive. Even ten rejections is not definitive. All it takes is one person to say yes – so you can slog through 57 rejections and then find one person who falls in love with your book and then yeah! you’ve got your agent or editor. 

Now, with my latest round of revising pretty much done, I’m ready to send the manuscript out again. 

But this time I’m down the chute, back at “start” with all those zillions of wannabe authors sending out cold queries and hoping to be noticed in the slush pile. 

To put it in terms of my husband’s beloved Tour de France: I thought I was in the breakaway. 

But I’m really in the peleton

And that’s okay. I just have to keep pedaling.