Dear Agents

Dear Agents That I Query,

Thank you. I understand that you’re extremely busy, and you might not be thrilled with the idea of slogging through the slush pile tonight after work. But you do it anyway on the off chance that someone sent in something that isn’t terrible. Hopefully you’ll be in a reasonably good mood when you come across my submission. Hopefully you’re a fantasy geek like me and the idea of a kid in the desert who hears weird voices intrigues you.

I can’t imagine with your job is like. I hate reading bad writing, which is why revising my first and second drafts is like pulling teeth. I couldn’t imagine a more torturous version of hell than having to read through every trotted out and beaten down trope-laden crapfest of a storyline we writers come up with and present to you with 76% spelling accuracy and bad grammar. On a daily/weekly basis.

I’ve been querying my fantasy series for years now. I started before it was ready. I thought it was ready, but it definitely wasn’t. Looking at it now, after having a group of extremely talented and skilled writers critique and help me improve it, I almost laugh at how bad it used to be. And even then, I had a couple of nibbles from agents, because they saw the potential in it. Now, though, it’s probably as good as it’s going to get without some serious professionals nit-picking it and polishing all those little rough spots that I’m not experienced enough to see.

Now, after a few years, you’d think that it would become sort of rote. Draft a query, send it out, forget about it and get a response. Rinse off the rejection. Repeat.

But it doesn’t work that way. I fret over each query I send out. Each one is unique. I sit and draft a brand new letter for each one of you I send a letter to because I want each agent to know that I am querying them for a reason. They are a person I am hoping to build a career with, a business partner that I would like to spend quite a long time building a trust and rapport with. That sort of commitment shouldn’t be made lightly, or with just the first person who offers it to you.

I send out a query and mark it down in my spreadsheet, then I enter it into my querytracker account, then I review the statistics on how long you typically take to respond (even though my experience has shown just how far off those stats are) and I check the comments on querytracker every few hours during the day to see if anyone who queried around the same time as me has heard anything back and then what that might or might not mean vis a vis my query and whether you’ve looked at it and whether it might have made a second round of ‘this might be interesting’ or whether it’s just sitting there because you haven’t had time to send out the boilerplate. Yeah, it’s a little manic sometimes.

And I totally understand why it takes weeks to hear back. You’re extremely busy during the day working and fighting to get the best deals for your clients, and making sure that each project is as good as it can be before it gets to the editor’s desk for submission. Expanding your client list probably isn’t your number one priority, nor should it be. Your first responsibility is to the authors you already represent, the ones who trust you with their careers. But that doesn’t make it easier.

And as much as it sucks to get that rejection letter, I have to say I am EXTREMELY grateful that you replied (closure is a wonderful thing), and it climbs to a whole new level when it’s a personalized rejection. Even a simple mention of my protagonist’s name lets me know that you actually reviewed my pages and had an opinion on them. Then there’s the second-best response. When you ask me for a manuscript and read it and get back to me with a genuine, helpful, personalized response with the reasons you didn’t quite connect with it. Those are the next best thing to an offer. Because, while you might not want to rep me or my book, your honest critique is going to help make me and/or the work better.

So, in closing, thanks for doing an extremely frustrating job. It balances against the frustrating job we’re doing out here, pouring our blood onto the page and hoping it matches type with someone out there in need of a word transfusion. One of these days I’ll scale the wall and all the self-doubt and anxiety will have been worth it. Until then, expect to see my name in your inbox.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Write Your Story

Nike said it. A lot. Then Shia Labeouf yelled it in front of a green screen. Now I’m writing it in the vain hopes that I’ll possibly help someone improve their life.

Do it.

A few years ago I had a random thought. It went something like “I’m going to die one day.” That thought, and what it truly meant, summoned a storm of images, but one imagined snippet of my possible life really stuck with me. I was older, not old, but older. Perhaps fifty. I was dying. Lying there, in my bed , I was on the edge of death, and I was sad. Not because I was leaving this world, but because I was leaving this world without having done all the things I wanted to do. I hadn’t written my stories (literally and metaphorically).

That single thought changed my life. From that moment, I told myself that I would look at every decision and consider the consequences, and whether I would look back on it from the future and wish I had taken the chance. Or, if I was willing to let that one slide in favor of a better road for me, a better story.

I dedicated myself to my writing, because being published is a dream that I’m not willing to let go without a fight. That isn’t to say that I love writing, because writing sucks. It’s painful and filled with anxiety and self doubt and fear of rejection. But, when I finish something and I give it to someone to read and they connect with any part of it… that feeling is nearly incomparable. It’s on a level with having children, and seeing them grow and flourish. They’re both things you’ve had a hand in creating, and you’re sending them out into the world to fend for themselves.

I quit my job. That’s a little dramatic. I changed careers. At 32, I moved from a field I was competent in, one where people came to me for answers, to become the new guy in a subject that I found fascinating. Now, I’m working in that field, and making reasonably good money, and loving it. If I had stayed, I wouldn’t be miserable, but I’d always have been wondering what if.

Now I don’t have to.

So, my advice, wholly unsolicited, is to just go for it. Sure, weigh the consequences, but realize that long-term regret is perhaps the biggest consequence you will face in this life. Write your story the way you want to. It won’t be easy, in fact the harder it is, the better it will be, but it will be your story. Your life. Nobody else’s.

On “Wasting” My Life

I just read a post on a certain website that I frequent that asked users if they thought they had wasted their life by raising a family. The poster said they loved their family and would do anything for them, but couldn’t help but think of all the things they could be doing besides worrying about these other people in their life. They bemoaned being as good-looking, physically fit, emotionally and fiscally stable as they would ever be in their life, and it “going to waste” on their family.

As Arsenio Hall used to say, “Things that make you say ‘Hmmmmm’.”

I had to respond, and I did, but I didn’t really say all the things I wanted to say. I mean, how do you properly convey to someone just how badly they missed the point? And not just the point of some conversation, or a college English essay question, but the point of having a family. Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to have all the answers and all the reasons that someone might want offspring, or not want them. I will stand proudly on a soap box and tell you all the reasons why I did, and expect you to swallow them with appropriate amounts of salt (you may even choose whether it’s Kosher or Sea or Iodized or fine or coarse or Pink Himalayan).

I understand that when you say something like “You’ve completely missed the point,” when the topic is something like “Why bother being alive,” people are going to come in with all kinds of opinions. And that’s okay. Everyone can and should pursue the things in life that make them happy and leave them feeling fulfilled. However, for me, and I believe for the majority of people out there raising families, the point of it all is to carve a place out where you can be surrounded by those you love and make you feel whole.

That’s what a family can do.

Everyone spends their whole life tilling soil, planting seeds, and watching their garden grow. What they choose to plant, and how well they maintain their crop will determine what sort of harvest they receive.

I want my harvest to be filled with the smiling faces of those I’ve spent my life with and who I’ve helped mold into happy, healthy, satisfied members of the human race. My children, their children, and maybe even those kids’ kids. Wouldn’t that be a trip?

So, is a family a waste? I feel like that’s like telling someone that their mortgage payment is a waste. You’re going to be spending the time anyway, you may as well put that time in a place that will pay dividends when you’re ready to cash out.