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.

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Going Back

Around a month ago, I submitted a manuscript to an agent I was extremely excited about. I had met him at a convention, spoken with him at length, and convinced him to take a look at the first two novels in my fantasy series. I made some quick revisions he requested, and sent them off.

Then I waited. Far less time than I expected, honestly.

Then the rejection came.

But lo, and behold, the rejection came with sound reasoning, and the assurance that he would be interested in seeing those manuscripts revised and any future projects I may work up.

This is a win, but it brings me to the topic I want to discuss: revising, reworking, or rewriting.

Based on this feedback, I’m straight up rewriting. There are several reasons for this, and most of them filter back to inexperience on my part when I started this project. This novel was the first piece of fiction I had tried to write since grade school and I wasn’t very good. There were fundamental problems that simply rewording a sentence or dropping a few adverbs wasn’t going to fix. So, I rolled up my sleeves, tucked my pants into my galoshes, and trudged through the sewage.

Yes I just compared two years of writing and revising to poop water. I’m classy like that.

I currently have the stance that what I wrote, edited, modified, cut up, had someone else edit, gave to readers, shopped to agents, and tried desperately to get published, is a beautiful and shiny first draft. A first draft that has been edited twelve times. A first draft that will serve me well when I need to refer to the next events to come in my rewrite. A first draft that I can treat as a wonderfully detailed outline.

That hurts a bit, but when I’m done with this rewrite, I will have a much stronger book, with dense prose, a tight storyline, stronger characters, and better relationships.

At least I fucking hope so.

In the Face of Rejection

Fellow writers will all know what it’s like to come finger to eyeball with piles of rejection letters. If you don’t know, then you are either the greatest writer to ever grace the planet, extremely lucky, or a big fat wuss who’s never tried to put your work to the test against an editor or agent.

I’ve sent out around 40 queries up to this point, which means I’ve put my first manuscript against nearly every agent in the genre, and several of the acquiring editors. The ones I haven’t queried just didn’t feel right for me, for one reason or another, or were closed to submissions. I have three of those queries unanswered right now, one of them has a full manuscript, and the others probably haven’t opened their slush pile boxes long enough to slog through to my submission. It’s only been a couple weeks, so I don’t expect to hear back for a while.

So, 40 queries, 3 awaiting response, (I’ll do the math for you here, that’s what my Physics degree is for) that’s 37 rejection letters. I’ve been told no 37 times. While on the surface, that may not seem like a lot, it feels like way the hell too much. And it’s SO easy to look at 37 rejections and think ‘that must mean there’ s something wrong with my writing; it must really suck.’ And some days I do. Some days I want to just set the laptop aside and walk away from writing for good.

But I never do. Here’s why:

Every now and then I get some real feedback. Three times out of 37 letters, I’ve gotten some feedback from an agent where he/she tells me some unbelievably encouraging things, and gives me ideas on where I can tighten up the story and how I can improve my chances of publication. Those rejections are the little flecks of gold in the pan that keep me sifting sand from the riverbed.

Those rejections help me grow.

I take heart in those because usually there’s enough good stuff that I know I’m on the right track, I just have to take the Turtle Wax to that sucker and make it shine (some cases it seems more like sanding it back to bare metal and giving it a whole new paint job). Constructive feedback is a beautiful thing, and all we have to do is sustain ourselves on it long enough to get that one gorgeous letter that says ‘I read it and I love it, now change these 200 things and we can sell it.’

So, fellow aspiring authors, or those who have already been published and still feel human and fallible, hang in there, keep writing, keep working, and keep improving. One day you’ll look back on that time you almost gave it up and think ‘I’m glad I stuck with it just a little while longer, otherwise I’d never be where I am today.’

Now, get to work. You’ve got stories to tell and rejections to read.