On Rejection: Or what I have learned about publishing so far….
For those of you who are following my blog who are not aspiring novelists, forge ahead with amusement. For those of you who are published authors who may peek in here, forge ahead with amusement and pity. And for those of you who may be literary agents that nose around, forge ahead with sublime interest and a deep desire to read whatever it is I have to write. That is the point right? Pique your interest and hope I catch you on a good day. In some cases it is the hope of getting your assistant on a good day. I wish I knew what the assistants wanted to read… can someone blog about that please? Anyway….
I finished my first novel in December. I am almost through with my second. That was fast, right? Yeah, well it was written fast because getting attention for the first one may just kill me. The only way I know how to deal with the waiting/rejection process I have come to know and love (like a hair shirt), is to keep on writing. I wrote what I thought were the last words of my novel Haunting Anne on my birthday, December 23. I was awash with enthusiasm and confidence that with my dream fulfilled I would be a huge success. Or at least successful, or maybe brush up against success, or see it from across a room even? Hmmmm. I had so much to learn.
What I didn’t know still amazes me. I didn’t know you had to find a literary agent. I didn’t know you couldn’t just send your manuscript in a brown paper package and wait for a publisher to reject or publish your work. The business doesn’t run that way anymore. The big houses require an agent submit your work, the indie houses are great, but they are very picky about what they represent, so if your genre is all over the place, as is mine, you are screwed. And the really priceless part is that many of the great literary agents don’t accept what they call “unsolicited queries” either. Huh? Shut UP.
So I did what any good American would do. I asked everyone I know if they had an “in.” And one did! Yeah! I was saved. But I did the unthinkable. I happily sent agent number 1 the wrong draft of my manuscript. Damn my disorganization, damn email, damn hitting send.
Agent number 1 was really nice to me. She told me my writing was “strong” which I know now is agent speak for “please don’t kill yourself. I can’t have your blood on my hands…” because that term “your writing is strong” pops up in almost every form rejection that comes my way.
I didn’t even know what a query letter was. I found out. And then I did unthinkable thing number two. I queried widely, to the most open and friendly of agents. To the agents who would really like my book. But I didn’t research how to write a query letter first. Yes, I know. You don’t have to say it. I am still shaking my head. I filled those queries with boastful, typo’d comments and sent them out with names spelled wrong and with a vain, puffy bio. No joke. Some were nice enough to send out the automated rejections. Some weren’t and I don’t blame them.
I then wrote the good one. Really good! In fact I got a lot of response to my “good query letter.” And the requests for partials flooded my inbox. That’s the process, for those who don’t know it. You send the query and if the agent likes it they ask for a partial, if the agent likes that, they ask for the full, if the agent likes that you get an agent! Which still doesn’t mean you get your book published, because after all that work, the agent has to do the same thing you just did with the actual publishing houses. Crazy right? Yep.
So I send those partials out and I proceed to do unthinkable thing number three. I know… high drama. Agents don’t seem to like prologues. My manuscript started with one of those. Agents don’t seem to like back story, my manuscript is full of it. (But I like a good back story, doesn’t anyone want any description anymore? Sheesh.) And let’s not even touch the typo issue. One of the reasons I am writing this very blog is for editing practice. Needless to say as soon as I sent them out, the rejections on the partials began to pour right back in. Yuck. Oh sad and sorry day.
So I rewrote the beginning, paid someone to edit the beast, and started again. Eureka! I have some interest. No contract, but some interest. Meanwhile, I started feverishly writing novel number 2 to keep my mind steady. Only to find out this is exactly what all decent agents and publishers tell you to do. Really, when will I learn to read advice first instead of after I figure it out the hard way? The basic idea is finish the first novel, really finish it, so that it can be read and understood. Query widely, and write number 2 while you wait. If you have no luck with novel number 1 by the time you are ready to query novel number 2, it is time to put that first baby down. No joke no crying, no whining, just do it. I am not there yet. Not even almost. Well maybe almost…this stuff is hard.
So here is my take on the whole adventure. I am a really lucky person. I have found what I love to do. This is rare. I can finish a book. That is rare. I learned the process the hard way… I don’t think that is rare… maybe? I would like to think I am not the stupidest first time novelist on the face of the planet, but I guess I could be. Absolutely anything is possible.
I thought I would sum up this entry with the actual query letter I send out, followed by my two favorite rejections so far, and then end with the pitch I wish could send. The dream pitch. Okay, here goes:
Actual query letter for Haunting Anne
“Dear Agent’s name spelled right,
Anne is not your average girl. Imagine a deeply flawed, borderline sociopathic, Anne of Green Gables. For one thing, she sees ghosts, two of them to be exact, who live with her, and raise her like a good family should. For another, she is not fond of actual humans and this distaste for her own kind leads her to do some very, very bad things. <em>Haunting Anne</em> follows the life and adventures of a new kind of “young, creative, protagonist,” at the same time as it chronicles the tragic family history that precedes her, chases her, and ultimately defines her. Think Alice Hoffman and Stephen King sit down and rewrite “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
In my novel Haunting Anne a dark, unstable girl, finds herself on a unique (and sometimes dreadfully funny) journey from her industrial, east coast, urban playground to the Deep South where she confronts a father who abandoned her in order to get rid of ghosts who she cannot afford to lose. The 82,000 words of my strange, sad, character driven novel, weave history, crime, mystery, and psychological intrigue into a fast paced story that is, in the end, a simple tale of a girl who needs to find her way home.
(This is where I insert what I have researched about each agent and why I believe they should read my novel… and I really do the research. I learned that you NEED TO DO THE RESEARCH.)
I am a Sociologist by profession and degree. I teach Social Behavior and Social Interaction as well as many courses in Deviance at the university level. My background made it possible for me to create multi-leveled characters that are believably capable of many horrible and wonderful things. I live in New Haven Ct. with my husband and my three daughters. I am 38 years old and this will be my first published novel.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration,
Suzanne (contact info here)
Okay: Now come my Favorite Rejections:
“This is brilliantly written. A really sharp, vivid portrait. Unfortunately, this isn’t something we could represent ourselves. I wish you good luck elsewhere.” This one made me very, very happy until I searched some writer’s forums and found out this person is usually very nice.
And then there was this one. I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. It made me want to query him again with the next one. It made me want to sit with him and drink a beer. I am not kidding:
“‘I am 38 years old and this will be my first published novel.’ I can hear Annette Benning’s American Beauty character saying that.” My friend Sarah thought it was mean, but I think he was right. I can see Benning in that scene in the car, you remember…”I will sell this house.”
Now I want to put down in writing the pitch that I want to send. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a book. The Dream Pitch:
“Dear glorious agent whose picture is so lovely on your website,
I write. I write fast. I can write whatever you are looking for. I can write 10,000 words a day if I have a good idea and I am not interrupted. I am also not bad looking, which I know is important because I am a sociologist and we do studies on that kind of stuff. This means I could sell books. My jacket flap would be nice.
I play well with others. I will tear apart anything I think is brilliant if you say it will be better. I have a huge ego when it comes to the color of my eyes, but not when it comes to my writing. I believe authors need to work at what they do. I am willing to do the work.
Take me on, believe in me, if nothing else I could amuse you for the term of our contract.
Pandering? Yes? Prostitution? No… not yet anyway. Kissing ass? Of course. But that is the truth. Honesty can be so base and ugly. But I wish we could all be a little more honest.
Suzanne is a Sociologist by profession and degree. She teachs Social Behavior and Social Interaction as well as many courses in Deviance at the university level.