Ah HA! Or, alternately, oh NO!

Received my first, cautiously interested email from an agent yesterday. Two caveats to her interest: 1. the project needs to be retitled (her word: “bland”), and 2. she has concerns about the love story being strong enough. In order to sell the novel, she needs to be able to advertise the story’s “historical romance.”

Frankly, I’m elated she even bothered to sound me out on those issues. Most publishing mags and guides seem to suggest that agents won’t bother with a submission unless it’s absolutely the BEST it can be. Thank God for real agents with an interest in potential.

The title was bland, so I spent a solid few hours calling everyone I know and dissolving into tears… kidding. But I did call 1/3rd of my many brothers for advice, peruse relevant quotes for possible ripping of lines (Shakespeare, the Bible, online quote sites, Anais Nin, you know), write up a page of possibilities, have Carl shortlist his favs, disagree with him, agree with him, narrow it down to two that are, I think, quite spiffy.

Reworking the romance line would be a little harder, but now that I’ve figured out how to do it, I’m eager to try. Too much of the novel’s theme is invested in the playout of the heroine’s NOT getting the man she wants, that I can’t just generate some amazing guy for her, BUT the co-heroine (a younger sister. Think: Sense and Sensibility with different issues) has a fully-credible love story, and with a little reworking younger sis Lydia and her guy could have their romance more center-stage.

Well, I’m not sure how much the newbie writer is allowed to barter with the established agent, but I wrote back, offered my new title, outlined what I would like to do with the story, thanked her for the good criticism, and asked whether she would be interested in seeing the revised manuscript.

Here’s hoping.

Part of me feels like she can’t lose. Agreeing to consider it is a far cry from agreeing to accept it, and hopefully she sees that I’m willing to work hard, make changes, and accept criticism. Then again, maybe it’s not accommodating enough.

Can always, always second-guess myself, but I’m choosing to not fixate on it today. Going to spend the day working on my crime novel instead.

And, ok, checking my email.

Hopefully less than fifty thousand times today.

Misery in the Reference/Resource aisle

So, I went to the library and Barnes & Noble to do a little market research and check out the latest titles in my genre. Maybe a quick browse through the how-to publishing guides too.

One of the poorest decisions of my day.

I can’t imagine having the will to write—let alone live—after reading all those guides to publishing and getting an agent. The basic message is that it’s impossible, not only because your book sucks worse than you know, but also because publishing is a big, cold business and nobody cares and everybody is overworked and understaffed (except you, anyway, because you don’t have a staff).

Mostly I walk away with my hands over my ears singing la las. The alternative is total dejection and misery.

Who would invest so much time and money in a bunch of books that verbally beat you down? I’m not saying there’s not a lot of truth in them, but I am saying that it completely sucks the marrow out of any creative impulse I might have.

Maybe it’s a timing issue.

Because even though I’m sending out one manuscript, I’m also a couple of chapters into the new book, and it’s still at that exhilarating stage that can so easily tip into exhausting when I think about how long I have to go and how I may not even be able to sell it when I’m done, and basically my life sucks.

Which is when Carl helpfully reminds me of one of his favorite quotes from the movie Cool Runnings about how “if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” Which is helpful. I guess. Except sometimes I get wound up so tightly that it’s hard to even see the rest of my life, let alone find deep fulfillment and meaning in it.

I dunno.

Maybe I just need to be better about gauging my mental health before wandering into a bookstore.

And then I see all these other people in the world who look happy and don’t seem to be writing or revising or trying to sell a manuscript. I wonder how they do it.

All American Rejects

It’s probably not good juju to write my first post on rejection, but with a fresh (but oh-so polite!) rejection letter sitting on my desk the topic is kind of glaring with me today.

Specifically, what is one supposed to do with a soon-to-be-extensive collection of rejection letters?

Paper mache is an option. Bonfire with frantic tribal dancing also up there on the list…

My first response was to snip open a frozen push-up pop and stare out the window for a bit. My husband, Carl, usually reads this kinds of letters for me first—not because I can’t bear to look, but because he gets tired of waiting for my courage to rise [read: me spending the whole day moping like Dostoevsky on Demerol]. So he reads, tells me the gist, highlights anything nice the agent might have said about my writing.

So far, 3 things seem important to me in this process:

  1. Keep Perspective. It can be really, really tempting to only see the NO in a rejection letter. And, sometimes, that’s all the letter says. Then again, sometimes the agent or publisher actually said something nice before the resounded NO. Don’t minimize this! Don’t assume they say something nice to everybody just to make themselves feel better. They don’t. So, analyze the compliment. Did he say your pacing was good? Did she like your characters? Your descriptions? Your plot idea or hook? Knowing your strengths is an important step in learning to write better—you know what to showcase in your writing samples and what other things you may need to work harder at next time around.
  2. Play Detective. Not only can there be lessons to learn about your writing abilities, an agent may also give you crucial information about the market. In the rejection letter I received, the agent said my project has “merit” and that the writing quality is “good,” in places even “excellent.” HOWEVER, he feels that publishers aren’t looking for this type of genre/project and did not want to represent the book because he felt he would be unable to sell it. Well, I thought, crunching through a frozen push-up pop, better that the story is wrong for the market than that my writing sucks to an irreparable extent. A new story is easy to find. A new ability is harder to come by.
  3. Blow it Off. While you’re busy learning from each new rejection letter to better gauge your abilities and the market, don’t forget two essential truths: no agent is omniscient and your writing career shouldn’t define you. Some agents pass on books that turn out to be bestsellers. My aunt sent me this quote yesterday from Michael Larsen’s book How to Get a Literary Agent: “Eight years after his novel won the National Book AwardJerzy Kosinski permitted a writer to change his name and the title and send a manuscript of the novel to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers to test the plight of new writers. They all rejected [the novel], including Random House, which had published it!” Obviously, don’t let a rejection keep you from trying again. Don’t even let 20 rejections keep you from trying again (but, do learn from them!).

It’s definitely tempting to feel like a failure when I get rejected. For me anyway, it often helps to remind myself that writing isn’t the only thing in my life. It’s not my only goal, and a lot of times leaving my desk for a while to hit the gym, plan a fab meal for my husband and myself, catch up on family emails, or even clean the bathroom helps me to remember that I’m competent, successful, and pretty fab in other areas of my life.

Even if some New York agent doesn’t like my novel.

There are always more queries to write and definitely more plots and characters to explore.