Another baby step

I got an email from an agent yesterday, which said (more or less): “We probably won’t take you on, but we’d like to see more of your work to be sure first.”

[Edited post because I decided it’s best not to talk about business negotiations while they are going on. I don’t think there’s any big deal in this case, but it just seems like a good policy for down the road. Sorry for the tease.]

Still, it beats the hell out of a “no”.

*”partial” refers to sending a part of the novel to an agent. For many agents, the process goes something like this: Writer sends a query. A query is a one-page letter describing the work, possibly the first five pages of the story, and sometimes a brief synopsis. If the agent is intrigued by the query, she will request a partial. A partial means a bigger chunk of the story (often the first three chapters or so), and perhaps a more detailed synopsis. The agent may also begin to take an interest in personal information about the writer. Should the partial pass muster, then the agent will request a “full”, and will at long last commit to reading the whole damn story. That’s a big deal for an agent, because reading generally happens in her “free” time. Once the agent reads the story, she will ask herself “can I sell this?” which is itself a complicated question, and “can I work with this writer?” Should both those questions came back with a “yes”, the agent will contact the writer and the two will discuss the possibility of working together. Even then, it’s not a sure thing.

Mail Call!

I got four things in the mail today. Two were good, two, well, not so much. Goodness was proportional to size.

Mail arrives on the first step of the flight up from the landlord’s place to mine. Today I was heading out to meet fuego to watch some hokej (rhymes with hockey) when I discovered a stack of stuff waiting for me. On top, two envelopes. Two rejection letters, one from an agent and one from a magazine. Neither came as a surprise, but of course I would never have sent them anything if I didn’t think I had a chance. The magazine is a forcefully independent one-man show with a good reputation. I like the way Brutarian thinks, and when I raise my game, he will be hearing from me again. I can run with those dogs. (My submission had been previously published over at Piker Press, which couldn’t have helped its chances. Brutarian will consider previously published stuff, but not with the same enthusiasm. Or something like that. Although I consider it a paying market, I would not have received any money for this submission.)

A bigger disappointment was the agency. These guys are big time, and they don’t take many new writers, but dang I wanted to be one of the few.

Of course, these folks send out thousands of rejections every year, and they have no time to give me a clue how to make my pitch more attractive to their competitor down the street. Forward, ever forward, is all I can do. Hone the message, sharpen the pitch, and try again. This is not a business for the fragile, as much as we want it to be. (Show us your inner heart, we ask of the artist. Lay bare your soul. Artist complies. Never mind. You suck. People wonder why Van Gogh cut his ear off.)

Next in the mail pile was a package from a Muddled friend. I now have in my paws More Booze Than Blood, by Sean Meagher. He posted here a while back that he would send people his book and I was not slow to take him up on the offer. I haven’t read past the cover yet, but the story is calling to me in a language that I don’t know, but understand. I’ll let you know. Perhaps it was some subtle way with words he showed when he posted here, perhaps it’s just that he paid the postage, perhaps it’s the striking cover, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

At the bottom of the stack was the birthday box. Cans of green chile, a nice card, and a squirrel. Alas, the squirrel took some damage on his trip across the deep blue sea — the tail, which almost but not quite can be used as a beer holder, was forcefully and brutally separated from his butt. A team of mocrosurgeons is standing by to attempt what before has only appeared in science fiction: a squirrel retail. While they’re at it, they’ll see about beer-sizing the little guy.

My most polite rejection letter to date

Well, got the heave-ho from the next agent in the list, but I have to appreciate that while it was a form letter, at least it was a polite form letter, complete with a pep-talk. “Assume we’re wrong,” was the message, “keep trying.” I had read the text of the letter previously on their Web site, but even though I knew what was coming the encouraging words were welcome. The large body of constructive advice and resources on the agency’s site was one of the reasons I had selected them in the first place. They seemed like they would be good to work with.

So let it be known that the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency was the second agency to reject me, but in my book they’re number one!

On a related note, I have come, over the last months, to understand the need authors have to be published. Sure, fame and fortune are nice, recognition by peers and critics has its place, but there is something deeper, more fundamental. Yesterday I put my finger on it. Once an author publishes a work and it appears in print, then and only then is it possible to stop working on it. Publication is a release from bondage.



Since I mentioned before that I had not tasted rejection (for my writing, at least) since seventh grade, it’s only fair to tell you that the streak has been broken. I found upon my return to the Old Country a letter sitting atop the refrigerator. It was a self-addressed stamped envelope with a very polite pre-printed rejection card inside. Let it be known, far and wide, that the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency was the first (thought assuredly not the last) to say no to Jerry Seeger.

Now, I have been saying all along that I expect to be rejected. I’m sending letters to agents who rarely take on unpublished writers. What is more, after I sent in my query I found a more complete list of the titles this particular agent has sold, and they seem to specialize in authors who produce a title every month or two. They are mass market, and while I hope my market is also massive, mine is not the kind of stuff they do every day (only occasionally). They do, however, have relationships with the publishers I want to target.

So the rejection was no surprise. It proves I’m not selling myself short. That’s a good thing.

At the same time, I can’t help but be disappointed. Didn’t they see the obvious quality of the story? The prose as clear and resonant as a church bell sounding out over the peaceful hamlet on a Sunday morning, calling the faithful to prayer? The incisive wit, the lofty intelligence, the visceral descriptions, the heart-rending pathos? What agents would not jump at the chance to fundamentally change their business model when presented with prose of such promise?

Time to start researching the next submission.