Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I think there's a pill for that...

There's a word for someone who never gives up writing.
And a special room.

Last night I had a dream that one of my queries was rejected via an agent's blog: she posted my name and the whole partial in the blog itself, with the problem section highlighted, which seemed a trifle unfair. And her complaint was that the characters left the city to have a particular conflict take place in an open field-like area, which she thought was clich
e, and I was torn between thinking, "that's why she gave up on the novel? hell, I can move the scene back to the city," and thinking "wait a minute, I never wrote anything about a field, did she splice my excerpt with another novel or what?" I was reading the blog and opening my original manuscript at the same time to check, and trying to figure out if disputing the issue and/or resubmitting would be remotely worthwhile...

It might be time for me to get out of the house a little more often.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thanks for the rejection! No, really!

Somewhere in there is the perfect manuscript.
For another agent.

I love rejection. I am not being sarcastic; personalized rejection letters from literary agents can provide you with fresh reader reactions, editing suggestions, and even emotional support. After all, why would an agent waste his or her valuable time writing even a single extra word about a project that had no merit? A form rejection can mean anything from "your writing sucks" to "I love it but don't know how to sell it"... but a personalized rejection means there was something of interest in your query.

Here are some lovely things literary agents have said about the first 30-50 pages of my novel: some received the first 3 chapters of the novel as part of the original query package, and some requested a "partial" before deciding to pass, but all of them had a reasonably substantial chunk of my writing to consider. Some also had a copy of the synopsis, so they could see where the story would eventually lead.

I have combined nine agent comments into a single "response" – the connecting words may be mine, but all substantive comments and flattery are direct quotes.

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for the opportunity to consider your materials. You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought that the story and writing are snappy and easy to get into, you have a good sense of pace about your writing and a strong wit demonstrated through dialogue, the characters are well-crafted, and the plot is intriguing and well-conceived.

I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't. This isn’t right for us, but no doubt another agent will feel differently.

SO sorry, and best of luck in your writing career.

So, what’s bad about that?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Enter the Slush

You spent two years writing the novel, three months rewriting the opening chapters, and four seconds reading the submission guidelines.

QUERY: letter sent to literary agents to submit a manuscript

SLUSH: unsolicited submissions (i.e. queries)

I sent out my first query letter 10 weeks ago today; the first of 76 queries in total. I am writing this post today because I have to do something besides constantly hitting "refresh" on my email, hoping that another agent will ask to see a partial, or a full, or better yet, that this will be the day an agent actually asks to represent me.

There are many, many writers out there trying to break into publishing through the vast slush pile, and we all spend hours ...days, weeks, months... trying to figure out What Agents Want. For those of you just starting out, here is some statistical insight into one facet of the query process: What Do Literary Agents Want to Receive In Their Slush?

Many people (and Wikipedia) define "slush" as the unsolicited manuscripts received by literary agents and publishing houses, but if you do your research, you will quickly learn that no literary agent wants to get a full, unsolicited manuscript. Not one. What they want is a query letter describing your project and telling a little bit about yourself, and maybe saying why you chose to submit to that agency in particular. Agents who blog are usually very good about providing detailed posts on how to write a high-quality query letter, so I won't repeat their expert advice, I will simply refer you to the blog roll on the right over there (you may need to scroll) =>

...but I will provide the statistics I've encountered for what agents who represent my genre are looking for in addition to the query letter, if anything. Here we go.


Query letter only: 37 (50%)

Query plus 1-5 pages: 18 (24%)

Query plus first chapter/10-20pgs: 16 (21%)

Query plus first 3 chapters/30-50pgs: 4 (5%)

TOTAL: 76 queries

That's right, fully half of all literary agents make their initial decision based on your query letter alone, without seeing a single word of your book. Better go check out those agent blog FAQs, huh?

Here are some other numbers:

Agents requesting mailed hard copy materials, with SASE: 12 (16%)

So, that's good news for those who are trying to save money on printing and postage costs (indeed, many agents now only accept e-queries, so don't go mailing anything out without double-checking).

Agents requesting a synopsis: 14 (18%)

Writing a synopsis is really, really hard, so I was grateful that it's not a requirement at most agencies, and I sent out queries for two weeks before I managed to write a synopsis I was proud of. I recommend writing some sort of synopsis before you start querying, however, because it's an excellent way to see if there are any real problems with your storyline. Can't write the synopsis for Act Three of your novel because nothing really "happens" in those chapters? Yeah, that's more than a synopsis problem, that's a manuscript problem. You're going to want to do some rewriting first.

Next post: more news from the querying frontlines

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In Name Only (working title)

This is the lovely mock-up cover that a friend made for me, for the manuscript of my first novel. Of course, when submitting to literary agents, I would never dream of sending out a bound copy, but it's pretty awesome to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing a novel by getting a few copies printed at Lulu.com -- they're cheap, they're a great way to do a final proofread (there was a huge mistake in the first 10 pages that I'd repeatedly missed when reading on standard 8 1/2 x 11" printouts), and it's really nice to be able to hand off something bookshelf-friendly to any close friends or family who supported you in your creative endeavors.

Of course, I have made the reading of these "advance copies" conditional; readers must promise to attend any future book signings/readings so that I'm never standing behind a podium in front of row after row of empty chairs. Yikes.

Plus, note the rave reviews on the back from the New York Times and the New Yorker! Carolyn See is a believer in the power of positive thinking, and so am I.

Recommended reading: Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life