The comments on my Agent Conundrum post the other day have been really interesting. And after responding to one of them, I realized that what I’d just written might make a useful post. So I’ve copied that response below. Your feedback, as always, will be eagerly awaited.
From the onset of this blog (November 4, 2009), the mission has been to track the Journey, warts and all. So I felt that sharing a real-time query/rejection scenario might be especially helpful for writers stumbling across my post/blog who are in the earlier stages of their own Journeys. Setting our expectation levels to coincide with reality is such an important part of the process and is key to maintaining our sanity as we navigate the madness.
When I was getting started with my first novel (The Truth about Cinnamon) over twenty years ago, the publishing world (and, in fact, the world in general) was vastly different. There were no cell phones, no social media outlets, no email, and no way to contact agents and editors (who were still taking unsolicited manuscripts and queries back then) except by snail mail. So, I spent countless days/weeks/dollars in postage sending stuff out: query letters, the first three chapters, whatever the current Literary Market said the agents/editors wanted to see.
I still have all of those rejection letters/postcards–and a handful of individuals actually responded with suggestions, indicating that they saw some promise in my writing and my story but that one thing or another needed to be fixed/amplified/etc., before resubmitting. The time those individuals took to offer some tangible help is still remembered with gratitude. (Absolutely no one seems to have the time to do that anymore.)
But the most revelational moment in those early years of my Journey came when I acually made a trip from Atlanta, where I lived at the time, to New York. I had a whole bunch of new query letters, partial manuscripts, synopses, etc., that I’d been planning to mail out. And, on something of a whim, I decided instead to load everything into a big bag, hop a train, and go to New York to deliver my mail in person. I wanted to see for myself what the places looked like where I’d been sending everything.
Well … the visions were staggering! In virtually every office I visited (and some turned out to be literal holes-in-the-wall), unopened envelopes of every size and shape were in floor-to-ceiling stacks all over the reception areas, the submissions appearing to number in the thousands.
The employees who greeted me at each of the front desks were astonished that I was there, because “nobody’s allowed to deliver submissions in person.” Since I had obviously already broken that rule and was standing there in the flesh with my mail in-hand, a few agents/editors were kind enough to see me briefly. But I knew when I left each office that my submission was going to get tossed into “the pile,” and the memories of that reality have guided the setting of my expectation levels ever since.
As for “the chemistry” thing, I understand the existence of that elusive, intangible element in every endeavor we undertake. Someone’s assessment of the “it” factor will inevitably influence a professional’s decision about our work. The frustration arises, however, when the agent says that all the pieces are in place–the book is well-written, the story is a good one, “nothing is missing” … except chemistry. Young/new writers just embarking upon their Journeys need to hear that statement.
And the lesson for all of us to take away from this example is that being too selective with our queries and submissions will never get us where we want to go. We need to be blitzing the entire industry with our well-written, well-developed manuscripts/books, if we’re ever going to find that one person–that literary soulmate you so astutely described–who finds the chemistry absolutely letter-perfect.
And the mission of this blog is to track at least this one Journey, winding through the valleys and over the peaks, as the search moves closer to a happy ending.