Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Distinguishing Viable From a Waste of Time


Market Tenure.

Agency Suitability.

Nice industry-jargon terms for 'no thank you.' It's always been a bit of a paradox for me. Take this posting with a metric ton of salt, this is one authors opinion on agencies dealing in the literary field, but it's something that has perplexed me nonetheless. The fact I just used two words in that paragraph beginning in 'p' met somewhere with an 'x' is also a bit of an enigma at present, but on we press.

When I first got to the 3/4 mark on my first manuscript, GREY DOGS & THE WILLOW, I got bees under my skin. I began feverishly reading forums about the publication process, and how to attain the seemingly unreachable in such a cuthroat industry.

One thing stood out in stark contrast to all the bitching about how cold the publishing field was - you needed an agent. You needed them to look over your contracts, you needed them to negotiate every kind of right under the sun, and if you didn't have one you were selling yourself short.

"Great!" I thought. "Let's get us an Agent!"

I sent out about fifty half-assed query letters to every agent I saw (to whom I would like to apologize for the experience) without regard to anything but conveying the fact that I needed them, desperately.

Unsuprisingly to anyone who's made the same mistakes, I got about ten form-letter rejection slips back in my inbox, and still haven't heard from the other forty. Disheartening, but even then I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I went back to the drawing board, continued working on my manuscript and making it the best piece of unfinished work I could.

I wrote query after query, each better than the last, but the answer still came back a resounding "No."

Finally, I began including a synopsis in with my letters. Quite foolishly, I famously included the line, "Although my synopsis is rather lackluster, I assure you that the finished work shares none of it's faults." Good job, Ian. Sink your ship before you build it. I finally had one agent send me a personalized reponse, and he tore me to shreds - rightfully so. He identified that the only part of the query he liked was the part where I identified my synopsis as being sub-par, and that the only thing a writer has is his ability to convey ideas through writing.

Seems simple, but the short, cold note spoke volumes.

I went back, took the time to write the synopsis I had been so dreading with care, and tried the same agent again.

The answer was the same, but he was happy with the synposis all the same. He said it was good, but the project still didn't strike him as something he'd like to work with. Damn.

Regardless, after the fact, that agents callous rending of my work I directly associate with the work subsequently being picked up by Severed Press for publication - had he not told me how it was, how ever could I have turned the tarnished piece of steel into something worth buying? Sounds deep and silly, but that's the truth.

Now, I find myself entering the ring of literary agents, waving my flag and begging for attention once again.

It may not be easier to get an agent, but take solace in the fact that even us unrepresented folks do have a shot at finding a home for our written prose - it just takes more work.

Well, here's to hoping.

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