Monday, October 01, 2012

Literary Agents? Again?

Uh...I finished my novel. Again. Same novel.

This time, I needed to be just done. DONE. No more editing it endlessly. I didn't even take it to my writer's group. Or my parents. Or my husband. Or even my kids. I was afraid one of them would make a really excellent comment that I agreed with, and I would be back on page one, fixing this or that.

But I want to move on to the next novel: Melora saves her Dad from evil art forgers who have captured him because he's about to reveal their secrets. It's an adventure story retelling of an obscure 16th-century Portuguese Arthurian legend, set in modern days. The first chapter is done and really exciting! Outline is done. Been researching art and antiquities black markets, forensics, forgery, stuff, actually. Also I've gotten to look into Caravaggio's life and the legend of the Maltese Falcon as well as the memorabilia from the movie of the same name. As you can see, I'm really excited to write this book! And that means I had to be done with "The Poison Spindle Problem."

So I finished it.

And then my kids wanted a bound copy to read. They each wanted one. I have no money to get those printed, so I started thinking of options. And one thing led to another and I'm back to querying agents. I think it's a good book. I've been reading children's lit and I feel like it's as good as what's being published. Anda, my voracious reader who is very honest with me about my work, says it's as good as her favorite novels. So why not try to get it published? The kids said they want to be able to go to the library and see my book on the shelf.

I decided, though, that I really need to be done still. I realized that at this point, I can tweak words here and there for eternity and it probably won't make a difference as to whether an agent likes it or not. I can have this minor character show up again at the end or not and it still won't make a difference as to whether an agent likes it or not. Some changes don't really improve things--they just change things. So I decided to get off that hamster wheel and start querying. And I decided to go whole hog this time: query every agent who I think might be a good fit, rather than 8 at a time and send out a new query for every rejection (which is how I've done it in the past). I decided either someone is going to like it or they aren't, and I'm not going to rewrite that book without someone asking me to (an editor or agent, for example), so it can't hurt to query every agent with this project all at once.

So I spent the last week sending out queries. I now have sent 125 queries on this project, but that's since 2006, and it's a very different book since then! VERY different. Querying has changed in the last 6 years. Most agencies only take email queries instead of grudgingly accepting them. Most agencies no longer respond if they aren't interested--which is frustrating for writers on one level (no feedback!) but great on another (no rejection!).  Most agencies still take 4-6 weeks to respond (or so say their websites). And I've only been doing this for a week.

Interestingly, most agencies ask you to put both the query letter and the partial in the email up front. It used to be you'd send a query, and if they liked it they'd ask for 10-50 pages (a "partial" or partial manuscript) to evaluate your writing, and if they liked that, they'd ask for the whole manuscript. The whole process took a long time because it was all done by snailmail and you had a 4-6 week wait between steps. Now, you send the query followed by the 10-50 page sample right in the body of the email. That way, an agent can read the query and delete it right away if they don't like it or can't sell it, but if you've piqued their interest, they can just skim the beginning of the book right there on the spot to see if you can write at all. And then if they're still interested, they can hit "reply" and ask for the whole manuscript to be emailed to them, and you can send it right away (I sent one today within 5 minutes of getting the reply) so the agent can keep reading while they are still interested, if they want. Better for everyone this way. And it means that if an agent asks to read your book, you already passed the first two tests: query and first few pages were okay.

So, like I said, 125 queries have gone out. Some were old.  About 72 so far are new. I sent them fully expecting to hear nothing back from anyone ever. To my surprise, I've had 6 rejections so far, all form rejections. Most were very nice--something along the lines of "This isn't for me. Good luck finding someone else." One was quite condescending and rude--something along the lines of "I only take books with interesting characters, plot, and setting. Nice of you to spend all this time writing and think of me, but no." The subtext, of course, being that YOUR book (my book!) didn't have interesting characters, plot, or setting (at least in the first 10 pages, which is all she asked to read up front).

And three agencies so far have asked to read it! And I've only had it out there for a week! And, to my great surprise (and delight--I admit it), all three are among the top agencies, most recommended by the watchdogs, successful agencies. So I'm very pleased. It was especially nice today when I got up and found that mean form rejection and felt a little downhearted, and then within half an hour one of these top agencies asked for the full manuscript (which I sent immediately). My kids were excited because this last agency that asked to read it represents some of their favorite authors, including Suzanne Collins (my kids can't get enough of "Gregor the Overlander"--they haven't read "Hunger Games" yet). And that with the same 10 pages that elicited the "only interesting plot, characters, and settings" rejection.

So I still fully expect them all to say, "Never mind. Not my cup of tea." (because that's all I've ever heard from agents--except that one who very helpfully said, "I'm not sure you know what story you're trying to tell. Can't you put more romance in?"--helpful because that's what drove me to realize that no, I can't, because I really want to write for children, not teens and adults. HUGE breakthrough for me.).

Anyway, it's been a fun week, when I went into this truly not caring what happened. Having people say, "Oh, your first 10 pages make me want to read more" has been kind of gratifying, especially since I sweat blood over those first 10 pages. They were the hardest to write in the whole book!

But tomorrow I'm still going to start Melora. Art forensics here I come!

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