Friday, July 17, 2009
Sending out queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers is like buying quick picks or scratching Big Money tickets. If I win the jackpot, that’s a bonus; an above and beyond that’s a wonderful surprise but which I’m not counting on.
I’m not counting on getting a novel published. It’s the way I’m wired. Because the minute I start counting on it happening, then I might as well start wasting all my money on scratch tickets. I can’t think that way because if it never happens then I’ve wasted a lot of time thinking. And this thinking would most likely get in the way of the writing; affecting my choices as I second guess myself in favor of a mercurial marketplace. Which means grand disappointment on an epic, Pearly Gates-sized scale where you look back on your life and wonder why you spent so much time obsessing over this one thing?
It’s the way I deal with rejection. This week I got two rejections. One for a short story sent to a Web literary magazine and the other from a literary agent. These are two very different rejections. The lit mag just sent a form email. Delete. Try again.
But the agent had requested a partial based on a query, my credentials, my publishing history (short, but existent), and on a sample of writing. After she read the first 50 pages and an outline of the novel, she passed. She explained that her list of fiction was tight at the moment and that it was a hard commercial market right now.
She also had problems with the novel, including some of my syntax choices and that I present the protagonist in two points of view: 1st person as an adult, and 3rd as a teenager (the novel’s chapters alternate these times and voices). The agent said this was distracting and thought it would be a hard sell to editors.
I’ve been told this by anyone who cared what other people would think about the novel, including Ms. X. Ms. X is afraid that readers will have too many questions about why I told the story this way, and that I won’t be there to answer their questions. Ultimately, she wants to see this novel bisected, forming two books; one YA, the other literary/contemporary/narrative fiction. (Note: I’ve considered this, but don’t think the halves stand on their own.) One editor I met with at the Muse and the Marketplace writer’s conference told me the novel verged on experimental.
These critiques and rejections of the core structure of my novel would resonate more if my readers also had problems with this. I can’t think of one who wasn’t able to trust me and follow the journey I set them on, in the way I chose (at least with the POV change—or maybe I’m looking back to my critiques through smudged sunglasses).
Of course I’m disappointed about the agent’s rejection. But not surprised. I was upset for about a day, thinking that the novel was a big fail, and that the result of my years of work had been constricted by a fickle publishing industry. Maybe I’m foolish; a madcap. A loony bird flying into the jet engine of the contemporary fiction marketplace. But I trust that my novel works. The agent recommended I try small presses and enter contests. Her point: I might find a home for this orphan of a story at a house where they don’t mind a little experimentation (is it really so extreme?) and where they don’t expect their books to be bestsellers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
On the plus side, I have already approached some small presses. And the agent requested I show him/her future material. Meanwhile I work on my next novel and continue to send out short stories. Rejection doesn’t mean the end; it means the continuation of the beginning. Of trying again.