I’m not sure why it took eight weeks to get my first rejection. The agent’s response suggested that she misplaced my pages, price but it may have been a problem with my email. I’m not sure why, don’t really care.
The smart thing to do would have been to start sending queries to other agents. At least I should have sent a prompting email to the first agent sooner. But I was enjoying the wait. I had worked on the novel for so long. It was good to have a break. It was good not to worry about it for a little while. And most of all for a few weeks I allowed myself to imagine that it could be easy.
A fool’s paradise? Sure, but still paradise, right?
I knew eight weeks was too long to wait even for the notoriously slow publishing business. But the chance to live this fantasy would not come again. Most fantasies cannot survive without some effort. You can’t pretend that you are going to win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. But this time all I had to do was watch television and drink beer.
In truth, I was getting edgy by the fifth or sixth week. Finally I wrote back to the agent, re-sent the beginning of the book, and received the agent’s friendly rejection. It freed me from the illusion. Rejection sucks. But it was also a nudge; it was time to get back to work.
Even before I got the agent’s response, I was beginning to question the way I was positioning my quirky novel. The agent wanted more to happen in the first few pages. Maybe she is right. If it turns out the beginning is slow, I can fix it. The bigger problem is setting the right expectation. If readers are looking for the Dresden Files or Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, they’ll be frustrated. Despite the werewolves, the haunting, the serial killer, and looming apocalypse, it is really a story about a couple of romantic malcontents looking for something/anything worthwhile to do with their time, going a little overboard, and finding trouble.
Beer and Reality at the Sheraton
A couple of weeks ago I went to Agent and Editor’s Conference hosted by the Writer’s League of Texas. Maybe you’ve never been to an Agent conference, but you’ve probably seen video of the stock exchange floor. It’s a massive throng of hypertension. The agents wear yellow badges. They are mostly women. They are not slick sophisticates. Most are friendly and patient, even when mobbed by hopeful writers (though some remove their badges and try to sneak away). Most of the them want to find that brilliant literary novel that they will fall in love with, a future classic they can be proud of, but they know that their next sale is more likely to be a formula mystery, a compendium of had-been rock stars of the 90s, or a tome of cute cat pictures.
There are 350 of us. The shyer writers stand off to the sides watching. The rest of us weave in an out of the crowd looking for yellow badges, and try to match faces to the agent profiles on the conference website. We try to remember if that agent was at all interested in our genre. We wait in the receiving line readying our pitches, listening for useful information from the agent’s current conversation, or talking among ourselves. When it is our turn, we attempt small talk. It is not strictly necessary; we all know what we are there for. We give our pitch, and if it remotely fits the agent’s list they give us their business cards and we walk away feeling like we are at least a baby step closer to being published. They need us, or they need some of us. They need material. They need a fresh face they can promote. They know they will reject most of us. We know they reject a hundred of us, maybe a thousand for everyone they choose.
When I wasn’t pitching to agents or in one of the conference’s largely dull workshops, I mostly hung out with Jennifer and Doug. Jennifer is a literary author I met at last year’s conference when I was still finishing up my novel. Doug is a co-worker, who has written drafts of three suspense/horror novels since November. Even though they need rewrites I find this extremely impressive. Because his novels are not complete, he was more there to learn than to sell. Because of that I think he had more fun than any of us.
We spend some time at the hotel bar commiserating and comparing notes. When Elise, came to the bar to the bar to get a drink, we spoke to her about the business. Elise is a junior agent from California, who had already rejected my novel because it didn’t fit her list. You don’t mind that sort of rejection, every agents has a limited range of interest.
We talked to Elise about the state of the publishing business from her side of the business. Elise liked her job, but her picture of the publishing industry was grim. Faced with a shrinking audience for books (particularly fiction) the publishers are in trouble. The small publishing houses are being bought out or driven out of business. The remaining large corporations push product out with a minimum of investment or publicity, hoping for a few hits. Because of this non-fiction writers pretty much have to be famous before their book can get published. Fiction writers can be obscure when they start, but they cannot count on the publisher to promote them. They need to promote themselves however they can. If they are lucky, they will get a little buzz because they are a “fresh new author,” however if the first book does not exceed expectations, they will have a very difficult time selling a second book.
This might have been sobering, fortunately writing the novel had never really been a strictly rational decision. I left the conference with what I came for, a handful of agent contacts that could lead to representation. More than that, I came away with a revised plan for positioning my novel, and building my platform. Again I have something to do. Thee truth is that I’m more comfortable having a plan for dealing with publishing hell, than waiting around in inactive bliss.