Whoo Hoo! Go, Failure!

You won’t ever succeed until you have continually failed.

This was the advice I was given about sending out my queries for Dragonfly Prince. Isn’t it encouraging? It’s no wonder I’ve been hitting disillusionment hard. I think it’s also because I’ve been reading fine print. Stuff like,

“In publishing your book, it is necessary, to the extent that any rights apply, that you waive any and all foreseeable inconveniences to Filmore Paukits Publishing, Inc., including but not limited to digital rights, moral rights, your right to any specific point of view, your right to any values you might hold dear, your right to think, your right to breathe, etc., where at all advantageous to the marketing philosophies of our company.”

I realize that the point of a Grant of Rights has to do with advertising. Specifically, it allows marketing to present my book in a way that’s considered the most appealing. Still, it has me thinking about the rights I might be asked to give up. I want to have a say in what the cover illustrates. I want to know my work retains the spirit I wrote it in. I want to have the ability to keep someone from editing out an aspect that, to me, is crucial to the story, replacing analytical content with sensational nihility that I’ll regret until my dying day. I’m not talking about editing; I am concerned about bias and censoring. It’s wrong to take an artist’s work and conform it to current views – which change – and stymie the author’s true views – which should remain the author’s prerogative to change.

I think publishers nowadays are squeamish. And they should be. It’s a tough market. No book company wants to make decisions right now that might negatively impact its reputation. That’s why a good literary agent is important. If I’m going to make the effort of catching a publishing company’s attention, I want to do it well and efficiently, while being aware of what I’m getting into.

I’ve sent out four queries. Yes, four. When I find an agent that piques my interest, I read everything I can find about her. (Yes, four ‘hers.’) I make a list of her literary interests, quirks and good qualities. I read over her book deals. I weigh in the things I don’t care for. I ask myself, “Do I think I could work with this agent? Is she too (I go through many adjectives here)?” I’m basically investing in a relationship before I’ve composed the letter! I have to stop kidding myself. This is called finding any excuse to drag my feet. I can’t become callous to rejection if I don’t make the effort to be rejected!

I think the beauty of this whole endeavor is: I’m living in a time when there isn’t any avenue of book publishing that I can’t explore on my own. I need to give this agent search my best effort and be patient. At this point the only thing that’s holding me back is me.

The One Where My Heart Bleeds When It’s Broken

I truly thought it was the real thing… not like last time. My heart went pitter-patter. I daydreamed of the conversations about the future we would have, the promises we would make once things progressed. I felt prepared this time. I felt like I’d really straightened up a lot of issues beforehand. I approached with confidence, but with a clear sense that I should be completely open to what might happen. I allowed myself to be vulnerable… and I was rejected.

I invested a chunk of time into that query letter!

(Sigh.)

Okay so, looking back, I made some mistakes.

It was a big mistake not to write my letter in the same style as my story. The query was proper and respectful… and rather infested with that childlike transparency that screams, “I’m an amateur!”

I had also decided not to rely on great hooks, which are part of my style, as well. Somewhere I got the impression agents and publishers want the black and white of the story, not the hype and talk up. It was painful, and my sentences came out haltingly. I smoothed them over to the best of my ability. Still, it wasn’t me. Why did I send the query out knowing that? I really thought that’s why query letters were so difficult to write.

“There’s vulnerability in sending a query letter.”

I remember reading something to that effect; and I certainly felt vulnerable, sending letters that seemed to be dressed in a dull brown interview suit with the lapels severely pressed just so.

In the midst of my morose state, I happened upon an article where an expressive agent included her description of a good query. And I realized… *gasp* Agents are people, too!

I know, I was shocked. You mean, when an agent is perusing a list of books and summaries, he/she wants the info to persuade him/her that the rest of the story is just as appealing? Wait; I do that, too!

You know that request some agents make to include, “where you are going with your story”? I think this is misleading. Think of the boy in Princess Bride, who stops the grandpa to ask, “Is this a kissing book?” Notice, the grandpa never answers. The boy doesn’t really want an answer. He’s just skeptical. He’s afraid he’ll be pulled in; he might actually like the story, kissing and all. We’re all cynics, callous to the age-old archetypes. With the myriad, dry bones queries an agent digs through, it has to be desensitizing. Poor things, those agents. It must be a merciless existence, day in and day out, looking for that one… or two… or two hundred. Now I will take a moment to sympathize. (Cue violin music.)

As you can tell, I’m working through the phases swiftly. The shock was short-lived. I’ve had a visit with denial and moved on to anger. You can see the “clouds in my coffee” dispersing as I make pathetic jabs at agent-kind with my quill.

Now what?

Well, I’ve scrapped my dull brown suit approach and written what I’ve wanted to say all along. It took a couple of minutes, as apposed* to the two months it took me to write that second query. It’s direct. It’s appealing. It’s alot like my story.

I also went back to my novel and scrutinized the beginning again. One thing that has haunted me is the pace of the prologue. It’s a brief series of journal entries. I wanted it to be meandering, like a journal usually is. Meandering is not the way to begin a story in the present fast-food fiction climate. I had a genius moment and chopped up the beginning to follow a new angle that is more concise and spirited. (Click here if you’d like to see the old version. I haven’t updated it to the new, improved version yet, so feel free to ‘tsk-tsk’ over it.)

Voila.

I think my heart has healed enough to search for my shining agent again.

 

*Btw, why is WP telling me this word is spelled incorrectly? The two months are not ‘opposing’ the couple of minutes, right?

This *is* the Manuscript You Were Looking For

After looking over client lists of agents to get a taste of what literary agencies are endorsing, I’m thinking it’s time I learned the Jedi mind trick. Have you read some authors’ bios lately?

Initial. Initial. Smarmy was terminally ill from the age of two, which explains much of the philosophical trauma he endured as a child. In his teens, he established his own business, ‘Nightshade Window Treatments,’ from which a friendly cult began, dedicated to educating others about the advantages of poisonous vegetation. A part-time volunteer for the Association for the Beautification of Carnivorous Reptiles, he paints abstract portraits on crocodile teeth to help raise funds and awareness. He has a pet platypus that travels with him to book signings because ‘Curby’ won’t sleep unless he’s wrapped in Smarmy’s silk scarf. Smarmy always wears this scarf; it marks his triumph over his 14-year addiction to Ace of Base.

Okay, I would love to read this in a real bio. My own will include my short stint as a bad fortune-teller and my award for being the worst slob at camp. But I can’t compete. Padawan training, you are my only hope.

Dealing with the Bean Burrito

I did it. I sent my first query.

Manuscript Rejected.

Here are some excerpts from the rejection letter and my responses (which I didn’t email back or anything – I wasn’t feeling that indignant):

Agency: Your manuscript isn’t right for us at this time.

Me: But you only saw the first 50 pages! Are sure? Are you really sure?

Agency: There are numerous agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript.

Me: Well? Who are they? Do you have a list?

Agency: “Don’t give up!”

Me: That’s nice. I can’t dislike you as easily now.

So, what am I doing? Am I jumping in with both feet, composing query letters like a madwoman? Nope. I’m reediting the editedly overedited, edited-again version of Dragonfly Prince. It must need sprucing up, including the 350 pages the agency never set eyes on. And I know this is wrong. I know I need to let it go and concentrate on researching literary agents’ backgrounds to find that perfect fit. But… it… has… to… be… perfect!

Obsessed. I’m completely obsessed at this stage. I want to present the story, but I can’t present the story because it might be rejected if I present it with its current flaws. So I don’t present the story to anyone, and it haunts me like a bean burrito. This stinks.