Writing

The Sound of the Fury

“Once a bitch always a bitch, that’s what I say.” ~ William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

No one likes to be rejected.  That’s a well-understood fact.

That’s what makes sending out manuscripts so scary.  It’s like offering up your child for potential sacrifice—your story is something that you’ve nurtured, an idea that you’ve birthed, cared for, seen grow from a scribbled outline on the corner of a napkin to a 350 page masterpiece.

It’s hard to ship off your manuscript to an impartial third party, one who’s had no idea the sacrifices you put in to create the story, the sleepless nights you suffered as the plot unraveled of its own volition, the brain callouses you developed while dreaming up the perfect conclusion, and the terrible posture you developed spending hours hunched over your laptop and notepad.  The agent has no idea how you’ve agonized over the story.  What they will read in ten minutes may have taken you years to craft.

So yes, sending out your manuscript is scary.  We all know before we sent out our submissions that the odds of it finding a home right away is slim to none.  It’s happened to everyone.

Stephen King’s first novel Carrie was rejected 30 times.

C.S. Lewis received over 800 rejections within his lifetime.

Dune, possibly the most successful science fiction novel ever written, was rejected 20 times.

For every one agent who requests my work, another 15 reject it.

We all know that it happens.  We just wish it didn’t happen to us.

But when it does happen (and it will), please keep this in mind:

The agent who rejects you today may be someone who would like to work with you tomorrow.  Yes, they may have rejected one manuscript you send them, but there are so many other stories you have within you that also need agents.  Don’t burn bridges that you’ll need later to cross into the world of publishing.

Too many people respond to rejections with bitterness, anger, or condescension.   disney angry mad hate walt disney GIFRemember, agents aren’t only looking for a great project but an author that they want to work with for years.  They don’t want to work with people who call them names, swear at them, or tell them how they’re “making the biggest mistake of their career”.  “Have fun looking at my book on the NY times list and crying,” people have written.

Even if your next submission to us is one of the greatest things we’ve ever read, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone willing to take you on.  The publishing world is smaller than you think.  Agents talk to each other.  We’ve all received scathing responses to our rejections and we all talk about it with each other.

If they don’t think you’d be good to work with, they pass that information along.

Yes, rejection hurts, but please remember that there is a person on the other side of the computer who sent that letter.  We know that it’s crushing and disappointing, we wish we could sell every story we come across, but not every agent can sell every story they read.

We say no to you now, knowing that somewhere along the line—if you persist in sending out your story—someone will say yes.

Publishing · Writing

Great Expectations

“It is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable, honest-hearted, duty-doing man flies out into the world, but it is very possible to know how it has touched one’s self in going by.” ~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

I spent my childhood enraptured with stories. I don’t think one ends up in the publishing industry without growing up addicted to the written word. I still fondly remember the weekly trips to the library, how I’d gather a large stack of books I wasn’t interested in and then curl up in a corner and read for hours until it was time to go home.

By the time I got to high school, I had read through most of our local library.

Yet people still astound me with their creativity. For all the books that cobble together a cliche formula (ex. nerdy girl + new bad boy + girl’s loyal best friend = coming-of-age YA hit love triangle), I’ll still come across manuscript submissions that blow me away. It doesn’t seem possible that, in the hundreds of years people have been writing books, we haven’t used up all the good ideas.

But I am continually proved wrong.

I read stories that flip the overused tropes on their heads, reimagine never before read folk tales, and create settings and characters that I’ve never seen before. The imaginative properties of the human brain amazes me.  There are times when I come across an ingenious twist or turn of phrase and I can’t help grinning in delight.  It is strange to think that I’m one of the first outsiders to feel an emotion that thousands of other people will feel a year or so later (depending on the speed of the publication process) when the book is officially out.

I think that is one of my favorite things about working at a literary agency. I get access to the raw, uncut material that’s come straight from the “Imagination Station” in a writers brain. It’s like getting a private screening of a movie before it comes out. No one else in the world knows the story except for me and the author.

For a short time, I am the Secret Keeper. I get to explore the world and meet the characters first. I love the feeling of stumbling upon a hidden gem and being the first to dig it out.

Find your muse, discover what inspires and stimulates you. For all the billions of books in the world, there are still so many stories yet untold.

Publishing · Writing

A Prayer for the Querying Novelist

“My life is a reading list.” ~ John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meaning

“JUST READ IT, OKAY?”

That was the one and only sentence in a recent manuscript for a nonfiction book proposal Bradford Lit received.  The rest of the “proposal” was included in an attachment.  Suspicious and wary of a sudden virus, I opened it only to read three pages about the author’s life, not about her work.

I could not believe it.  It boggled my mind that someone could completely disregard the submission guidelines listed on our website and assume that their query would be received favorably.  Over the past month, I’ve read multiple submissions that make the same mistake.

I can’t handle it anymore.  I must vent my frustration.

I know, I know.  This is yet another blog post to add to the plethora of blog posts out on the Internet about the importance of following agency rules when querying.  I’ve read countless such articles in my lifetime.

“Follow agency guidelines,” agents write.  “If you don’t follow the rules, I won’t read your submission.”

Harsh, I used to think as I diligently triple-checked my submissions to make sure I only included five pages or ten pages or the first three chapters or that either had to be single-spaced or double-spaced, depending on the agent.

Submissions are a hassle.  I understand.  Some agencies have online forms they’d rather you fill out, others prefer only submissions sent in email attachments, most don’t want any attachments at all, some want a 2 page synopsis, others want a paragraph.  As a querying writer, it can be dizzying keeping track of all the different guidelines expected.  But I always adhered religiously to the guidelines, terrified my query would be deleted before it was even read because the subject line of my email was all caps when it should not have been.

Now, the role has flipped and I am the one receiving these queries.  I now understand completely.

To fellow writers, let me offer you both an encouragement and a warning:

First, don’t beat yourself up agonizing over every nuance of your query.  Of course, follow the guidelines the agent has set (it shows that you do your research), but it doesn’t have to be perfect.  There’s a reason those guidelines are there—most agencies have special filters set up to weed out spam from the submissions—but if you send twenty-one pages instead of twenty, or if you send something single-spaced instead of double-spaced, chances are that we’ll still read it. Relax and take a breath.  Yes, your query is very important because it’s the first impression we get of you and your work, but it’s not the format of your submission that impresses us but the story itself.

BUT if I’m an agent looking for fantasy and contemporary YA, DO NOT send me your adult thriller or your memoir.  It astounds me how many writers gloss over the agent’s preference and submit whatever new thing they’ve written.  I can guarantee you, they don’t want what you’re offering.

Bradford Lit currently employs five agents.  On average, each of them receives between three hundred and five hundred queries PER MONTH.  They’re reading dozens of submissions a day and that’s only if they’re lucky enough to be on top of their submissions.  (I currently have 520 unread submissions for Laura that I still need to sort through.)

If you submit something that the agent isn’t even looking for (she asked for humor and women’s fiction and you sent your humorous MG manuscript), your manuscript will be passed before your query letter’s even been fully read.  In the thousands of stories that have to be read in the desperate search for good clients with a compelling story, if you don’t fit with the agent’s list, you will be passed no matter how great your manuscript is.

If a certain agent’s preferences are confusing (and some of them are!), check out Publisher’s Marketplace where you can see what that agent’s been selling.  Do your research.  Check out their #mswl tweets or their blogs.

No matter what subject your book covers, if it’s written well you can probably find an agent for it.  But save yourself (and us) the frustration.

If you’d like to read more on why agents are so persnickety, check out one of Bradford Lit’s own, Natalie Lakosil, and her take on this frustrating process.

Publishing · Writing

The Perks of Being a Statistical Improbability

“I don’t know the significance of this, but I find it very interesting.” ~ Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Before you’ve even fully started reading this post, it is a foregone conclusion that I have a new job.  If there were no new job, then there would be no new blog.  But it is a fact that bears repeating anyway, simply because I’m enormously proud of the achievement.

Why?  Because, ladies and gentlemen, I have achieved the improbable.

I am employed in the field that I majored in.  You know, the thing that I dedicated four years of my life and an obscene amount of money to learning?  That thing?  I am now working in it.  Considering that a 2013 study declared that only 27% of college graduates actually work in the field that they majored in, I rest on my hard-won laurels with a relieved sigh.

For those of us who aren’t willing to transplant to New York, the publishing gigs are few and far between.  The few opportunities that do pop up trigger a frenzyShark Week has nothing on what a group of desperate college graduates will do to a job posting.  Allow me to illustrate:

Picture a juicy, meaty bone in an apocalyptic wasteland.  That’s a publishing job in San Diego.

Now, picture a starving, stray dog.  That’s me.  Hello.

What an unflattering description, you may be thinking.  And why does the dog have to be starving and a stray?

With my red eyes (strained from long hours spent searching for jobs online), thin and patchy eyebrows (from where I distractedly plucked at them while bemoaning my lack of money), wild hair (tangled from where I pulled at it in frustration), and jittery hands (due to my diet of almost strictly black tea and chicken), starving and stray is a kinder description than rabid.

Imagine fifty rabid starving, stray dogs fighting over that bone.  That is what trying to get a job in publishing is like.

When a job opening at Bradford Literary Agency appeared, I immediately applied—as did half of the city.  When I was contacted for an interview, I was determined to be unaffected.  I knew the chances of me actually getting this job were slim—the job posting detailed that training needed to start immediately and I would be out of town for six weeks in the summer.

Who wants to hire someone only for them to leave for such a long period of time?

Apparently—and to my forever gratitude—Laura Bradford.

Now, it’s not as if I’m entirely green to the publishing world.  I’m a writer who is familiar with the process of writing query letters and sending out manuscripts and, in college, I interned at both a literary press and at a literary agency.  Going into this job, I had fairly good idea of what to expect.

I just had no idea how much I still had to learn.

Thus, this blog was born, its purpose being a place for me to document my learning curve.  In addition, I’m hoping this will also shed some light on the idiosyncrasies of literary agents.

Step behind the curtain, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to the world of publishing.