Note: This was posted on Friday on Romancing the Blog, which I participate in with a once-per-month posting. I know there a few cross-over readers, but here it is again behind the cut for those of you who aren’t currently virtually traveling by…
Title: Not Right For Us At This Time…
As you may have guessed from the title, I’m going to talk about rejection. But I want to put a bit of a twist on it and discuss it from the agent’s point of view, and even twistier, not in the way that tends to come automatically to mind. I’m not thinking about when I write the rejections, but when I receive them. Let me build you a picture…
Imagine the life of a literary agent. Day after day of exquisitely written manuscripts. Dozens of lunches a month at the best restaurants in New York with the most prestigious editors of the most sought after publishing houses. An army of minions asking “how high?” Everything she touches comes up roses. Her clients dominate the New York Times best-seller list and the critics adore them all. Not a single one of her authors ever has a complaint, a missed deadline, an unfortunate cover….
And then someone drops a pile of mail on her desk and she wakes up.
She spends the next couple hours, reading and sorting through various submissions. Many of them are competently written but just don’t have that something special that will make them stand out from the crowd. Some of them, frankly, make her wonder if she lives in the same universe as the writer’s mother who has declared the book the best magnum opus ever written. And then she opens a package, glances at the first page, reads a bit further, and discovers that she’s fallen in love all over again. This is what she was looking for. This is the manuscript that will restore her faith in author-kind. This is the best thing she’s read, well, since the last manuscript that had her taking on a new client. She reads it on the way home, she stays up until 3am, and she calls the author the very next morning to offer representation.
Fast forward…. she and the author have agreed to work together. Any input that has been offered and accepted has been incorporated and the story is as strong as the author can possibly make it. The first blush of the honeymoon hasn’t had a chance to wear off as they discuss their marketing strategy, the audience for the novel, and plans for the future. Their hopes are high. The agent’s heart pounds as she calls editors and pitches the book and someone agrees to read it. She agonizes over the cover letter and makes sure everything is packaged just right before the little one is sent out into the world.
And then she waits. And hopes the author is as patient as she is. She stares at the phone, checks her email, and hopes the author is more patient than she is.
The first rejection comes in. It’s crushing. The editor obviously doesn’t see what she saw. She reads their letter several times, hoping for some insight she can pass on to her client. But there just isn’t really anything substantial to it. She ends up re-reading the first couple chapters as she works to revise her pitch and her cover letter for the next mark. There is no question in her mind. She loves this story. These characters come to life on the page. How could someone not care about them? Surely, the next editor will be The One. Resolutely, she submits the book elsewhere.
And then she waits. Weeks pass and her calls to the editor during that time reveal that the editor has read the beginning and loves it, but will need to read the rest and discuss it with her managing editor. Then a couple calls go unanswered. The agent fears the worst, but continues to hope for the best. The phone rings, and the editor sadly informs the agent that she will be leaving the company and is returning the manuscript. The other acquiring editor for the imprint has indicated they won’t be pursuing it at this time because their plate is too full. But she is free to approach them again later if she is still looking for a home for the little darling. The agent hangs up, and she sighs. It’s disheartening, especially when she felt as if the editor was the right one for this book. Not to mention how the editor must feel, being let go. They would have worked so well together. How could this happen? It’s so unfair!
She stares determinedly at the phone. Next target. Her re-revised cover letter is absolutely perfect. And the call comes a couple weeks later that the line she submitted it to is being merged with another. The editor has been let go. They’ll be reducing the number of books they publish per month and so are returning this manuscript because they now have so many books under contract and in inventory that they won’t be able to buy anything new for some time. But, if she’s still looking down the road, they’d love to hear about this author again. What is going on here? Is this manuscript under a curse? How can things like this keep happening to her, and to a book so deserving of publication?
She continues submitting and time passes. Someone makes an off-handed comment about how difficult it is to launch first-time authors. She has a crisis of faith. Why doesn’t anyone want this book? Surely, if they wanted it badly enough they would find a place for it. Is she the only one who loves it? Worse yet – could she be wrong? She goes back and reads the rejection letters, of which there are now several. They are painful to behold. Do they question her ability to perceive good story? Maybe she’s just not cut out for this agenting gig after all. Her anguish brings her back to the manuscript. Perhaps there is something she missed; something she might now see that she’s more experienced. She can find it if only she tries hard enough and then a sale will be certain. She sits and reads, and the hours pass as she is reunited with characters that reach out and touch her — that’s how real they are. If only she owned her own publishing company. Then she would show them all how wrong they are about this book.
Firming her resolve, she makes another call and pitches the book — this time to an editor who had seen it before and made some suggestions on a much earlier version. A version that pre-dates the agent’s involvement. That editor has since changed houses and has a higher position and more leverage. The editor agrees to read it, so the agent sends it over right away.
And she waits. A week passes. Two weeks. A month. The end of the second month is bearing down. Even though she keeps herself in motion working on all the stories she loves, this one preys on her mind along with the rest. The phone rings and the editor wants to buy it. A three book deal? Wonderful! The agent calls the author — and they whoop together over the phone lines before calming down to discuss the terms. Their patience and their faith are rewarded. They live happily ever after and publish many books together.
This is a true story.