And then came no . . .

So Monday, I heard back from the literary agent who had asked to see three chapters of my manuscript.  As soon as I saw the email in my box, I was pretty sure it was bad news – it came back too quickly.  The agent who wrote me was very kind and very professional and had all kinds of good things to say about my credentials.  But bottom line, this is what she said:

While the story was entertaining, and marketable due to its  draw upon our culture’s love of all things celebrity, I had a difficult time personally connecting with the voice. The story felt very plotted, very matter-of-fact. I think this is perhaps in part to the past present tense which we’re learning of the actions, the very nature of hearing the story after the fact. Regardless, the voice made it hard for me to really feel a part of the story. I kept waiting for that moment that I felt like I would be “all in” and unfortunately that moment never came.

She went on to suggest that I consider a kind of flashback/flash forward structure so that there’s a more immediate sense of urgency to the action.  Anybody who survived me watching the last couple of seasons of Lost will know my reaction to that, and those who didn’t can probably guess.  There was more, and it was all very thoughtful and polite, and I will be sending her a genuinely heartfelt thank you note.  Because while I’m bitterly disappointed, I know from her letter that she wasn’t the right agent for this book – she didn’t like it; she didn’t “get” it; it didn’t speak to her.  That doesn’t mean she’s not a great reader and a great agent – everything about what she wrote and how promptly she wrote it suggests that she is. 

But it doesn’t mean my book isn’t a great book, either.  As painful as they are and as useless as they feel at the moment they happen, this is what all those rejections do for us – or have done for me, anyway.  When I was a new writer, if a New York agent had taken the time to write me a long letter telling me what was “wrong” with my book, I would have broken a bone rushing off to the computer to “fix” it.  It would never in a million years have occurred to me that she might be mistaken or that other people just as fabulous might disagree with her and – perish the thought! – agree with me instead.  But now, after seven books that a lot of people have paid for, read, and loved, piles of rejections, and years and years of reviews, good, bad, and brutally ugly, I know that one woman’s meh is another woman’s page-turner, and vice versa.  I’m not saying I ignore criticism and advice or that I’m always right or that every writer has to “follow her own path” or whatever – that way lies madness, kittens.  (Just ask anybody who’s read anything the brilliant, wacko, and entirely-self-propelled Anne Rice has written in the past 10 years.)  What I am saying is that my opinion – and your opinion on your own work – matters, too; matters a lot; ultimately matters most.  So the trick is to listen carefully to the criticism, think like a grown-up about what’s being said in relation to your manuscript not as your precious baby but as a piece of work, one of many you’ll produce over your career, and decide what to incorporate and what to leave alone.  And in this case, I’ve decided what to incorporate is, either find another agent who does connect with the book or self-publish it as I originally planned, not because this woman isn’t smart but because in this particular instance, this woman is wrong. 

And incidentally, in her letter, she allows quite graciously for this possibility:

As you know this is a business based on personal taste and as obvious from my notes above, these couldn’t be more subjective of opinions. I wish you the best in finding a better suited match for this project.

I think that’s very kind, and I intend to take her good wishes in the lovely spirit in which they were obviously intended.  And if I write something in the future that I think is more in keeping with what she’s looking for, I will definitely consider sending it to her – again, I couldn’t ask for a more thoughtful reading.  But in the meantime, American Starlet is going to stay as she is.  Because I love Scarlett’s voice, and I’m still convinced a lot of other readers will, too.

Finally, a yes – querying an agent

Last week, I saw a reference to a particular literary agency on my Twitter feed.  I clicked over to their website and saw that not only did they apparently represent work like mine, they represent another writer who used to work with the same editor as me at Pocket.  They had very clear and specific submission guidelines, and I have a completed manuscript, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least send them a query.  They listed their response time to query emails as 2 weeks, so I figured I had nothing to lose.  Last Friday, I sent them an email, and yesterday, they emailed me back – they want to see the first three chapters!

Nothing more may come of this – they may read my chapters and decide they aren’t interested after all.  But I’ve made it over a hurdle, and it was almost entirely painless.  My only hesitation in sending the query in the first place was a childish but horrible fear of more rejection – I couldn’t face one more no.  So getting a positive response so quickly is a very, very good thing. 

Btw, I absolutely loathe writing queries – I hate being my own advertiser; it just feels wrong.  And I know a lot of other writer peeps who feel the same, some of whom have been known to check in here at the blog.  So for the record, here’s the one that worked for me this time:

Dear Ms. XXXXX –

                 The best, most accurate pitch line I can give you for my new novel, American Starlet, is “Valley of the Dolls as written by Flannery O’Conner.”  The fictional memoir of Scarlett Cross, the daughter of a Hollywood movie idol and a fashion model from Tupelo, Mississippi, it’s lurid and tragic, trashy and satirical.  Scarlett witnesses her mother’s brutal murder at the age of four, and she spends the next thirty-plus years (and three installments) fighting to first forget then to discover how and why it happened.  American Starlet, a manuscript of 109,626 words, briefly touches on her childhood before moving on to her adolescence and young womanhood, including her rise as an actress in her own right and the start of her stormy lifelong romance with on-again, off-again husband, two-time Sexiest Man Alive Romeo Kidd.  Book 1 is complete, and I have detailed synopses for two sequels, American Actress and American Movie Star. 

                 Before Scarlett, I wrote six historical/paranormal romances published by Pocket Books – The XXXXX Agency client XXXXXXX and I used to share the same editor, Lauren McKenna.  A Falcon’s Heart, This Dangerous Magic, and Wicked Charms were published under the name Jayel Wylie, and A Falcon’s Heart was dubbed a “Desert Island Keeper” by All About Romance.  My Demon’s Kiss, The Devil’s Knight, and Dark Angel are medieval vampire romances I wrote as Lucy Blue – German editions of those three books were released in 2011 and 2012, and I’m still collecting royalties from e-book sales. 

                 Until the agency was sold earlier this year, I was represented by Russell & Volkening.  Timothy Seldes was my agent through the first six books, and Joy Azmitia worked with me on the first draft of American Starlet.  I originally went with Joy to FinePrint Literary Management, but she has left there and has left being an agent, so I’m looking for new representation.  I found your website through Twitter, and I think my work could be a good fit for your agency. 

                 Thanks very much for your attention and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

Very basic.  Paragraph 1 = this is what the book is.  Paragraph 2 = this is who I am.  Paragraph 3 = this is how I know about you and why I think you might be interested in me.  Be confident; be honest; be ready if they ask for more.  I’ve already sent off the three chapters – I’ll keep y’all posted on how it goes.  Again, they might very well say no, and I might very well end up publishing this thing all on my own, and that will be just fine.  But it’s still really nice to hear yes – I highly recommend it.