Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter, Part III

Dear James,

Thanks so much for sending me SWIRLS IN THE NEGATIVE SPACE and my apologies for the delay in responding. Your memoir is very well written and your story is quite gripping. However, I think that this story could benefit from a more traditional structure (with an opening, climax, and resolution) and perhaps less reminiscence. I also felt that while we got to know you very well, the secondary characters were a bit under-developed. Ultimately, I’ve decided to pass but I really enjoyed reading this and I’m grateful for the chance to consider.

All best,

[Name Redacted]

Okay, so this one’s not so lengthy, but since I’d already set the franchise in motion with the previous post, I figured WTF.  Make it a trilogy.  Couldn’t resist.  (The length of these letters was never really the key factor.  I borrowed the title from Bukowski’s “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Letter”–which, ironically, was the first story he ever published.)  Also I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that I haven’t posted in a while, which is absurd on its face because who gives a crap?  Not that I’m a lazy blogger per se.  (Scroll through and you’ll find many, many posts, close together, and most of them are, in my humble opinion, well composed.)  I’m simply not the type of person who’s eager to hawk his own web presence.  Honestly, I’ve only a vague idea about how to do it.  The sense I get is that by being a fastidious practitioner of social media, and by visiting and commenting on other people’s blogs and leaving links to your own, you might develop a following–assuming the content is any good.  But I’ve never had “a Facebook” or “a Twitter” or anything else and I’m certainly not going to spend my time trolling the “blogosphere.”  Not that I’m snobby about that stuff; it just doesn’t interest me.  Which is probably why I’ll never succeed.  At anything.

But I’ve gotten way off topic, haven’t I?  Let’s tackle this rejection letter line by line.  One last time, for posterity…

1. “Thanks so much for sending me SWIRLS IN THE NEGATIVE SPACE and my apologies for the delay in responding.”

–A thank you and an apology in the first sentence.  Agents are a polite breed in general, no doubt about that.  As I’m sure you realize, agents don’t–in most cases–do the approaching.  As the unrepresented writer, you reach out via a “query”–a standard letter that may only vaguely (and probably clumsily) let that agent know that you’ve researched her.  You look for the ones who seem most likely to be receptive to your genre, project, etc., but in the end, it’s basically a crapshoot.  So when an agent actually requests to see your manuscript, it’s always a surprise, and, depending on where you are in your “career,” kind of a big deal.  But a polite agent (and most are) will always thank you anyway for sending your work–which is sort of like a Wall Street banker thanking a panhandler for taking his change; it’s nice, but hardly necessary.  Now as for the apology part, yes, there was a “delay in responding.”  Seemingly.  Most of the agents who requested my ms got back to me pretty quickly–within a week or two, which is actually quite fast, but this one had been sitting on it for four months.  From the beginning I promised myself that I would be patient with this process.  That I wouldn’t be one of those itchy query people.  (You know, the ones who populate Absolute Write Water Cooler with their nerdy threads.  GOT A REQUEST TODAY FOR A PARTIAL!!!  YIPPIE!!!  FINGERS CROSSED!!!)  I told myself that I would just stay cool, with every submission I sent out, no matter how long it took each agent to respond.  But I couldn’t.  Stay cool, that is.  Last week I sent this:

Dear [Redacted],

My name is James Ferry.  On August 31 of last year I received, from [Redacted], a full request for my memoir, Swirls in the Negative Space.  I sent the ms the next day; your email was provided for tracking purposes.
I fully understand that these things take time and that priority lies with your current list, but having reached the four month mark, one wonders: Am I still in the running?  If so, great.  If not, I appreciate the opportunity.
All the best,
James Ferry

 

This is what they call a “friendly reminder.”  Supposedly they’re acceptable.  Thing is, when you think about it, it makes no difference.  Either the agent hasn’t gotten around to reading your work yet…or she hasn’t gotten around to rejecting you yet.  Because you can be sure that if she read your ms and loved it, you’d have definitely heard from her.  I have no idea whether or not this “friendly reminder” had anything to do with the timing of the rejection.  As you can see, it was not mentioned.

2. “Your memoir is very well written and your story is quite gripping.”

–A sentence like this, on its face, is very nice.  I wish I could say that I was flattered by it, but I’ve grown jaded.  It has “but”–or in this case, “however”–written all over it.  I’m so used to this by now that it leads me to wonder what an acceptance letter looks like.  Do they just compliment you the whole time?  Or is the BUT actually the acceptace part?  As you probably know, I typically take on new clients through referral only, and finding something in the slush pile that I love is extremely rare, BUT…

3. “However, I think that this story could benefit from a more traditional structure (with an opening, climax, and resolution) and perhaps less reminiscence.”

–Ah, the whole non-linear thing.  I have so many thoughts about this that I’m going to have to wrangle myself here, in order to keep from going on and on.  (If you want a detailed explanation of why I structured my book the way I did, simply go the top of the page and click on–you guessed it!–Structure.)  For the record, my story does have an opening, a climax, and a resolution.  And she knows that, so as far as what she’s actually suggesting, I can only speculate.  Bear in mind that memiors, by their very nature, are not suspenseful.  I’m the narrator, obviously, so there’s no point in pretending that I didn’t survive.  And you know that I’ve changed; why else would I have written a memoir?  So there’s never any question as to whether or not there’s resolution.  I suppose it could be argued that I “opened” with the “climax,” but that makes a limited amount of sense since no matter how you open your story, that’s your opening.  Bear in mind that this manuscript was my master’s thesis.  It was evaluated by three professional writers on the faculty at Goddard; it was workshopped extensively; and, post graduation, it went through two passes with a freelance editor (big bucks).  Nobody ever expressed doubt about the opening.  (Again, you can go to the top of the page and click First Chapter, and see for yourself.)  So right there, we establish a narrative that will be circuitous in nature, and by definition “non-chronological.”  That said, I agree with what I think this agent is trying to say, which is that chronology should not be played with willy-nilly.  But when it comes to memoir, it’s not the order of events that really matters–it’s the context in which they happened and the themes they represent.  For example, my father’s death, though it occurred after the main narrative events, hovers over the whole story.  We learn about it early on, and the popular notion that “everything happens for a reason” is a recurring theme in the book.  So while the reader might be moved by my depiction (many claim to have been), the death becomes thematically relevant only when we see that my downfall was a blessing in disguise.  Had it occurred at any other time, I would not have connected with my father so deeply, just prior to losing him.  But to have revealed his passing after that event would’ve robbed it of its thematic and contextual weight.  These are complex issues.  Had this agent agreed to rep me, I’d have been open to whatever suggestions she had, structural or othewise.  In terms of editing, structure is relatively easy to fix; it generally means a re-ordering of material.  But as a criticism, “more traditional structure” is too amorphous to work with.  And the last part, “perhaps less reminiscence” is too vague to even consider.  It’s a fucking memoir.

4. “I also felt that while we got to know you very well, the secondary characters were a bit under-developed.”

–Perhaps.  It sort of depends on which characters we’re talking about.  I’ve always maintained that my book has three central characters: cocaine, the city of Los Angeles, and myself–and if you ask me, they’re all fully developed.  Beyond that, the book is populated, mainly, with characters who weaved in and out of my life.  Needy cokeheads.  Crazy lovers.  Fairweather friends.  What defines a relationship is an underlying theme, and some of these “secondary” characters are drawn quite extensively.  Others not so much.  They’re all important; they’re there to help tell the story, but if the time you spend on them outweighs their worthiness, then you end up slowing things down.  My early drafts were sprawling–superflous characters and sub plots that didn’t really serve the narrative (once you have a workable draft, hopefully, these things become clear).  But editing your own work is always a struggle.  Your inner critic keeps telling you to cut anything “extraneous.”  But on your darkest days, the whole goddamn thing seems extraneous.  So you trust your gut, and go with what you feel serves the story, nothing more.  Now, did I cut too much?  Perhaps.  But what really irks me about this criticism is how fixable it would be, and how much I’d enjoy fixing it…if this agent had agreed to rep me, and provide me with concrete examples.  (Chances are, any missing “characterization” could easily be found among the many discarded pages currently sulking on my hard drive.)  See, a writer is used to being told to cut.  We love to ADD.  We want as much of our work out there as possible.

5. “Ultimately, I’ve decided to pass but I really enjoyed reading this and I’m grateful for the chance to consider.”

–Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think the key word here is “ultimately.”  In the context of the letter, it sounds almost like “regardless,” or “all things considered.”  What I mean is that I don’t think this woman is rejecting the manuscript based on her criticisms per se.  First of all, lets assume that the criticisms are valid.  Based on the work as a whole, having access to my bio and everything else, I’m sure this agent realizes how capable I am.  (If she were to provide me with a comprehensive set of notes, I could have an entirely new draft within two weeks, if that.)  But she’s choosing–ultimately–to pass.  Which is fine.  Disappointing, of course, but fine.  It simply means that even if I addressed her criticisms directly, and rectified them, the project would still be too tough to sell.

Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter, Part II

Dear James,

So I read your pages, and then went back and reread your query. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they were good since you teach writing, but hey you never know what to expect.  I think what you’ve set out to do is impressive, not so many people who’ve been in the drug culture have the level of self-awareness as you have, nor the ability to write about it so matter of factly.  I like that and susect others will as well.

But I am also too old for this – too removed from this world to really know how to advise you editorially, as well as whom to market it to. Yes there’s an audience of your peers, and younger who probably will relate, and maybe even learn a thing or two from what you’ve been threw and taken away.  And if I were handling that’s who I’d be sending this to – but as I said, this is not my crowd,, and it would be a mistake for me to get involved knowing I wouldn’t really being doing the best by you.  So keep it out there  and I’m confident you’ll connect.  And hey, thanks for nice words about [redact name], I think [redact book title] is dynamite, just too bad not much has changed in that world all these years later.

That’s it.  Signed her name, sure, but you don’t need that info.  Right away I’m a bit flummoxed because, unlike before, the cut and paste seems to have formatted seamlessly.  As I type this, it’s prior to publication (duh) and I can already see that there’ll be no difference between the text I just pasted and the rest of the post.  So you’ll just have to take my word, again, that this is an authentic rejection letter–as if the original post seemed more cogent for its contrasting fonts.  I suppose I could just put the letter portion in italics, but would that make it more believable?  (You see how my mind works?  Agonizes?)

Anyway it’s a new day, thus another one of these.  (I don’t get rejected every day.  I wish I did.  Just seeing something in my inbox makes me feel like I’m still in the game.  When I’m feeling particularly pathetic, I’ll even check my spam.)  I wanted to share this, primarily because I suspect it will be seen.  I check my “stats” daily, sadly, and I’ve noticed that “Anatomy of a Rejection Letter” has gotten more views than any other post.  Must have something to do with the title.  (As for “Referrers” or “Search Engine Terms”–I’m still too dumb to interpret that data, but I kinda get what “Top Posts and Pages” tells me.)  And though sequels in my opinion are a bit pedestrian, I’m doing one here because I want hits.  And also because I felt that this  letter was simply too good to keep to myself.  It’s a total anomaly.  Agents rarely go this far, and it was all based off a partial: a mere 25 pages.  In keeping with the “anatomy” formula, I’ll go line by line, like last time, only I suspect it’ll be trickier, syntactically, with this one.

1. “So I read your pages, and then went back and reread your query.”

–Okay, so she likes cliffhangers (perhaps I should’ve written a thriller).  In order to get the gist of this sentence, we need to move on.

2. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that [the pages] were good since you teach writing, but hey you never know what to expect.”

–I find it curious that she opened with this.  What she’s saying, basically, is that she expected the pages to stink, was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t, and then she went looking for an explanation.  Wait this guy’s actually good, I smell a rat.

3. “I think what you’ve set out to do is impressive, not so many people who’ve been in the drug culture have the level of self-awareness as you have, nor the ability to write about it so matter of factly.”

–Grammatical issues aside, this sentence is not only flattering, it’s quite keen.  Having only read the opening pages, this woman has essentially captured the essence of the entire memoir.  Ex drug dealers rarely, if ever, tell their stories.  If they’re not dead, then often they’re in jail.  Or they’re trying to conceal the past, not use literature to make sense out of it.  In any case, what this agent has gleaned is precisely what I hope to convey: That I’ve written a memoir that works AS a memoir.  A narrator that engages with the experience.  A character with an arc.  A man who is redeemed.

4. “I like that and susect others will as well.”

–I suspect there’s a p missing from that word there in the middle.

5. “But I am also too old for this – too removed from this world to really know how to advise you editorially, as well as whom to market it to.”

–I knew the but was coming; I’m no Pollyanna.  And I’m not under the impression that I’m owed any excuses, but here she’s offering one up: her age.  Granted, it’s probably been decades since she’s puffed on a joint.  Groovy, man.  I get it, but I don’t really see how that translates “editorially.”  Suppose I’d written a YA novel.  Forget about the joint, how long has it been since she’s stood by her locker, her heart all aflutter, when Jonny boy walks by?  Or what if I’d written about unicorns?  Let me be clear about this: I don’t think she should have taken on the manuscript if she didn’t want to.  And clearly she didn’t want to.  But if agents and editors only took on projects with subject matter that they could “relate” to, then they’d all be starving.  And I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but at least then they’d know how most published writers feel, let alone the unpublished ones (wink, smile).

6. “Yes there’s an audience of your peers, and younger who probably will relate, and maybe even learn a thing or two from what you’ve been threw and taken away.”

–Just to get this out of the way: I, like most writers, am a stickler who believes in exceptions–relies on them, even.  Sometimes a word oddly used or a grammatically incorrect turn of phrase just fits better, sounds better, or looks better on the page.  I can’t remember the difference between homonyms and homophones, but are there really grown people–literary agents, no less–who don’t know that “threw” and “through” mean completely different things?  I mean, this is a professional correspondence; we’re not texting (and if she were merely trying to shave keystrokes, then why didn’t she just use thru?).  But that’s all petty, okay, fine.  What she’s acknowledging here is that there is in fact an audience for this kind of material.  And not just Williamsburg or Silver Lake, either.  The world is full of tattooed hipsters who’ve been on the snorting end of a coke straw at one point or another, but honestly, I really don’t think my story is all that esoteric.  I mean, I’ve never worked on Wall Street, but when I see the movie, I can relate to Bud Fox.  The Faustian bargain, the lure of easy money.  Same thing when I see Boogie Nights.  Never been a porn star (God knows, if only my cock were big enough), but I get Eddie Adams, aka Dirk Diggler.  I get how an impressionable kid would get corrupted by that environment, all those enablers.  We see these characters–rendered beautifully by Charlie Sheen and Mark Wahlberg–losing their innocence in increments, their souls slowly hemorrhaging.  And then we see the consequences.  And finally, some form of redemption.  These films weren’t targeted toward a “finance” or “porno” crowd any more than Fifty Shades of Grey was published for a BDSM reading audience.

7. “And if I were handling that’s who I’d be sending this to – but as I said, this is not my crowd,, and it would be a mistake for me to get involved knowing I wouldn’t really being doing the best by you.”

–A bit strange, almost contradictory.  Two lines ago she’s saying that she wouldn’t know who to market this to, and now she’s kind of saying that she would know, but that those people aren’t her “crowd.”  It’s all moot anyway.  She’s not into it, regardless, and I respect that.

8. “So keep it out there  and I’m confident you’ll connect.”

–Every personalized rejection letter I’ve received, I’ve gotten this: actual encouragement.  This thing is good.  Don’t give up.  It’s just not for me.  And all my jokey shit aside, if you’re a frustrated writer, reading this, this is what I hope you’ll glean.  Agents really mean this stuff when they say it.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother.  They don’t make shitloads of money.  They’re in it, by and large, because they love books.  They respect authors.  All agents who stay in the game long enough will see a manuscript they’ve rejected go on to become successful.  And they take a lot of no’s.  They just don’t whine about them as much.

9. “And hey, thanks for nice words about [redact name], I think [redact book title] is dynamite, just too bad not much has changed in that world all these years later.”

–Didn’t actually read the book.  I fibbed.  Sue me.

Seriously…

I’ve never posted back to back like this before, but something’s been on my mind, so I’m breaking the fourth wall, just for a moment.  I received this email from a writer friend in reference to a recent post, “Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter”:

i read the blog about the rejection letter. i just hope it doesn’t piss off other agents. first rejection letter is like a badge of honor, right? that’s the beginning of every good success story. i’m not saying don’t blog about it, i’m just saying that in blog-type the tone of that blog is unclear. you like him, you love him, and there’s some sarcasm in there – are you throwing him under the bus or praising him or…?

Okay, first of all, it’s not my first rejection letter, but it is the longest and definitely the sweetest.  So if I may, let me ask you, dear reader, for a favor.  If you would, scroll back a couple of posts to the one in question, give it a read (or a reread), and ask yourself: is there really any ambiguity about the tone?  Certainly it’s cheeky, but it’s clearly appreciative, no?  There is sarcasm, sure, but is there any doubt that it’s meant to satirize an aspiring writer’s neurotic inclinations and not the publishing industry at large?  I mean, should I be scared of having posted this?  Because if so, I think that’s the kiss of death.  I think to begin censoring myself over what anyone important (as if anyone important is actually reading these posts!) might think would be, for me, an unprincipled corruption of the artistic  process.  In some small way it would mean that I’ve sold out before I’ve even begun.  And how goddamn sad would that be?

The agent that sent that letter went above and beyond.  I don’t think there’s a shred of doubt that I applaud his efforts—not only his looking at my work, but the manner in which he rejected me: with his actual thoughts detailed in a personalized way.  I mean, this guy—like any agent—is busy.

So please, do me this favor.  Give it a looksee, and, if you would, comment here at this post.  If you leave a comment and you live here in Western Mass, I’ll take you out somewhere.  We’ll get a drink, at least one.  I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl 🙂

Thanks,

Jimmy

Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter

Dear James,

Thanks for sending me your manuscript – and for your kind words about [I name dropped, sue me]. I like what you’ve got here, but the market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now. The editors I know and trust most just aren’t looking for almost any kind of memoir like they used to, and drug stories have always been tough (perhaps strangely, much much tougher than alcohol stories). Despite that, I kept reading because you’ve got a good voice and some nice perspective. I’m sorry to say I can’t take it on because of the publishing industry, not because of your work. I hope you find an enthusiastic agent who loves your work and doesn’t share my reservations about the current market. Thanks for giving me the chance. If this doesn’t find a home and you have anything else down the line, feel free to get back in touch.

 

Wow.  Okay.  Where do I begin?  For starters, all one ever expects is a form letter.  So right off the bat, this guy is awesome.  I wish I could prove that this is genuine—which, in itself, is ludicrous on several levels, beginning with why would it matter?  Like anyone is reading this.  (Since learning how to check my “stats,” I’ve become obsessed with doing so, and I am getting some traffic, but nobody ever comments, ever.)  Also, why the hell would I fabricate a phony rejection letter?  Is it even possible for a writer to be that desperate for material?  And finally, there probably is a way to prove that I cut and pasted from my inbox, but I don’t know these things.  I don’t right click much.

I must keep things in perspective.  There are whole workshops devoted solely to getting agents to look at your manuscript—a hurdle I seem to have cleared, finally, so I’m certainly not going to whine.  Querying is just about the most amorphous, nebulous, subjective thing ever.  Right now I feel like the cute guy from out of town, crashing on his cute friend’s couch.  I seem interesting.

Okay, back to the letter.  Let’s take it line by line, shall we?

1. “Thank you for sending me the manuscript.”

–That’s rich: he’s thanking me.  I’m leaving him anonymous, not because I think it’d be wrong to mention his name, but because who he is doesn’t matter.  He’s big, with big-name clients, and he accepts queries in the form of a letter and, mind-bogglingly, the full manuscript itself.  Attached.  That’s right.  He’ll open attachments.  He’s not even picky.  You can send him a PDF, .doc, .docx, whatever.  There’s literally no reason not to query this guy—barring human decency, which is the real reason why I’m leaving him anonymous.  I simply won’t contribute to the deluge of shitty manuscripts that surely jam up his inbox.  Based on his letter alone, I respect this guy way too much.

2. “I like what you’ve got here, but the market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now.”

–Shit, man.  I could chew on this one for a while.  He “likes” what I’ve got, which, I suppose, implies that he didn’t “love” it, but more on that later.  The market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now?  First of all, he could’ve said that the market was “down,” or “poor,” or “weak,” or “has fallen off,” or whatever polite, euphemistic terminology.  He called the market “shitty,” and I like that.  It’s very no BS.  But the meat of it—that my particular subject matter isn’t selling right now—is somewhat disheartening.  No, let me rephrase that.  It’s annoying.  First of all, doesn’t it always seem that way?  I mean, was there ever a time when publishing execs were saying, “This is awesome, you know, because vampire love triangles are really hot right now.”  Or, “Wow, fan fiction involving S&M with Americans using British slang and a narrator whose favorite expression is ‘holy crap’—jeez, that’ll sell millions.”  Nobody knows what makes a hit.  Nobody.  And I understand that, from a marketing standpoint, my project would be pigeonholed as a “drug memoir.”  And that sucks.  Because my book isn’t about drugs.  Or drug dealing.  At all.

3. “The editors I know and trust most just aren’t looking for almost any kind of memoir like they used to, and drug stories have always been tough…”

–This sentence, as is, is flabby, but that’s totally unimportant.  It’s basically a reiteration of the previous line, but he really seems to want me to understand why he won’t take me on a client, and I find that endearing, truly.  I’m somewhat torn about the “editors I know and trust” part.  I get knowing them, but to an unpublished writer, any editor willing to buy the manuscript sounds good.  Besides, everyone knows that editors don’t really edit anymore, so what’s an “untrustworthy” one going to do?  Acquire my manuscript unscrupulously?  I know I’m just being silly about this, but again, it speaks to where I’m at.  When, eventually, the market shifts and memoirs are (once again) all the rage, perhaps then I’ll understand what it means to avoid a disreputable editor.  And as far as “drug stories have always been tough”—again, ugh.  If you were to go through my book and substitute “chocolate” for “cocaine,” you’d have virtually the same story: a conflicted candy salesman (with a bit of a sweet tooth himself) who yearns to find meaning in his life.  To make sense out of the chaos.  To be loved.  It’s the age-old tale.  The one that sells.  Again and again.

4. “Despite that, I kept reading because you have a good voice and some nice perspective.”

–Very flattering indeed.  But it’s like filet mignon that’s slightly overcooked.  Or a new lover whose sensibilities turned out to be almost as you’d imagined.  I suppose I wish the adjectives were stronger.  I’d have preferred “great” voice and “searing” perspective, but I’ll take “good” and “nice.”  They’re way better than nothing.  And of course I’d have preferred “unputdownable” to “kept reading,” but I’m quibbling now, aren’t I?

5. “I’m sorry to say I can’t take it on because of the publishing industry, not because of your work.”

–This guy is still going.  He seems genuinely concerned that I’ll take his rejection personally—which, of course, I do.

6. “I hope you find an enthusiastic agent who loves your work and doesn’t share my reservations about the current market.”

–He sort of sounds like he’s breaking up with me now, and not only that, he sounds genuinely remorseful.  If you look at the previous line, it sounds a lot like “It’s not you, it’s me”—which, clichéd as it is, isn’t so far-fetched.  When breaking up, I always use some twist on that line, and I always mean it.  Because it’s always my fault.  Now, with this line (line 6), he’s using his own variation on “You deserve someone better”—which, personally, I’ve never used.  Because I doubt I could choke those words out with a straight face.

7. “Thanks for giving me the chance.”

–Again, this guy kills me.  Nicest.  Agent.  Ever.

 8. “If this doesn’t find a home and you have anything else down the line, feel free to get back in touch.”

–Honestly, I wish this one were clearer.  He seems to be saying that if I do find an agent for my manuscript, then that guy (or girl) will be my agent forevermore, thus I’d have no need to contact him ever again.  Conversely, if no agent agrees to rep my current manuscript, then I should contact him again—provided I’ve written an entirely new manuscript.  The completion of which will probably surpass ANYONE’S ability to remember me, let alone this particular agent.

Which is probably a good thing.  Because what would I say?  Remember me—I’m the guy who queried you years ago about his “drug memoir.”  But never mind that.  I’ve got a novel now, a good one.  I wrote it for THE MARKET, so it’s soulless as hell, but it involves a divorced vampire who travels to three different continents tying people up…

*Author’s Note: As much as I like this piece, I’ve been a bit paranoid about it ever since a writer friend described the tone of it as “unclear.”  For the record, it IS an actual letter, and these are like my id thoughts based on it.  It’s meant to be fun and satirical and I have no beef with this particular agent, agents in general, or the publishing industry at large.  Rejection is a big part of the gig for all of us, and we all gotta pay the rent.  But we gotta smile, too, right? 🙂

Just in Case You’re an Agent with my “ms” on Your Desk…

…I promise, this is by no means a where-are-we-with-this-thing-because-I’m-dying-here message.  Or anything.  Do take your time.  I’m rather enjoying this limbo, actually.  Not only is it preferable to rejection, it’s comforting in the sense that I can (for now) bask in this phase of (meager) accomplishment.  What I’d have given a year ago for a pitch letter that yielded results.  And the year before that, a manuscript that actually worked.  And the year before that, an acceptance from a literary journal.  And the year before that, a workshop session that didn’t leave me feeling like the victim of a Central Park mugging.  Being a writer, I realize, requires patience.  It’s nothing if not a constant, relentless renegotiation of what it means to succeed.  (See, do I really need “constant” and “relentless” there in that sentence?  Certainly redundant, plus adjectives are always risky, so probably not.  Point being, I grapple with this shit.)

“I just want the opportunity to be rejected based on my work.”  It wasn’t that long ago that I was saying this to my editor.  Because when you’re at my level, an agent requesting to see your manuscript is sort of a big deal.  It’s like when Gordon Gekko finally agrees to meet with Bud Fox.  Well, life all comes down to a few moments.  This is one of them.  It’s like the literary equivalent of that.

So you’d think I’d be unreservedly prepared for when that coveted “send me the manuscript” request appears in my inbox.  And I am, basically.  I’ve been over those pages so many times.  (Like, you have no idea.)  But each time I send them out, guess what I do immediately afterward?  I go to my sent box.  Because as many times as I’ve seen them, I’ve never seen them the way this particular agent is going to see them.  And guess what?  I always find something.  Some little gaffe.  Something that I desperately wish I could go back and undo.

Here’s a list of what I’ve found, so far:

1. “He was as aspiring restaurateur, and to him waiting tables was just paying dues.” (p. 10)

Obviously, that “as” should be an “an.”  What kills me is how many times I must’ve seen that typo without seeing it, you know?  I hate these oversights, not because I feel like I’ll be rejected based on them, but because I feel like I’ll be pitied based on them.  Luckily, I think the version with this gaffe went out only once.  Maybe twice.  I prefer not to think about it too much.

2. “There’s a scene in Pulp Fiction where the dealer, played by Eric Stolz…”(p. 43)

That’s Eric Stoltz, with a “t,” and it’s only due to the weirdness of his name that I forgive myself mildly, because Microsoft Word puts that squiggly red line under it no matter how you spell it.

3. There was a paragraph at the bottom of page 59 that I had broken up, inexplicably, into three paragraphs.  It’s one of those things that you look at and think, Now why the fuck would I do that?  And the only thing I can think is that I must have, at some point, adhered blindly to a margin note.  My editor, God love her, is awesome.  But she was always on me about letting the dialogue “breathe,” and in this particular case, I do quote a character twice, but it’s only that one character, hence the standard indentation guidelines don’t apply, which made the text appear unnecessarily emphatic.

4. The last sentence on page 188—”I put her in bed and unlaced my shoes”—was, as it appears here: without the period.  This irked the shit out of me for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the period wasn’t always missing.  The jettison most likely occurred during my “page break” phase, when formatting concerns were verging on the unreasonable.  (Oh jeez, what if I cut and paste and the text becomes all gobbledygook?  What then?)  Also, this sentence represents a watershed moment, one in which my protagonist (ahem, me) finally and ultimately realizes his capacity for empathy.  His very soul.  He is REDEEMED.  It’s just about the last place I’d want a reader to be distracted by anything, let alone a missing period.

So, dear agent, if you’re reading this, and I’m sure you’re not (because why would you be?), then please excuse me—not only for the gaffes but for this neurosis.  The obsessiveness.  The downright silliness.  Of me.  If you sign me, I promise not to drown you in the minutiae.  I’ll be professional, mindful of the task at hand.  I’ll take notes, answer emails.  Meet deadlines.  I won’t be what they call “high maintenance”—I swear.

And this whole diatribe—do disregard it.  Please judge me based on the work, and the work alone.  And again, take your time.

But not too much 🙂