Sunday, February 18, 2007

Not Right for Me

I've experienced an epiphany in my quest for a literary agent. Okay, maybe epiphany is too strong a word. Perhaps a re-frame is more like it. When an agent sends back your query letter with a note or form letter saying your project 'is not right for me', well, that's exactly what it means.

(Pause for readers to reflect and exclaim upon my wisdom. . .)

Well, sarcasm aside, I had an interesting experience yesterday. I attended Boskone with my family--a scifi/fantasy literary convention in Boston. Several of the panels discussed the business end of writing and since I'm an aspiring author, I attended them all. Later in the evening, I had a lovely conversation with one of the agents from a panel. He was interested in the genres I write, open to new projects, and gave me his website address to look at his submission guidelines.

I spent some time looking at his website and blog, checking him out in the usual places (P&E, agentquery, etc) and determined that he was not right for me. My reasons for choosing not to query him have nothing to do with his skills or talents as an agent. (He's a legitimate agent with verifiable sales.) I just didn't come away from my research feeling that we would be a good match for one another.

I am not being sarcastic or snide when I say this and it casts my many 'not right for me' letters in a very different light.

The past three years have taught me a lot about how the business of publishing works and I am absolutely convinced that the match between agent and author has to be the right fit for both. When I finished writing "The Wings of Winter" 2 years ago, I queried every reputable agent I could find who took fantasy. I had this dream that if just one agent took me on, the book would sell and I'd be published. Just one agent. Any agent. As if they were interchangeable and I just had to find one who would say yes. I received many rejections for that project. I understand now that it was not ready for prime time and that I had pitched it incorrectly. The two books I've written since then are both stronger books and I understand far better what the query process is and isn't.

In a way, I've now made my own job harder. It's not just an agent. It's *the* agent. The right agent. Yet, what this means for me is that rejections are just not personal. It's about the relationship between my work and the reading agent. If that relationship is not right, I really don't want that agent representing my work. And if I respect my work, than it's worth finding the right agent for it.

There are things I'm just not going to obsess about anymore. One of these is type fonts for query letters and submissions. I've watched writers go into tailspins over minutiae like this. My plan is to follow the directions on a particular agent's listing. If he or she does not have specific guidelines, I'll go with basic manuscript formatting. Currier vs currier new vs times roman? Not going to give it a second thought. If an agent is going to reject me out of hand for choosing the wrong type font if I've followed specific or standard directions, then so be it.

I'm not going to agonize over my query letter. I will write a one page letter that has all the standard elements. But panic? Not going to do it anymore. My watchwords for query letters are now professional, direct, concise. Trying for dramatic or unusual isn't me. I'm a straightforward person. My query letters need to reflect that.

What I will do is move forward in my writing with confidence and joy. My expectations are realistic. I know this is a difficult business where art and the dictates of the marketplace collide. I know that most books never earn their advances and most authors cannot make a complete living through their art. It stinks, but that's the way it is.

I'm not discouraged. Writing is what I do. I think about stories all the time and in the quiet minutes I create between work and family obligations, I write them down.

No, I'm not discouraged. Somewhere out there is the right agent for my work.

I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Cohen: I wasn't sure you still had the same email address, so I figured I'd contact you through your blog. Last Sept. I asked if you'd mind my including your opening 150 words in an anthology, and if so, how I should credit you. You replied with an email that said:

    Original author:
    Lisa Janice Cohen
    blogger name: ljcblue

    I'm not sure which of those you meant for me to use. (I didn't use the piece in the book, but now I'm doing a second volume and would like to include it.)

    Evil Editor

    P.S. I forgive you for not having a link to Evil Editor on your blog.