This conversation really began last Wednesday, when I wrote:
I knew it was going to be difficult, and a lot of just butt-in-the-chair work to research which agents to query, find their web sites, and follow the submission instructions—often cutting and pasting writing samples into the email for those who refuse to open attachments. Sometimes this process can be fun, but sometimes it’s just draining. As I said last week, I had already received 10 rejections from the 29 agents I had queried. Almost all were personal rejection emails, giving sometimes specific, understandable reasons, and other times frustrating, vague reasons for not choosing to represent me and my novel, Cherry Bomb. Like this one:
Thank you for sending me these pages. While I loved your pitch, and your credentials are impressive, I had trouble with Mare’s voice and story; something about it didn’t feel authentic to me, and so I couldn’t engage with the narrative. Thank you for thinking of me for this project, and I wish you the best of luck.
The voice and story didn’t feel authentic. Ouch. Five plus years of writing and revising, working with several editors, pouring my heart and soul into this book and it “didn’t feel authentic”?
I had coffee with a writer friend yesterday and shared my frustration with her. She has read the novel and given me feedback during the final round of revisions, so she’s completely familiar with the story. I was validated by her reply that these agents just don’t “get it”—but how can I find one that does? The more we discussed the issue, the more my friend began to hone in on the story’s insistence that the reader suspend belief in certain places in order to embrace the plot. It’s not magical realism, but there is a strong thread of mysticism in the book. Given that—and the fact that the protagonist starts out at age 12 and is only 21 by the end of the book—my friend suggested I query agents who represent YA (Young Adult) fiction. I agreed, and so I spent several hours yesterday afternoon querying 10 agents, all of whom rep YA and most of whom also rep literary and upmarket fiction. I plan to continue the process with more agents today. I’m casting a wide net.
Of course this is so difficult, emotionally, and as I was licking my wounds this morning I read this quote from Harper Lee:
I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
Lee contributed those words to the September 1961 issue of Writer’s Digest, in response to a request sent to some top writers and editors from WD, asking “What advice would you offer a person who aspires to a writing career?” This quote was published again in the May/June 2016 issue of WD, in which I also found validation from literary agent Barbara Poelle, who was asked the following question in her column:
I’ve been getting a few rejections on my novel saying things like, ‘The narrative didn’t resonate,’ and ‘I couldn’t connect with the execution.’ What does that really mean?
Poelle’s answer began with this:
First, if you’re getting anything beyond a form rejection—which you are, as agents or editors have taken time to point out a resonance issue—then you are just riding the subjectivity horse into the next town. Keep querying! This sometimes simply means that one man’s Colour Me Good Benedict Cumberbatch is another man’s The Goldfinch.
Poelle went on to describe some structural issues that also could be contributing to the rejection letters, but I’m sure the person who submitted the question was more interested in Poelle’s first comments, because we need to believe in our own work before we can believe that someone out there will also embrace it.
And so here I go again today…. Continuing the querying process, riding that subjectivity horse into the next town….