Finding An Agent: Rejection and Rebound

Carole L. Glickford (WA State Book Award Winner for Swimming Toward the Ocean) maintains that the book most writers publish first is often not the first book they write.

With a first book, most of us don’t have all our ducks in a row: broad platform, adoring fans with disposable income, blurbs from famous writers. But anyone can learn how to create a good synopsis.

  • The Hook: 25 words or less. Designed to spark  interest in full manuscript. Don’t try to sell the whole story. (25 words could include marketing tie-in, and comparisons to recent books that sold well.)
  • Bonus Points: blurb from respected author;
  • The Expanded Hook: opens up The Hook, just enough.
  • one more graph describing (get this) just the first 70 pages; and
  • a final, short graph posing a question that establishes a compelling interest in the rest of the book. Literary writers: do not end a single sentence with a question mark. Infer the question through language.

This first time I tried to sell the first book I wrote, I sent over a hundred queries. Maybe 150. I sent five at a time. 35-40% asked to see the full manuscript. No one signed me.

  • A number sent a form rejection with a hand-written note scratched at the bottom. (Take as a sincere compliment whatever they write on the return. Especially if you sent over the transom.)
  • A few asked to see anything I re-wrote, or wrote new.
  • Most gave the reason as: “I could not muster the enthusiasm needed to represent this material in this difficult market place.”

Which really hurt my feelings. The first time. By the seventh or so, I was starting to see it as de riguer for a mid-90s No.When the agent who ultimately signed me gave me her first No, she gave me a good critique of why. I saw that something was working in the first 25 pages that failed in the remainder.

I stopped sending out. I hired a private editor, and then put my bottom in a chair and my fingers on a keyboard. I ran it by the editor again. She said it still needed work. I begged to differ and sent out again.

I started with a short list of agents who had asked for the entire manuscript. Bingo. The subject line of the e-mail read: An Offer of Representation. I had a nice day.

It was October of 2001. The country was occupied with other than first novels by un-famous writers. In addition to the first attack on American soil since 1941, I was up against the whole “Soooooo Oprah/mid-90s” quality of the theme. Then again, maybe the editor I hired had been right.

Bless her heart, my agent stuck with me. Responses were good. Great, even.

  • “I was extremely impressed with Alle’s voice when I read her sample material, and I wasn’t disappointed when I read the entire novel. It hit me with real emotional force and power. This is just the kind of literary gem that can get lost on (publisher’s name) list. I do think that this book could do very well at a house with a more literary bent.”
  •  “Hall is clearly a gifted, evocative writer, and I was at times both horrified and fascinated by the lyrical narration.”
  • “The writing is hypnotizing.”

Those were the nice days. There were other days:

  • The inevitable: “Difficult market and what-have-you.” “Too dark for my tastes.”
  • The confusing: “Loved the writing but the plot didn’t stand up.” “Great plot but the writing is uneven.” “Can you write something funny?
  • The needlessly painful: “Simply could not muster up the … “ By the early ‘oughts, could they not have come up with a kinder No? Perhaps, Not for me, thanks.
  • And my absolute favorite: “Don’t worry, (name of agent)! We will find a project to do together!”

So pleased for agent. Agent dropped me. But not before I got an excellent re-write of my cover letter. See that hook? The expansion? The wrap up that sets up the question driving the rest of the book?

  • The idea of the cover letter is not to sell the whole book (although you must do that, as well).
  • The idea of the cover letter to get them to read the first pages.

Author: allehall

I am a writer. I write to explore childhood: literary essays and short fiction, journalism, and three haiku. My published work expresses my belief that everything which did or did not happen to me as a child is manifesting in everything that is or is not happening to me today. More importantly, it is also manifesting for my children. I believe funny is the new navel-gazing, and that the best funny keeps a penny's worth of serious in an accessible pocket. Little-known fact: I have a completed novel decorating the inside of a desk drawer. Perhaps it is not funny enough.

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