Thank you for your patience while I read your novel NOW AND AT THE HOUR. Your writing is vivid and your connection to the storyline gives it a real sense of urgency. I also really like the San Francisco setting.
That said, I’m afraid I didn’t connect with the writing the way I’d hoped to . . . I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit for us and I am sure you’ll be snapped up by an agent savvier than I. And I wish you great success with this—
-NOW AND AT THE HOUR, excerpt from first agent rejection
This spring I watched Vision Quest with my husband and oldest teenaged son. This was mind-blowing on many levels: that it was possible to have first watched this film 30+ years ago; that my son was in his last year of middle school and taller than me and a muscly wrestler; that it was both ok and mortifying to watch a movie with pronounced romantic elements as a family. We all stared straight ahead like frozen wax museum replicas during the sexy scenes and while the Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime lyric “how did I get here?” played a trippy loop in my head.
In spite of the mental acrobatics it was a cool thing. My son has enjoyed some success on the wrestling scene and was into the vision quest idea. The almost unattainable objective, the sacrifice, the willingness to pursue a single goal that is your life’s passion with a relentless focus . . . actually, I get it too. I’m currently on a quest of my own.
I am querying my middle grade novel NOW AND AT THE HOUR in search of agent representation. If you are a writer, your heart might have just lurched in tender sympathy of that daunting process. Or raced with the thrill of possibility that a fellow sojourner might see her writing manifest into an ACTUAL BOOK. (Ah, our Velveteen Rabbit manuscripts; if we love them enough can we make them real?)
If you aren’t a writer you may not know what “querying” is. If you look up the definition in the dictionary you won’t get the relevant scoop – although what is offered may make battle-scarred querying authors chuckle with snarky recognition: To ask a question about something, especially in order to express one’s doubts about it or to check its validity or accuracy.
In truth, the process of querying a manuscript is not meant to be a contentious one. It’s an opportunity to pitch your book to agents to see if you can find a good match. This interaction has amazing potential – including the chance to connect with someone who is equally passionate about your project, and who can serve as a creative and practical collaborator as you try to navigate the tumultuous publishing industry. Agents relentlessly brave endless slush piles of queries in search of their next debut author. Many try mightily to cushion their rejections with kind words and helpful feedback.
Having said that, the query process can feel brutal on the author side. Writing them correctly requires research, drafts, editing, and proofing. There is a formula. I believe it is required. It’s like a secret password to get into the exclusive club . . . if a secret password was something that was openly and eagerly and beseechingly shared, especially by the agents who will receive the finished product. There are parts you MUST have: Title, genre, word count. Main character introduced compellingly. Some of the plot – up to STAKES (critical). Relevant writer info about you. Keep it short and sweet (or actually filled with delicious tension and irresistibly gripping prospects) – a page is a good goal.
Once you have perfected your query to the best of your ability and submitted it (following the agent’s preferred guidelines), you wait for a response. This might take minutes or days but more likely weeks or months. You continue to work on your novel to make it better and begin to work on your next project. You try to keep focused on the bigger picture when the hits come, and not lose sight of why you ever wrote your story in the first place.
For me, it all started years ago when my friend Sheri battled cancer and then went on a pilgrimage and then said I should write about it. Or maybe it all really started even before that when I read WONDER aloud with my youngest son and my heart grew and I thought damn, if I could ever create something like that to put out into the world (either in spite of, or perhaps because of a bitter little women’s fiction book – dubbed THE PSYCHO NOVEL by my writing group – that I was halfway through writing at the time.)
Since then conferences, online courses, books, lectures, professional edits, re-writes, beta readers, and thick skin have been required. I’ve joked that I’m querying because I’m a glutton for humiliation and rejection. Clearly, that’s silly; no one is vying to humiliate me. That’s an overly dramatic description that should be revised immediately (ha). But oh, the rejection: Of your ideas; of your words; of the thought that you were done, when an unexpected perspective blows up your manuscript. But you can’t un-ring the bell – once you know, you know. And you start working again, a dispiriting yet fortifying step in the evolution of your work.
I suppose that’s the thing about a quest. It’s meant to be an adventurous expedition, hard like anything worthwhile is hard, with the potential to experience an incredible spectrum of human emotion. What more could a writer hope for?
(Well. Except for an agent, of course )