Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Fucked Up Is the Publishing Biz?

Pretty fucked up, it seems. First, this Wall Street Journal article on the death of the slush pile. Literary Rejections on Display has this post on a query rejection emphasizing the doomsday state of publishing. Both non-form rejections I've received cited the fiercely competitive fiction market, and there's been plenty of buzz about timid editors looking only for grand-slams and blockbusters, the mid-list be damned.

Even when they get things right, publishers still get it wrong. For almost two weeks now, I've tried to find a copy of Game Change, the Heilemann-Halperin book on the 2008 campaign. HarperCollins got a boatload of free publicity and spun up plenty of demand for the opus. The only thing they seem to have forgotten to do is print some actual books.

Where does all this leave us, dear writers? Should we shelve our completed novels and wait for better times? Or will there never be better times? Has consolidation of the book industry, publishing and retail, made the climb up the publishing ladder a Herculean effort, the equivalent of scaling Everest, that only the few and the lucky will survive?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kill Me Now

There's much to admire about the "strong writing voice and thoughtful plotting" that made my novel "an enjoyable and engaging read," the agent said, but "in light of today's extraordinarily competitive fiction market..."

You know the rest.

Somebody, put me out of my misery. Please.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

After Five Long Months...

I began this blog and my Quest For a Literary Agent (QFLATM) back on August 21, 2009 -- five months ago. It was warm and summery then, cold and wintry now. Venting frustration at this lengthy process back in September, I think it was, I asked plaintively whether I'd have any idea if I had a future as a writer by Christmas.

Ha. That was a good one.

More has changed in that time since the weather, certainly. The naive enthusiasm with which I began -- My book's different. It's not going to take endless months to find a home. -- has been replaced by a cold, forbidding realization that, yes, it's going to take a lot of time to find a home for my little novel -- and it may very well never find one. It may well just wander for years, Hansel- and Gretel-like, in the spooky forest that is the Land of Publishing.

I've taken to telling my friends that I'm more convinced than ever that my book will never be published. It's neither fish nor fowl; not a straightforward mystery nor brilliant enough in a literary way to break through preconceived notions of genre. The publishing industry is recession-wracked and scared witless and editors are interested only in blockbusters and celebrity tell-alls.

I don't know who I'm trying to convince -- them or myself.

Now, some things have gone OK, though not without passages here and there through rocky terrain. The success rate of my query is around 10 percent, somewhat higher if you don't count the agents I've queried but have not heard from. I understand that to be a decent percentage. (Though who knows, really? I mean, has someone done a study of this?) The four submissions I still have out there -- two partials, two fulls -- represent 40 percent of all the submissions I've made. Still, that seems a lot of querying just to get ten people to take a gander at the manuscript.

I started off being frustrated by the slow-pokey attitudes of the publishing industry, moved on to frustration over those agents who don't bother to respond, and am now frustrated by form rejections of partials and fulls.

What will come next, I wonder?

Well, I'm gonna sit down now with a notebook and try to flesh out the exceedingly vague idea -- notion, really -- I have for a follow-on novel...as soon as I check to see whether I won the lottery.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Real Woohoo!

Finally, an agent who said she liked the first chapter and has requested the full manuscript! (Actually, she said she "really enjoyed" the first chapter and "would love" to see the full manuscript, but I am trying not to read too much into that.)


Monday, January 11, 2010

...And an Itty-Bitty Partial Too

OK, I am on a little bit of a roll here, with a request for a couple of chapters coming in this evening. But I'm too mindful of the past history of these things to get too excited.

One thing I can tell you: if all my partials and fulls out there now (zounds! four of 'em!) come in with nothing more than the usual form rejections -- no commentary at all, no runes to try to decipher, no clues to these agents' thinking -- then I will seriously be in need of an intravenous infusion of Laphroaig. (Talisker on the rocks will do in a pinch.)

UPDATE: And a request this Tuesday a.m. for 100 pages. Well, I may still not know how to write a novel, but it appears I may have finally figured out how to write a decent query. This is going to be hard to write about when all those rejections roll in. (I know -- crappy attitude. OK, I'll think positive(ly)!)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Another Little Woo, Another Little Hoo

'Nother full request today. Again, keepin' calm and skeptical. But still, nice.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Woo. A Hoo.

That's a deliberately subdued woohoo! up there for the full request I got this morning. One thing I've learned, if nothing else, is to assume it's gonna be followed by a form rejection. That's a crappy attitude, I know, especially as I've started 2010 afresh. But I think it's better to assume the worst. That's what I assumed when I saw the e-mail answering my query, so the positive response it actually contained was a pleasant surprise.

QUICK UPDATE: I got an acknowledgment from her that she had received the ms. not 20 minutes after sending it. So far, this woman's been a pleasure to deal with.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Envious of Other Writers? Jealous?

I am not generally envious of the success of other writers, though there are a few -- James Patterson, Tom Clancy -- whom I dislike for essentially turning themselves into corporations and churning out titles under their name, and a few -- Stephen King, John Grisham, Dan Brown -- of whom I think, "Why not take a breather for awhile and leave some space for the rest of us, you frakking billionaires?"

And though I long ago decided that I would never be a literary star, I once in awhile find myself envious of the deftness and beauty of the craft of other writers. For example, Michael Chabon, whose The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay I finished yesterday. Even though I find him a bit ponderous at times, he's an authentic genius and a great storyteller. But it's his way with words that makes me green-eyed with envy (or is it jealousy?). I could cite numerous examples, but one that struck me was his description of something giving off an "anenome flutter." Think of that image: the languid, delicate, subtle motion of an anenome fluttering in the currents of a lagoon.

I don't think I would ever, in my best writing, be able to create such an evocative wordplay as Chabon did simply by attaching "anenome" as an adjective to "flutter."

Sure wish I could.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Rejection of 2010!

Well, The Plan (see post below) is off to a rollicking good start. I noticed one agent who'd been on query hiatus for some time had opened up to queries again...so whipped one out to her yesterday. Roughly 18 hours later, her nyet was in. I'll probably start the query blitz today -- I settled on 32 agents -- though I had been planning to wait a week, figuring there'd be a deluge of queries piling up in agents' in-boxes and pissing them off...but Janet Reid said now's the "perfect time" to query, her theory being you'll get in before everyone else who's waiting till next week. So, per my usual approach to these things, WTF.

Speaking of agents, Jennifer Jackson has her 2009 statistics up, and they aren't pretty: 8,004 queries received (!), 47 proposals or manuscripts requested, 5 new clients signed. If you do the math, that's a survival rate of 0.062 percent. Ouch.

And an update: The agent that some of you -- you know who you are! you're on my list now! -- convinced me to re-query says she's still not moved.... Actually, I took it pretty well. BFD. I think this attitude arises from the fresh start I've given myself for the new year. We'll see how long it lasts.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Plan! Oh, Man!

Well, I've teased a bit about 'The Plan,' my strategy to hog-tie an agent, so here's The Big Reveal.

Actually, it doesn't amount to much more than starting afresh, as if I'd never sent a query. That's why I got rid of the stats on the queries I've sent, rejections I've received, etc. I'm starting over, as with a blank slate, tabula rasa.

Basically, I'm going to send out a blitz of queries next week -- thirty, forty, who knows, fifty! -- with the only wrinkle being that I'm going to split them between two variations of the query letter. I'll hit up some different agents at some of the agencies I targeted before and spread my querying around more geographically (up to now I've been more or less exclusive to NYC).

The one question I have is whether to re-query the agent who way back in late August gave me some feedback on my first chapter (feedback!), finding it not unique enough, but who expressed a willingness to see a revision. On the one hand, who better to send the revised first chapter to than someone who said she'd take another look? But what if I send it to her and she still doesn't take to it? Having my new, First Five Pages-friendly chapter one bounced a second time by the same agent would really be a bummer. I don't know how well I'd handle that.

I may just have to flip a coin.

Or let you guys vote on it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cosmetic Surgery

A new year demands a new attitude, a new look. Well, maybe it doesn't, but I decided on it anyway. Regular readers -- welcome to Shelly and Kit, Followers 24 & 25, by the way -- may have noticed I futzed with TBL's color scheme a bit. Not really overjoyed at the result, but I couldn't come up with anything better. (Great set-up for any number of marriage- or relationship-related jokes.) Also, I deep-sixed most of the stats -- queries sent, rejected, etc. -- because...well, they were just getting embarassingly large, absurdly so, and getting on my nerves. So, fuck it, they're history. If a numeral ever appears in the last line of "The Writer Abides," then I'll recapitulate the lamentatious statistical abstract of rejection.

As promised, I rewrote my synopsis over the holiday break in more narrative form. It came out at not quite six double-spaced pages. Too long, too short? You know what? I don't give a fuck. It's my synopsis from now on and that's that. There's some 2010 attitude for ya. I finished re-editing the ms. for the fourteenth (fifteenth?) time. Hardly changed a thing. So, it's my ms. from now on and that's that. The first chapter has a couple short grafs grafted on to the beginning that give it a more conventional tone. Those are now my opening grafs and that's that.

A maybe not-so-cosmetic change in the offing. I started this blog to catalogue the search for an agent and only the search for an agent, as so many others write about so much else. I'm running out of things to say on that score. So I may be posting less often in 2010. Particularly since I need to go find myself a day job to stave off further financial ruin. Or I may post about other stuff. We'll see how that goes. Check back next week for a rundown on The Plan.