Tag Archives: query letters

Knocking on the Glass: A Rejectee Copes with Rejection

graduate

Fair warning for the squeamish – some NSFW language today.  Don’t worry, I grawlixed it up for you.

Don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I had a pretty nice weekend – lots of quality time with the wife and kid, getting to see my best friend and his wife and kid for the first time in some months, eating too much, ramping up my vitamin D content by getting out in the sunshine.  And starting to go running again, because yay exercise.  So I’m feeling quite a sense of uplift as the long weekend comes to a close and I pop onto my laptop yesterday evening to check and see if another friend has posted any more updates from his Las Vegas wedding.  Right off the bat I see a notification in my email.  From a literary agent I queried recently.

It’s a rejection.

I’ve done enough research on querying and read enough tweets and blogs and other material by agents to recognize a form rejection when I see one.  It has no salutation and is the usual canned rigmarole about the market being difficult and terribly sorry but this didn’t do it for them.  My shoulders slump and my stomach hurls a tablespoon of acid against itself for about half a second and I sigh.  Intellectual me says, yeah, you don’t really want anyone representing you who doesn’t think your work is so awesome that they would proudly stand between you and a mob coming after you with torches and pointed sticks.  So thank you for your time, fare thee well, best wishes and all that.  Onwards and upwards.

Emotional me thinks otherwise.  Emotional me wants to channel this fictional character and yell, “@#$@ you, you @#$@ing literati latte-sipping snob, how DARE you dismiss my insightful yet entertaining BRILLIANCE without so much as a by-your-leave!!!  DON’T YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’VE MISSED OUT ON IN YOUR PEON-LIKE SHORTSIGHTEDNESS???”  You know, the pitiful wail of the wannabe knocking desperately on the glass a la Dustin Hoffman in the last scene of The Graduate.  They say you have to develop a thick hide in this profession, but what they fail to mention is that you only callus up by absorbing punch after punch.  And a punch @#$@ing hurts.  It’s not just a quick sting.  It’s a body blow that rings down into your guts and slaps your confidence around like an angry frat boy wielding a wet towel with a bar of soap rolled into it.  It’s the girl you’ve had a crush on for years friendzoning you after you finally summon the courage to ask her out – you question your competence, your very existence as a man.  The same goes with your ability to write after a professional turndown, no matter how inconsequential it might seem.

Sunday night I put together something for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord about The Other Side.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that seems topical given the subject under discussion today:

We will always come up against people who do things differently, who do them better, who are less successful or more successful than we are in our chosen vocation – even in the basic vocation of being human.  In this case, the other side can be a construct of intimidation, a reminder of things we can’t and will never have, of charmed lives beyond our reach via accident of birth.  It can warn us about things we never want, of pitfalls we risk falling into if we are not careful.  It can be a source of incomprehension, a place that is totally abhorrent to our values and our morals.  Yet it can also challenge us by beckoning, daring us to try to cross over.  Forcing us to better ourselves to earn the right of passage.  The choice we have to make is in how we will look at the other side, if it is to be defined, somewhat crudely, as an enemy to be vanquished, or instead as an opportunity to better who we are.  If we are going to look into the depth of the mirror and bare our teeth, or smile and say, I got this.

As a writer, nothing is more intimidating than the blank page.  But second to that is the success of other writers, particularly when you haven’t, at least from your sulky perspective as you pore over that single rejection email, had anything comparable.  Most of us have run into the soul-splintering “That’s nice, dear” from friends and family who think it’s positively peachy that you’re writing a novel but kindly get back to them when you’ve accomplished something quantifiable with it, i.e., made a @#$@load of money.  We’ve also, as we’ve begun to take part in an online community of fellow writers, happened upon that insufferably cheerful blog post that can be paraphrased somewhat like so:  “I worked as a claims adjuster for twenty years and then thought it would be fun to try writing a book.  Two months later I had SEVEN OFFERS OF REPRESENTATION for my story about a privileged yet endearingly goofy girl who just can’t find the right man!”  Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to chuck the laptop against the wall and settle into a monotonous life of trying to accomplish nothing more than finding the last gnome in Fable III, elusive bastard that he is.

I’m glad I’ve started running again, because for me nothing is better for working through anger and frustration.  You channel each pissy thought into a determined flail of your legs and arms and burn the petulance out with each increasingly agonized stride.  @#$@ you, flabby body, @#$@ you, pedantic writing twits, @#$@ you, uncaring literary world, @#$@ you, unfairness of life in general.  You tear through your neighbourhood as the sun rises and hope that the few folks you pass won’t notice the look of homicidal rage etched on your face and call 911.  Finally the app tells you you’re done, and you slow to a cooling walk and realize as you reach your door, drenched from head to toe in eye-stinging sweat, that you have purged those thoughts in a cleansing, cathartic fire.  And as intellectual you reasserts his dominance you realize, in the mode of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus, that you are a successful writer, and here are a few reasons why:

1.  You covered an election for the largest newspaper in Canada.

2.  The leader of the Liberal Party and the potential future leader of the country liked something you wrote about him so much he shared it with his over 200,000 Twitter followers and thanked you by name.

trudeautweet

3.  Arianna Huffington invited you to write for her online news service.  Pretty nice club to be in, given that your writing hero Aaron Sorkin writes for it too.  And you’ve written 20 more articles for it than he has.  A post of yours was featured over Kirk Douglas once.  YOU WERE PLACED HIGHER THAN KIRK @#$@ING DOUGLAS, the man who broke the Hollywood blacklist for Christ’s sake.  (UPDATE:  And now Stephen @#$@ing Fry writes for it too.)

4.  Rob @#$@ing Lowe thanked you for something you wrote about his character on The West Wing.  This guy.

lowe

5.  A fellow writer whom you’ve come to admire asked if she could quote you on the back of her debut novel.  Um, yeah, holy @#$@ing @#$@balls.

6.  Look at this map.  Look at it.  Every single color on the map represents a country where someone has read something you wrote.  Some of these places don’t even have running water, and yet someone there knows who you are.  (And you still suck, Greenland.)

hitsmap2013

7.  You have fans.  Honest to goodness fans.  And they’re awesome and they are always there to prop you up, without fail, when you’re wallowing in a cesspool of self-doubt and flagellation.

8.  A friend once told you that a post you wrote about your father made him want to be a better dad.  And you cried when you heard that.

9.  When you weigh the compliments, shares and positive feedback you’ve received versus the rejections, uninterested shrugs and outright insults, the ratio is still about 500:1.  And when you’ve been insulted, it’s because they didn’t like something you said.  Not one of them said you were a bad writer.

10.  You’re still at it.

Sorry for the diversion down Ego Street there, but these are the kinds of affirmations that writers need to poke themselves with from time to time – that the very act of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard is in itself a form of success.  Even if nought but a single soul retweeted an otherwise ignored blog post, it should be another brick to add to the wall you’re building to shield yourself against the slings and arrows that will inevitably come as you continue to knock on the glass to The Other Side.  So we beat on, boats against the current, as FSF would say.  Of course I’m going to keep writing, and blogging, and querying, and if I can’t get a single nibble on this novel then I’ll write another one and push the hell out of that one until the glass cracks – lather, rinse, repeat.  I might even query that same agent again someday if I have another project I feel might be more up their alley.  A rejection can be many, many things, but what it NEVER should be is a reason to pack it in, or worse, lash out in anger at the futility of existence.  So have your pity party but wrap it up after last call and get back to work.  There are words to be written, bub.

What the @#$@ is next?

“How I Got A Literary Agent by Being A Passive-Aggressive, Bridge-Burning Ass”

Author’s note:  This is a (satirical) response to a gauntlet thrown down by literary agent Jessica Faust in response to a tweet I sent her.  So I guess really it’s a convoluted response to myself.  Anyhoo.  Any resemblance between this person and myself is purely coincidental – well, there is in fact NO resemblance between this person and myself – and not at all reflective of my own opinions of literary agents, who are really quite delightful people, except for the scammers who soak up thousands of dollars in “reading fees” before changing their names and moving out of state.  Those ones suck and should suffer significant chronic foot pain.

My name is Hedley Norris, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  Well, I guess I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I realized there was serious money in it.  I mean, look at that 50 Shades of Gray lady!  All those millions for changing the names in some Twilight fan fiction she wrote?  It seems to me that if she can do it, anyone can.  I mean, I’m not really much of a reader; the last thing I pored over in detail was an Ain’t it Cool News article about the crappy special features on the director’s cut DVD of Chopper Chicks in Zombietown.  But that doesn’t matter.  I’m in this for the money.  I figure I just need to write one successful book and I can retire to that island where the topless waitresses serve you drinks in coconut shells with little parasols sticking out of them.  Sounds simple, right?  Hells yeah!

First thing I needed was an idea.  Vampires are hot right now, so I figured I could just glom onto that trend and bash something out in a couple of days.  But it needs to be different, to stand out, so I thought, what if there were backwards vampires who actually go around injecting blood into people instead of sucking it out?  Then you could do this whole allegory thing about sexually-transmitted diseases and stuff.  Cool!  (note to self:  my friend Phil keeps telling me about a Simpsons episode I need to check out.  Maybe next Thursday.)  So for about two years I worked away on my story.  I had a pretty solid writing regimen:  open the document, stare at it for five minutes, surf YouTube cat videos for an hour, harass celebrities on Twitter for the second hour, then finally do about ten minutes of writing before bed.  And one snowy December evening, as soon as I typed the final word of the first draft I started looking for publishers.  I was shocked to find that NONE of those fascist, soulless corporate jackholes would even look at my manuscript.  I don’t know what entitles them to think they have any business deciding what gets onto bookshelves.  I mean, if they’d just take one look at my novel they’d know right away it’s a guaranteed mega-smash!

I was mentioning all this to a friend and he pointed out that most writers sign with literary agents before approaching publishers.  I didn’t really like the idea – somebody getting 10% of all the money that rightfully belongs to me for what, making photocopies of my book to send out?  But if the big companies weren’t going to look at me without one, I guess I didn’t really have a choice.  I did some research and found that you’re supposed to write these “query letters” when you’re looking for an agent; again, I don’t see why, the book should just stand on its own.  Anyway, here’s the one I wrote for mine:

To Whom It May Concern:

This is my query letter for my 223,000-word YA fantasy fiction novel, THE DARKENING DARKNESS™.

What if there were backwards vampirs who instead of sucking blood actually had to inject it into people instead?  The government is really concerned about this so they put together a team of cracck secret agents to take them down.  The team is led by LT. MANNY ABRAMSON, a hard-boiled former detective with nerves of steel and attitude to match.  His partner is the beautiful and sexy ELIZA GOODBODY, who he used to date in high school before he was sent to the military by his parents.  After three tours in Iraq and Affgaanistan he’s back to finish the job, only fighting monsters instead of enemy soldiers.  Eliza still loves him but cant bring herself to tell him.  There’s also three other men on the team and their equipped with the most high-tech weaponry money can buy to face this new threat.

They’re enemy is VERUSHKA KOROZOV, the beautiful and sexy head of the backwards vampires whose master plan is to inject all the world’s leaders with her blood, turning them all into zombies under her permanent control.  She is assisted by her second-in-command, the beautiful and sexy ANGELA, who used to be Elizas best friend before she was turned into a backwards vampire.  Now Manny has his hands full as he fights to stop the spreading plague and save the world.

In the meantime, down in Lubbock, Texas, the government sceintists who first developed the backwards vampire gene are struggling to find a cure.  Through hexachromate mapping and genetic alkylating techniques, they manage to resequence the backwards vampire RNA but by accident turn it into something much worse.  All of a sudden there are REGULAR vampires to deal with and when they suck the blood of the zombies created by the backwards vampires that turns them into uber-backward-regular-zompires.  And the battle has just begun.

THE DARKENING DARKNESS™ is the first of a proposed 11-part series and has the potential for blockbuster movie adaptation.  My writing has been called a cross between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King with touches of Dan Brown and James Patterson.  I have been published in The New Yorker, The Wall Stret Journal and The New England Journal of Medicine and I come recommended by agent Lisa Jordan of Literary Treasures Agency who you know.  I feel this book will appeal to fans of vampires, zombies, romantic comedies and Tom Clancy technothrillers.  The entire manuscript and the outlines for the remaining 10 installments are attached to this email.  I really hope you have the time to consider this book for your representation as I really admire your profile and think we would work well together.  I also think this book would be of interest to Oprah Winfrey for her book club (she still does that, right?)  Please respond within 24 hours so I know you’re interested.

Hopefully,

Hedley Norris

You gotta cast a wide net, so I sent it out cc’d to every agent I could find.  I may have even sent it to a few real estate agents by mistake (which explains that one reply saying they didn’t want the book, but had an upscale brownstone outside of Teaneck, N.J. I might be interested in purchasing).  But after two days, nothing had come back.  Not a single reply.  I started getting nervous.  What if they had stolen my book and were going to publish it under somebody else’s name?  I decided to send a follow-up just to be sure.

To Whom It May Concern (if it concerns you at all):

I sent you a query last week for my book THE DARKENING DARKENSS™ and requested a reply within 24 hours.  Now you may get off on letting us aspirng authors dangle in the wind on puppet strings as we wait to hear back from you, but there’s such a thing as common courtesy and profesionalism, ever heard of it?  Please respond to this email immediately or I will take necessary next steps.

Angrily,

Hedley Norris

A week went by, and then two, and two more.  I was really steamed now.  I just KNEW that those conniving charlatans had stolen my book.  I could just see them sitting around smoking cigars on piles of money and laughing at stupid, naïve little Hedley Norris.  And then this arrived in my inbox one fateful morning:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript, The Darkening Darkness.  Unfortunately it is not a good fit for our agency at this time.

Good luck in your future writing endeavors.

Sincerely,

Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

I hit the roof.  All this time, all that effort, all that blood and pain and sweat poured into my life’s work and all I could get in return was one stinking form rejection letter???  Well, you can darn well bet I wasn’t going to take that lying down.

Dear Miss (I’m assuming not Mrs. because God knows who would want to marry you) Phillips:

You people have got some real nerve.  I suppose you think it’s funny that you can get someone’s hopes up and then crush their soul into so many fragments of peanut shells.  Here I send you a GUARANTEED best-seller and you toss it aside like the wrapper from yesterday’s hamburger (which I presume you ate with extra large fries and a super-sized drink since the fact that you don’t have a picture of yourself on your website must mean your too hideous for the world.)  You are a horrible, horrible person and I hope you never sleep soundly ever again knowing the many innocent people whose dreams you’ve ruined forever.

Go @#$@ yourself,

Hedley Norris

Not only that, I posted my response on my blog and spent the next couple of days bad-mouthing this Rhianne Phillips on Twitter.  Every tweet, it didn’t matter; even comments on basketball found a way to include a slam against this harridan who dared call herself a literary agent:  “Wow, the Knicks sucked last night.  Rhianne Phillips must have been coaching.”  I even started a Twitter account called @RhiannePhillipsIsEvil and used a Facebook photo of her that I found and photoshopped devil horns onto as its avatar.  It got 22 followers within the first week and only 14 of them were spambots.  Sure, perhaps some might consider this a bit of an overreaction, but damn, they hadn’t put two years of their lives into crafting this masterpiece only to have it dismissed in a mere 32 words that some frickin’ INTERN probably cobbled together.  Man, was I bitter.

And one afternoon, this email shows up:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful response.  Upon further consideration, I admit that I may have been hasty in my initial judgment of your manuscript.  I had failed to note that it was a guaranteed bestseller, as you so adroitly pointed out, and admit that it was perhaps indeed my insecurity about my appearance that led me to the unfortunate conclusion I drew about your work’s suitability for representation by our agency.

I believe The Darkening Darkness may indeed have potential and would be happy to discuss it with you further.  If you have not already secured representation elsewhere, please advise me of your interest by meeting me on your porch in five minutes.

Best regards,

Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

My reaction was akin to the opening credits of CSI: Miami:  Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!  It worked!  My merciless bullying had forced the imperious forces of literary agentdom to knuckle under!  I was on my way to fame and fortune at last!  I bounded to the front hall, my smile cramping my cheeks, and flung the door open to behold the glorious sight of the uniformed officer with the warrant for my arrest on charges of harassment and making threats.  I’m currently doing two to three years in minimum security with no Internet access.  I had to bribe a screw to get him to send this out wrapped in a towel.

Well, on the plus side, now I have the time to work on the next 10 volumes of my series, beginning with The Darkening Darkness 2:  Dark Getting Darker.  And guess what?  I got a letter the other day from a literary agent who’s interested in shopping my autobiography once I’m released.  All I need to do is send her a $1000 advance representation fee and I’m good to go!  See, what they say is true – all you have to do is believe in yourself, persevere and threaten when necessary, and your dreams will someday come true.  Now I gotta go as it’s my turn in the laundry and Spike tells me I owe him a pack of smokes for protection duty today.  Catch you later, haters!

Hope you enjoyed that!  Now it’s your turn.  Can you find all the mistakes our intrepid Mr. Norris makes in his misguided quest for a literary career?  (Apart from forgetting to take his meds, of course.)  Let me know in the comments!