A BADGE OF HONOR

A couple of weeks ago, I started sending query letters out. Yesterday, I got my first form rejection. I fully expected to be upset when this happened, and it took me a little while to understand why I wasn’t.

When this novel was first completed and I was looking for a literary agent, the internet was still a baby: computers were primarily used in business for billing and inventory control. At that time, I saw an ad for a literary agent near my home. I sent her an inquiry and I was thrilled that, for a fee, she agreed to represent my book.

How was I, a neophyte in the publishing arena, to know that no respectable agent charges a fee for representation? and for phone consultations? and for postage? I couldn’t Google her and I didn’t have a way to ask anybody about her, except for the “satisfied client” references she provided (all family members, as it turned out).

What did I know? I signed on, happily paid the fee, and she started sending out a form letter to various publishers with a tear-off at the bottom where they could check “yes” or “no”. It wasn’t a query letter — just a couple of sentences indicating the name of the book, page count and genre, and a single sentence bio. I assumed this was the way everyone did it, and as the “no” stack got bigger and bigger, I got pretty discouraged. After two years of fees and “no” forms, I just gave up.

Last year, when I took my manuscripts out to dust them off and try again, the first thing I did was Google my previous agent. Lo and behold! A Worst Literary Agents list popped up! There she was, in all her splendor. One of the phrases used to describe her was “highway robber”! “Incompetent” was about the kindest word I read.

So it wasn’t that the book was bad — the agent was! And as I went on to research how to write a query letter, synopsis, and all the other stuff agents might want, I realized that my manuscript was nowhere near ready for publication. In the first place, it was too long and I had to cut almost 20,000 words. In the second place, it wasn’t as tight and polished as it should have been. If my previous agent had been any good, she would have been able to tell me these things.

But now, after several months of editing, I have a tightly woven story, with polished sentences and an appropriate amount of tension, and I’m very proud of it. And I consider that first rejection a badge of honor. “Dune” got 23 rejections before someone picked it up, and “Gone With the Wind” got 38!

So I’ll hang in there and stay confident, because it only takes one agent to say “yes” — and this time I know how to make sure it’s the right one!

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