Monday, 8 April 2013

Hunting For A Literary Agent - Part 3

Part 1 ♦ Part 2

The Rejection Letter

   The rejection letter can be a horrible thing. I sent my work out knowing full well I wasn't going to get signed up right away, but I must have tricked a larger part of myself than I had realised into thinking otherwise, because when the last agency responded with yet another rejection letter, my heart sank. I became quite upset, and while I didn't for one moment consider giving up, I did begin to feel like it would never happen. Drama queen much? But when the initial hit of the rejection letters had passed, I was able to brush myself off and try something else.
   But as for the letters themselves, they weren't as mean as I had expected. I'm not even sure why I thought that they would be mean, necessarily. First off, let me explain that they will not give you a special hand written letter telling you that, despite how much they loved Character X, and the way the rain falls on the plains in Magic Land, they just cannot accept your work, and they are so, so sorry. No, you will receive a generic, typed and printed letter that may or may not even be signed by hand. Do not take this to heart. Agents are very busy. Reading manuscripts and signing new writers is something they do in their spare time. So while you get home from work and get in the bath and read a book, or go out for dinner, they are reading the manuscripts that you have sent in. Their work day consists of dealing with their actual clients, those they've signed, and dealing with publishers and all kinds of other things. In short, being an agent. They do not have the time to write a personal letter to every Tom, Dick and Harry that send them a manuscript. However, the letter is not that bad, itself.
   Each letter I received came from a different agency, but they were all remarkably similar. It was as if they had taken a huge profession-wide vote on which base letter to use, and now they all use it. But that didn't matter to me, because I knew everything I've just told you before hand.
   The letters were polite. A few were personalised after the initial base text, one said I was "very talented", and a friend in advertising and other such things assured me that such words are not thrown around lightly. But still, they all said "no".
   The letters went a bit like this:
   "Dear Kim, thank you so much for your manuscript. Unfortuantely, we cannot offer you representation at this time. This by no means reflects on our talent, it simply means that we do not feel that we could appropriately represent your work. This is just our opinion, and another agent may well feel differently. Good luck, Agent."
   I may have gotten the beginning of the letter wrong, but the "this is just our opinion" part is very much true to the letters. Now, whether the individuals that read my work believed this or not is another matter, but it certainly didn't make me (entirely) lose hope. With each letter I received, I remained hopeful that the next would bear good news.

   There are things at this point, however, that I must tell you not to do. They might seem obvious, but based on what I've read on agents' personal pages, they get an awful lot of this. So, when you get a rejection, do not:
• Send them your full manuscript anyway. If they say "no", they mean "no".
• Contact them and ask why they didn't like it. They may well not remember your work, as it's one of hundreds of submissions every week or so. They won't respond to this.
• Write them back and tell them they are "wrong". If you really feel that they were wrong, then when you're published and making thousands, or perhaps have become a best seller, they will kick themselves. Though that probably won't happen, and they probably wouldn't remember you anyway.

   It's understandable that you might feel put down, but it's no reason to feel like giving up. That's falling at the second hurdle. Even if someone doesn't get a rejection letter, there's still a chance they'll get one further down the process that will put the brakes back on. If you do give up, then, simply put, you can't have wanted it as much as you thought you had. If you want it hard enough, even if rejections shake you, they should never make you crumble. Giving up is how you fail. In this sort of thing, you can't fail if you keep writing, and keep submitting new works. You might think what you submitted was amazing, but they clearly disagree. Instead of dwelling on how amazing what you did send them was, think about how amazing the pieces you haven't even written yet could be!

   So if you got rejection letters from all the agencies, move onto something else. While I was waiting for my responses I got quite analytic of my work, and I realised that the beginning is too slow to draw any agent's real attention. From that, I learned that I must make the beginnings of my books more exciting to grab attention - afterall, if I can't get an agent interested, I might not be able to get readers interested, either. Whatever you realise and learn while waiting for your answer, be sure to keep it in mind when you start your next piece, preferrably right away. The fact that you'd have started writing something else will keep you positive through the rejections, and it will help them to just slide off. Afterall, you'll probably be working on something newer and better. Afterall, "new is always better." Apparently.

No Rejection? Congratulations!

   If you've not received a rejection, but were asked for more work, then well done! You've gotten further than a lot of people - but remember, this does not mean that they've decided to represent you. It means that the synopsis promised a good story, that your first three chapters were readable and printable, and that they want the rest of the book. This will undoubtedly take longer for them to respond from, however, since you've basically sent them an entire book. But in this situation, treat it as though you are writing to the agent for the first time. Remain hopeful, and don't give them any more or any less than they've asked for.
   At this point, the letter probably tells you only that they're interested in the rest of the work. Again, just as the rejection letters, it's not likely to be very personal, it'll also be generic, because they want the same thing from everyone: the full manuscript. The letter may also detail how they want it - bound or unbound and so on.
   Do not give them any more or less than they need. Don't include glossaries - your book shouldn't even need one, any made up word should either be explained upon use by a character or something, or should be used often enough in a particular context for it to be obvious. One of my favourites is 'lytling' which is street slang for a child or youngster in Cinda Williams Chima's 'Seven Realms Series'. It was never explained what it meant, but it became quite obvious quite quickly. Do not send them "book covers" either. Agents have contacts for people who design successful book covers - in fact you may not have a say in what they design at all. I have no idea, because I've not gotten that far yet. And do not send them doodles and drawings of characters. The character description within the book itself should be enough. And finally, don't send extra bits of explanation. If the book requires an "extra information" sheet just to read, you might want to rethink submitting it.
   The agents may already know how the book will end and who will die, unlike any other reader, but they do need to be able to build a picture in their heads based on your description, the same as a reader does. They're not reading the books to look for spelling mistakes, afterall; they're reading it to see if it's any good, whether they know the ending or not.

What Comes Next?

   Well, assuming you get far enough and they send you another letter telling you they like your work, several things may happen. They may want to talk over the phone, they may want to meet, or a little bit more communication may be needed, but after so long waiting to find out if they will reject you, the option to reject or accept will be put in your hands. If an agent offers you a contract, you don't have to accept it, but know that it won't wait for you forever. Make sure you understand the contract - look things up online first to get an idea of what parts of the contract you should look at longest, and what figures are good and which figures should send alarm bells running through you. But also don't assume that just because one agent has offered to take you on, that all the others suddenly will, too. If the contract isn't good enough for you, consider for a moment what the very lowest cut or something you'd accept would be. Try to negotiate, but don't expect them to budge. But don't be steamrolled over by them either. I have no idea if contracts are negotiable before signing or not but if the numbers and/or terms really don't work for you, then try. Don't let yourself become flustered by the chance, though. This contract is no small thing, and if you accept too little you may end up regretting it. Make sure you read the whole thing before signing, regardless of how long it is or how awkward you might feel. Don't let yourself get screwed.

   Even once you've been signed, there's still a chance that there won't be a publisher willing to take on your work. You could end up with it all coming to nothing. Because afterall, it's not just the agent that takes the chance. If a publisher prints 1000 copies and none of them move, that's 1000 books worth of paper, ink and binding all gone to waste.

    Here's hoping that some of you reading these posts get this far. I certainly hope I do. Once you've got the agent, the ball can get rolling. It might take some time, however, but the publisher is the last step to turning a manuscript into a real book. And seeing your work bound is amazing. When I finished the first book to my trilogy, I got it printed at I now have a 450 page copy of my work sat in my book case, and when it arrived here, all I could do was cry. It is such an amazing feeling. It's not being distributed or sold, I kept it to myself until I get representation, but there is a copy of my book in existance, hardback and everything, and it's sat in my bookcase.

   Remember, if there is anything you'd like me to make a post on, be it aspects of writing or submitting pieces, don't be afraid to let me know. There's a contact button in my social networking map, and another contact button at the bottom of the Creative Writing Tips collective page.



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