Today is a big day. It follows a big email last Wednesday, a big meeting over cocktails Monday evening,* and a big exchange of correspondence regarding a draft agreement yesterday afternoon. And then, just a few minutes ago…
Greenburger (officially known as Sanford J. Greenburger & Associates) is one of the more storied literary agencies in the business, with long-time roots in the practice of editorial scouting (bringing European clients such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Franz Kafka to the United States), and a roster today that boasts some of the most popular authors in publication. More importantly (to me anyway), the firm, and Matt in particular, represents some of those I consider to be the very best fantasy novelists currently writing, including one of my early influences, Tad Williams, and perennial bestseller, Patrick Rothfuss. Oh, and as an added bonus, based on my dealings with Matt so far, he also appears to be one heck of a nice guy.
Earlier this week I introduced the subject of literary agents and, more specifically, my initial experiences with them – to wit, my first four rejection notices. I did my best to present an even-handed view, but given that I provided fairly frank analyses of those that I thought were less than well done, it occurs to me that my post may have conveyed the sense that I regard the profession with some contempt. I sincerely hope this is not the case. In point of fact, I actually have the greatest respect for agents, as I know the daunting number of queries they receive on a daily basis, and I myself have been in the position of serving as an advocate for a stable full of clients, doing my best to help them sell their prized possessions, and serving as the day-to-day buffer between them and those on the other side of sometimes contentious transactions. (Though I can only hope for the sake of literary agents everywhere that publishing negotiations are a lot less cut-throat, the work a lot more emotionally rewarding, and the people a lot nicer, than in M&A investment banking.) Trust me, I appreciate how hard their work must be.
That said, it’s not surprising that the first handful of notices to come back included some that in my opinion were not as thoughtful as they could have been – after all, shoot from the hip and you’re liable to miss. So, I offered criticism where I thought it was due. Today, however, it is my pleasure to give you the flip side of the coin: an absolutely wonderful interaction I had with another literary agent just a few days later. This gentleman could not have been kinder, more complimentary, or more encouraging – and he too was sending me a rejection.
Okay, this is going to be a fun one. In fact, to make certain everyone is in the right frame of mind as they read this post, I’ve even composed a little ditty to start us off [sung to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof]:
Who, after reading, is sad to say your work Has not drawn her in as much as she had hoped? And who, after careful review, is afraid Your project is not a good fit?
The Agent, the Agent! Rejection. The Agent, the Agent! Rejection.
Unfortunately, rejection is a reality that almost every writer will have to face – and for most of us, it will come sooner rather than later. J. K. Rowling famously was turned down 12 times before she found a publisher – or rather, a publisher’s offspring – that was sufficiently engrossed by her book to offer her a contract (though it should be pointed out she did get an agent on her second try), Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was turned down by literary agents 60 times over a period of three and a half years before she finally secured representation, and perhaps most startling of all, Beatrix Potter was so unsuccessful in marketing her work, she was forced to self-publish the first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which subsequently went on to sell over 40 million copies (needless to say, she was able to get a publisher to take on the subsequent printings). The internet is rife with such stories, and though this would be hard to prove, I’m guessing that the list of bestsellers that were accepted on their first query – or even within their first ten – is far shorter than those that were not. As a writer, you know this when you set out to get your novel published (or should, if you’ve done any research on the industry), and consequently when the first rejection notices start arriving in your inbox, they should not come as much of a surprise.
My first post was a somewhat lengthy discussion of why, after years away from the keyboard, I finally started to write again – and, because in my case the two subjects are inextricably linked, why I chose to explore the subject matter I did. Intense, high-level, and deeply personal stuff. Though I am only a few days into my quest to bring The Herald’s Dark Progress to market, I can already tell that over the coming months the journey will produce plenty of additional opportunities to share such observations. When I first launched this blog, however, one of the promises I made (both to you and to myself) was that I would go beyond simply expressing my motivations for writing and reporting on my progress with the publishing industry; I would also use this space to discuss how I go about the craft. Therefore, in keeping with that promise, I submit for your review post number two: a piece explaining an early decision I made regarding the manuscript. I hope it will be of some interest to all those of you who are also writers, or who are interested in the writing process (as for everyone else, you may want to wait for the next one – it will be a snark-filled doozy, I swear).
If you head over to my writing samples, you’ll see that I’ve uploaded something new: the first version of the prologue to The Herald’s Dark Progress, “finalized” some time circa 2011. It is old – and early – enough that I suspect even most of my beta readers won’t recognize it. And for good reason: it was in need of significant edits.
But before I get to those changes and why they were required, let me reiterate the “author’s comment” above the excerpt: you should know that this segment does contain some mild spoilers – in the form of background detail that I’ve subsequently moved further back in the narrative. If you haven’t already completed the full novel, and want to be sure you experience it in its best form (or at least the way I intend for it to be experienced), you may want to hold off on reading any further until you’ve had a chance do that.
If, on the other hand, you’ve already read The Herald’s Dark Progress, or are more interested in my process than my work, or simply don’t mind a bit of a reveal, please continue.