You have completed the umpteenth draft of your novel. You’ve revised more than you ever thought was possible. Eliminated characters. Combined scenes. Beefed up emotion. Added gestures and actions that suggest sub-text. You’ve copyedited (you eliminated that repetitive image of your protagonist’s jaw going slack). You’ve proofread. (Jeanne is now consistently spelled the same.) Better yet, you’ve asked someone less familiar with each sentence to do it for you.
First, you need a catchy profile, in this case, the query letter. “Hi, I’m [name of novel], and I’m looking for an agent, someone who will appreciate my structure, be engaged by my characters’ journeys, and laugh at my jokes. I’m looking for a commitment, not a casual relationship.” Nope, it expresses your sentiments, but doesn’t follow the rules.
You unearth the letter you wrote a few months ago when you took your first baby steps at entering the marketplace. A couple of agents liked that one. You wish you had a few more publishing credits to your name to give yourself more gravitas and instant appeal. Maybe being a graduate of Grub’s Novel Incubator program will open one or two doors a crack.
You power up your computer and start your search for your potential agent mates, grateful for the Internet’s convenience. You generate your required list of 100 agents (okay, maybe you start with 25), read their profiles, pour through agent interviews, check out other books they’ve represented. Exhausting. You even attend a writers’ conference in the Big Apple hoping that the “personal connections” will give you an edge. Kind of like a mixer dance for writers.
You want to believe in love at first sight, but you brace yourself for rejection before the first letter goes out. For awhile, you wish you were in a culture where arranged marriages were the norm. Let someone else do the choosing, and maybe you’ll both be happy.
You follow each agent’s instructions and press “send.” It feels like throwing strands of spaghetti against a wall. Will any of them stick? You’ve played this game before without success. But you weren’t ready then, you like to tell yourself.
The first rejection letter comes. This one from someone you thought might at least ask to see some pages. (They didn’t even want a first date!) At least it’s a personal letter, kind in tone, encouraging about the subjective nature of taste. Along the lines of, “You’re a great gal, just not my type.”
The second rejection is the kind you know will be more typical, even though again you had met the agent and thought you might have a chance. No response. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The big zero. Bad memories of high school crushes who didn’t acknowledge your existence resurface, threatening to send you back to your agentless life.
After the tears and words of sympathy from other writer friends, you swallow your wounded pride. But it’s August. Agents don’t read their email in August, do they? They are on a beach, flirting with some trashy novel. You long to be that trashy novel. Patience. You will restart your search in earnest after Labor Day. You’ve earned some sun time as well for your mental anguish.
There are alternatives, of course. (Do you dare breathe the words “self-publish” out loud? What is the dating equivalent of that?) But you’re not quite ready to throw in the towel, cry uncle, go down that road, or whatever other cliché you choose. (Oh, God, you’ve forgotten how to write!) Somewhere out there is an agent who is right for you, isn’t there? Maybe not a soulmate, but good company for that still challenging journey of finding a publisher. You need only one (though agents dueling over you wouldn’t be so bad). You will try again.
(The author is open to all sincere requests of aspiring agent suitors for her novel, How to Write a Best Seller, which she hopes is a prophetic, not ironic, title. She also notes that she has been happily married for more than 23 years and is grateful she isn’t in that other market.)