Friday, June 15, 2007

Apparently She's Serious.

Funny story with this one. When I got this email, I thought he/she was pulling my leg, so I actually emailed back and asked, "Are you serious?" and he/she said they were. Unfortunately he/she also asked me to be kind, so I will be.

The Rejecter,

I'd like your advice, and as a favor, please give me your advice with the understanding that I am a very good writer, capable of conquering the world with my words. I have nothing to show for myself except an insightful manuscript, freakishly well-written, with such exquisite craftsmanship you wouldn't see outside the boarders of eighteenth century Europe, though is it possible for me to get published in The New Yorker? I'm nineteen years old, and, I think this is relevant, very good-looking. (I don't know if I should say that on my cover letter.) Is the slushpile a meritocracy, is what I'm asking. Assuming I am the most talented writer in the world, what then should I do?

Okay. I need a second to breathe here.

....AND I'm done. All right. All right. I'm up to this. Something positive.

1. For your information and everyone else's, you are not going to be published in the New Yorker unless you know someone who works in the fiction section of the New Yorker or your agent does or your publisher does. Most of the pieces that are placed in the New Yorker are either by established short fiction writers that have already won a ton of international awards and/or are getting published to promote the short story collection that's coming out at the same time, and the publishing house pulled some strings to get the story in.

2. I know you are the greatest writer in the world, but that said, you might want to do a little double-check on your grammar before sending an email to someone who would catch things like comma splices.

3. For your information and again for everyone else's, it does not matter how attractive you are. In fact, most fiction authors are not very attractive, especially in fantasy. After all, writing is not usually paired with exercising. It's a very stationary activity. Also, fantasy authors usually own a a lot of cats and have a beard.

4. I'm not saying people aren't published at 19, but it's rare. Generally writers who have been writing all their lives reach some level of maturity in their 20's, and are embarrassed about anything they wrote before. Yes, yes, the Eragon guy was 17 or whatever. You know what? Eragon sucked. There, I said it.

5. I don't know what this business about 18th-century Europe is, but actually, a lot of great literature has been written either after the 1700s or outside Europe. In the "outside Europe" category, you have the Popol Vul, the writings of Virgil, the writings of Plato and Socrates, The Tale of Genji, and Homer's Greek epics, to name a few. In the "post-1700's" category I would put pretty much everything that's been written in English except Chaucer and Shakespeare. Austen, Dickens, Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, ... If you don't recognize all those titles, you have a lot of reading ahead of you.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

So You're An Erotica Writer (Hi, Anne Rice!)

So, again, posts are slow and I'm just personally responding instead of posting because it's faster. And could that person who emailed me about wanting to share summer publishing experiences re-email me? I think I accidentally deleted it in a haze and I did mean to respond.

Hello Rejecter,

Suppose you are trying to get an agent or publisher interested in a literary fiction novel. You haven't any previous credits along those lines, but you have written (under a pseudonym) erotica. I don't mean on fly-by-night websites or in books that are delivered in a plain brown envelope, but in major magazines you would find in a good magazine shop or in anthologies you would find in major bookstore chains. Would this help even if your literary fiction novel isn't erotic? Or would such a background be the kiss of death?

Absolutely not. Literary agents and other people in the publishing world have a general respect for all types of writing that is quality, and don't have any qualms about erotica existing, even if they don't read it themselves. And it's not all Harlequin romance stuff either. There is now a healthy amount of independent presses who publish quality erotica, either for general interest or gay/lesbian. The target audience is almost exclusively women or gay men, mainly the former. Studies have shown that women in general don't like visual pornography and prefer it in prose form, which is why Playgirl failed. But let me stop talking about what we were learning in the magazine class I'm in and get back on topic.

Mention your serious publications. The only time I would leave them out is if you are submitting to an agent who mainly handles religious fiction and non-fiction. That might upset some sensibilities, but most agents do not fall into this category.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is a very important post.

Question: Is is worthwhile responding with a short 'thank you' even when an agent passes? It seems like good manners, but knowing how full an agent's inbox might be with more pressing stuff, I wonder whether its worth it. Is sending that gesture of civility likely to be remembered? Will it just make them annoyed at more stuff in their inbox?

Thanks in advance for your opinion.

The answer to your question is: No. Do not send us a thank you note if we have rejected you. We won't really be mad at you, but we will be annoyed at more stuff for us to deal with, especially if everyone started doing it.

I'll make a larger point clear here and try to dispel a rumor. Back when I was hanging out at and trying to perfect my own query letter about 4 years ago, there was a going rumor that you should send a thank-you card or note or whatever because agents log in the name and title of your novel in their massive agency database. Also, if you try to resubmit with a better query, you should change the title so that when we go to our database, it doesn't show up as already submitted.

We don't have a database.

I have never worked for an agent or known an agent who kept track of rejections, even of partials or fulls. It would be a massive effort and a complete waste of time. Publishing companies have the time and money to do that sometimes. I know that DAW does keep rejections on file because I got rejected by the rejection was lost in the mail and I called them to check on it and they looked it up. Agents do not do this.

I don't remember names. I don't remember the names of my friends or outer family members. I don't remember the names of teachers I've had recently or even current professors. Even if I want to remember your name, I will probably fail horribly. And I'm not much better with titles, because titles are pretty generic most of the time. But I am really, really awful with names. I will open 50 envelopes, read fifty query letters, reject all but three, and not remember anything except the plotlines of some of them. I tend to have a good memory for plotlines, but not names and dates. I'm worst than most people in this particular category of being a human being, but it doesn't affect my work. It just serves to make a lot of family functions very awkward.

Many people write their questions anonymously, or make comments anonymously, in some kind of fear that I will see their query at some point and reject them because of something they said a year before. This is not true. I will not remember, even if by some cosmic karma they do end up hitting my agency and I open the envelope. So, have no fear.