Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Responses to the Previous Post

Where has the Rejector been? The answer, you clueless goyim, is Passover. It's not a place so much as a concept of a holiday that eats up space and time for way longer than it should.

Comment from a previous post:
Rejecter, I was surprised by your answer.

Including quotes, praise, etc. from professors -- even famous ones -- in a query strikes me as incredibly amateurish and unprofessional. I know lit mag staff laugh at this. And it's something that always shows up in letters from MFA students.

Now, Rejecter is the expert here. I'm not an agent, and since Rejecter reads queries and she thinks it's okay, then obviously she wouldn't have a problem with it if your query crossed her desk. But I have a really really really hard time believing that the majority of agents or publishing professionals who see this in your query will take it seriously.

Plus, I worry what your professors are thinking telling you they are so confident this will be published when it's a 40,000 somewhat quirky or experimental novella. I even question whether they could truly understand the publishing world if they are telling you they expect to see it on the shelves. Unless they are talking about small, independent university presses (in which case you probably wouldn't be seeking an agent right away anyway), they are insane or, at best, misguided. Publishing companies are barely buying many literary novels these days, never mind experimental stuff from unknowns, and especially not 40,000 word novellas. I'm not saying give up or don't try -- just that it's ludicrous that your famous professors don't understand that this is not something that a New York house is going to buy right now.

I am not trying to be harsh. I'm just a little worried for the person who asked this question because I fear these professors have gotten his/her hopes up for absolutely no reason.

I got praise - not a lot, because I kept on submitting genre fiction - in my MFA program and I kind of ignored it. Then when I became successful in publishing, my professors actually remembered me and said, "Of course I remembered you! I meant what I said, you know. About having promise." And I thought they just said that because what else are MFA professors supposed to say? They're not going to get tenure if they be honest and tell half the class to give up and go to refrigeration school.

Anyway, I was a little easygoing on the "put in quotes" thing, but my first boss (who kind of mentored me on the art of query letters) and my current boss both put some stock in having quotes of praise. It depends on the sources, of course - your aunt who is an English teacher is not a good source - but I don't necessarily laugh at a professor's praise. I do laugh when the query letter contains a copy of a rejection letter from a publishing company the author previously submitted to with the form response lines of praise highlighted. That's always funny.

And yes, 40K is too short. If something drops below 70K there had better be a good reason for it.

Hi rejecter,

Great blog! I was wondering though, what is the minimum word count for a collection of short stories?

p.s. If these professors are actually famous, then their praise might be worth something if they convince THEIR agents to read your stuff and sign you. This is the most promising angle and is completely different than you writing down their praise in a query letter sent cold to other agents. Even if your professor's agent did sign you, I have to wonder what they expect to do with a 40,000 word novella?

I don't know the minimum word count for a collection of short stories. I'm guessing it can be less than 80K, because a lot of the short story collections I've seen and read have been pretty slim. That said, unless you've had the majority of your short stories published in major magazines/journals, you shouldn't be submitting a short story collection. They don't sell well and we don't like them. Not for a first-time author.

To answer your second sort-of question there, famous writer-professors don't necessarily have agents, or maybe have agents who don't accept new clients, or maybe have agents who are not interested in the professor's students getting recommendations for them all the time. I have an agent and I've almost never said to a friend with a novel "send it to my agent and tell her I'm recommending you." It's not because I don't like my friends. It's because I don't want to bother my agent with my friend's bad novels that I know she's going to reject. That's just mean.


Anonymous said...

You mentioned Michigan Quarterly Review back as one of the journals you respected and would be excited to see in a cover letter (for a short story collection) listed as a publication. Obviously you can't provide an exhaustive list, but I'd be interested in your views on the following quite good list, by a guy called John Matthew Fox.

Do you agree with this list, in general? I'd be very interested to hear what you think. Michigan Quarterly is in Tier 4. Would you consider anything in the list of Tier 5 worth including? Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated. Obviously everyone knows the New Yorker, Atlantic, Paris Review, but below that journals often blur...

Stina said...

I have agented friends, but I'd never ask them to read my novel and recommend it to their agents. One of these friends is going to beta read my wip soon. Again, I have no intention of asking her to recommend it if she loves it. Some might disagree with me. But the thing is, she's a new friend and she recently signed with the agent. I'll just be happy for the feedback.

GK said...

Stina, bravo. That's exactly what you want to do; not ask for your friend to put it forward, because hey, it's their career, they don't want to choose between possibly alienating you and possibly alienating their agent.

Of course, if your friend loves it and thinks it would be great for her agent, I hope she recommends it! I just read a MS the other day that was from the recommendation of a client, and I'm very glad they let me have a look.

Penny Leinwander said...

Dear Rejecter,

Would you put a Kirkus Discoveries review in a query email? I hear some say that since it is a paid for review, it doesn't count, however, they do not guarantee a good review---unless I have been mislead?

Anonymous said...

Hi there. What if a book is an interlinked collection of stories a la The Informers. Will agents find that a tough sell and not want to take it on?