Monday, January 30, 2006

Query Jones

There's pretty much no one left to query anymore. I need a fix, the sort of rush that comes with sending off the query letter. The anticipation, the dread; I have to have it but I'm out of marks.

The short story work is plodding along - not enough time to focus on the words and put cogent sentences together. The main distraction comes from waiting, as I wait on the last few remaining queries and partials that continue to dangle in the air.

Thank the literary gods for the blog and its many functions. I can compose little bits of fiction and save them as drafts, hidden away where prying eyes cannot find them. Today, I must write a few more sentences. It is the only thing that keeps me from fretting into an ulcer about the fate of my current submissions.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lack of Progress Report

Batch of rejections received, as to be expected on a Monday. Tamar Ellman of Laura Dail's agency does not want the rest of the manuscript - Katie's story reads like so many women of her era, she says. I hear the sounds of 'heard it before' as in the story is not fresh and new.

There was a day when I could look over my list of partials and fulls out to agents and feel confident that I had a lot of agents looking at my work. Today, I'm down to three, and not feeling positive about those. I should have heard back by now, if there was any interest.

In an attempt to get some kind of credentials, I sent off a short piece to the Pioneer Press and a short story to McSweeney's. Down about all the rejections, I'm trying to find the heart to write some more and try other literary magazines. I've found a great long list of journals for submissions, but coming up with something is going to be tough.

Slog on - write on - and keep hope alive. Sure thing.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Book Report

There is a recent thread on Absolute Write
that asks the question - is it okay to use word emphasis in dialogue.

Well, students, it's okay if you're Talitha Stevenson, journalist and award short-listed writer. I have tried to read Exposure, her newest novel, but I just could not get past the first seventy-five pages.

The italicized dialogue was really annoying, and it grated on my nerves after a while. I don't appreciate an author telling me how to read their prose. After all, I am possessed of some imagination and I am capable of hearing emphasis in my head as I read.

So, unless one is already published, the answer to the question is no. Once you've gotten your foot in the door and the contract in hand, go for it. Just don't expect me to read it. But, hey, what do I know? I'm not even published myself.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm Mister Lonely

I haven't had a request for a partial since the beginning of last month, and I'm feeling lonely...

Things feel quiet in general. No answers back, no requests for more, like I'm the last author left on earth and no literary agents survived the holocaust. I've sent out a couple of e-queries and generated absolutely no interest. Could it be that everyone is busy catching up after the holidays? Should I wait a week or so?

Today, I fired off a 600 word essay to the local paper. The object of the game these days is to get a publishing credit. There's a short story, couple thousand words, that I've been working on and I do believe I'll send it to McSweeney's. Once I get this other new story formed, I'll work on another submission for a literary rag.

Found a good link through the Nebraska Writers Project - a list of literary magazines! Publish something, somewhere, and then try the queries again. I do wonder if my chances will improve if my closing paragraph can include the magic phrase: 'I have been published in ....'

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More Bad News

Fair play to Kathryn Green - she is prompt. After asking for a full, she sent a rejection that was not form, but not particularly informative. I would say that she read, or rather skimmed, the opening couple of pages, based on her comments.

She described the heroine as feisty. The very first line of the novel has the female protagonist wearing red to her husband's funeral - not subtle, and Kathryn Green could not miss it. Her next comment, about the set-up of the story, indicated that she had not read much further, or her questions would have been explained. The premise is laid out, again without subtlety, but if a literary agent is not captivated by the writer's voice, why bother to keep going?

As for speedy response time, there are a couple of partials that were requested early in December. Having not heard further, I presume that I will eventually get rejections on those as well. From past experience, I have noticed that a literary agent will respond fairly quickly when they like something, and drag their feet for things that they don't. After all, if one is going to take a pass, what's the rush?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Well, that sure was quick. In about seven hours, I got a rejection from Scott Hoffman at Folio Lit.

What was so dreadful that he immediately rejected the novel? Did he read the opening line and decide? Did he scroll through and check the bio first? Not published, not even in the press - forget it, he might have said.

And here I was prepared for a couple of month wait. He did not even have to think it over, apparently, since he must have hated MANUSCRIPT from the start. Too busy to offer editorial comment, he said in his form rejection, which must indicate he did not read much at all before deciding. Can't offer editorial comment without reading the stuff first, right?

As much as we all hate the wait, sometimes the instant response is worse.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Agent News

First heard the rumor on Writers Net, and now Scott Hoffman's new agency has a website: Folio Literary

Assuming that a new agency would be hungry for talent, I sent off a query to an e-mail addie that was slightly different from what turned up on the website. Naturally, I copied the query and sent it to the correct address.

Last night, Scott Hoffman answered - both queries. Did he not notice that he read the same thing twice? Was he being polite to not mention that he had received one already, thanks very much? Or was he shooting off a response to everything that came in, suspecting that anyone who had his new addie already must be somewhat on the ball publishing-world wise.

No matter, I sent the requested three chapters, synopsis and bio. All two lines of the bio, since I don't have any credentials. Of course, I put the bio dead last, after the one page synopsis and forty-seven pages of text. Eight weeks from now, I should have some sort of answer.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Just like fruit, the rejections come in. Four at once, a lovely bunch of no's appeared on my doorstep today. Am I supposed to be pleased that two of them were actually addressed to me, by name?

Patricia Moosbrugger says she is not taking on much fiction these days - i.e. please don't send me another query (reading between the lines). Ingenious of Faith Hampton Childs to scribble a little note - thanks, but no - and send my letter back to me. Saves gobs of money over the course of year, I would imagine. Except for the cost of the pens, but I suppose if one shops the back to school sales and buys in bulk...

I cannot seem to bring myself to send out another batch right now. In part, I don't have enough quiet time to prepare the query letters and still have an hour or so to work on the current WIP. The days fly by so quickly that I believe I will sit down to a fresh list of literary agents to be approached and be startled to discover that it is already March.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No Reply

This morning, I went through my list of outstanding query letters, snail mail each and every one. A sizeable number of unanswered letters had been sent in early to mid-November, now two months gone, and way past due for a reply.

Given the long Christmas holiday, I am beginning to believe that literary agents come back from the break and toss all those annoying queries, dumped into the trash and never answered. It seems odd that so many letters, all sent around the same time, would all fail to garner so much as a form rejection. Odd, unless most of the agencies in New York pulped whatever was laying around before they left for the holiday hiatus.

Of course, now that postage is an extra .02, could it be that they don't want to cover the difference? Then again, when I sent the queries, I was aware of the postal rate increase and slapped on an extra couple of stamps. Ah, that's it, then. They needed my return postage to cover their lack of penny stamps. I can see them now, those crafty literary agents, steaming the Navajo Jewelry commemorative off SASE's, saving themselves a trip to the Post Office.

Who knows, maybe one day my mailman will drop off a note that I owe some two bucks for a bunch of mail with insufficient postage. It could happen. And pigs might fly. And I might get published.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Literary Fiction

I never thought of myself as a pointy-headed, over-educated intellectual, but I like well-written books. Those that are classified as 'literary fiction', that is, but not all of them.

Take The Story of Lucy Gault, for example. There is some conflict, but not a lot of action. The first few pages are largely description and back story, all things that we as novelists are not supposed to do. No wonder my submissions get rejected. What I like to read is not the highly marketable stuff that agents crave, and so what I like to write is not accepted.

Browsing the back flaps on a shelf of books, I noticed that many authors list some sort of award or credential, yet none of it translates into a good book. Many times, I have been told by literary agents to get some kind of writing credit if I want to even be asked to submit a manuscript. It is all about marketing, not writing skill. Thank heavens for the public library, which has saved me a small fortune. I do not have to waste my hard-earned money on the drivel that spews forth from the Big Houses. Many times I have picked up a book based on the book flap story, only to give up before I have plowed through fifty pages. Hurrah, the author has been published in some literary journal, but that does not mean they could write a complete novel.

I rant in frustration. Perhaps I should be looking for an agent in England, where good writing seems to have more value. Hopeless, all hopeless.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sharpen Your Hook

Rookie novelists are often told to start their query letter with a hook, and it has to be a good one. Want proof that literary agents are only reading the first few lines?

Three e-mail queries that I sent were answered, one a request for a manuscript and two rejections. All three were addressed to the name on my e-mail address, which is not my legal name and not the name that I used to sign the letters. Obviously, the agents never got all the way to the bottom of a three paragraph letter. One was snagged by the hook, and two were not. A sharp hook is needed to land an agent.

Do you wonder if agents remember the names of those who sent queries before? If they only read the opening sentences of a query, then probably not. However, I have sent Marcy Posner (now at Sterling Lord Literistic) three queries in the past couple of years, with requests for partials on the previous two.

At first, I was surprised that she remembered my name, given that she rejected both partials. She thinks I've been busy writing, to send her so many queries. Well, yes, I have been busy writing, but I have been writing for the past five years. There are four completed manuscripts to be shopped, finished when I never gave a thought to being published because it seems so impossible. After three years of querying, I know for a fact that it is impossible.

The routine goes on - query, revise, query again. Another pig-headed, stubborn Irishman, unwilling to give up, practicing the art of the grand gesture in the face of certain defeat.

Today has been rejection-o-rama, a heavy Monday. Douglas Stewart did not fall in love with either the writing or the story - so I am now wondering if the revisions I made have weakened the novel. Then again, he was not interested in the story, and since he was rejecting a query with sample chapters, I can't really tell. Kirsten Manges finally got back to me with the form rejection I was expecting, and a few more form rejections turned up from query letters sent months ago and quite recently. Time to focus on the fifth novel, still being drafted, and maybe the partials and fulls out on the first three will draw a nibble.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Back to Work

Looks like the publishing/agent world is back up and running after the Christmas break. Today in the mail I got two rejections from queries sent before the holidays - form rejections, natch. The one from Anne Edelstein's agency was the fastest turnaround time ever from her office, which makes me wonder if anyone even read the sample pages.

Even though I reworked the opening of MANUSCRIPT, her assistant was not swept away in rapture if she did read it. Such is the query world.

Four e-mail queries came back rejected as well, with one from Alexis Hurley at InkWell sent back in October. Well, at least she responded, which is more than I've gotten from some other people at InkWell.

Frustrating, infuriating, but there is a rush to sending out the queries. I sometimes feel like a gambler, dropping coins into the slot machine and hoping for a jackpot, only to lose again. Yet I send out more, going back to the list and re-querying those who were queried two years ago. Different letter, different title. Better luck next time.