Saturday, July 11, 2020

Somewhere Over The Transom

Gosh, this is the fun part, huh? I've written another novel and have to find someone on the Inside who can jam it into a publisher's heart. In the old days, apparently, it was easier to find an advocate for your work. I wouldn't say just anyone could land an agent, but your odds were at least better than being killed by a meteorite.

Hell, in the old old days, you could just type up your entire book and sail it over the transom at a major publishing house. The transom is the magic portal above the door and if you dropped it from there it got some nice momentum. Then it was just a matter of some overworked editor (gruff, haggard, yet somehow endearing) noticing your manuscript splayed out on the floor and seeing the genius fumes wafting up out of it, and pretty soon you're summoned to the office (in a rainstorm, with a taxi not only ignoring you but splattering you with mud while peeling away from the curb) and then there's a whole scene and you unbundle your hair bun and take off your glasses and the music swells and you're a published author.

Now there are only five publishing houses and they've sealed up their transoms but good. You need someone on the Inside. You need an agent. And you need your query letter to sparkle just a little more than the other nine hundred letters she gets that week.

Well, I've done this before, and I'm serene about rejection, so it isn't as hard as it could be. I did land an agent once. I can't remember how many I tried before she took me on. Thirty, maybe.

Holy shit. I just actually went back and counted them up. Eighty-four. Anyway. Here goes. I'm ready!

Sort of. I forgot one thing. You work up your list of possible agents, and then whack it down to a short list, and then hatchet that down to a top five, and write up your best letters and shoot them off into the void. Right? Not so good if you get rejected and start to realize how you could have made your letter better--but now you've already lost your favorites.

So you work that much harder and research the living crap out of the agent list and try again. By the time you've ironed all the kinks out of your letter, you've lined through a fair number of gold-star targets. The quality of your query is going up while the quality of the agents goes down. The rejections begin to filter in. The no-response-at-alls hover coyly in a vapor just outside your laptop. You wonder: should you take a chance at the big-ass guy at the big-ass agency because he seems like the best fit, even though he's a wildly successful agent of forty years' standing who holds reunions at the Pulitzer Prize ceremonies? Or do you query his equally good fit at the agency who just got bumped up from the mailroom? You've only got one shot at this agency.

Do you confine yourself to agents based in New York City, or does it matter anymore? It used to.

The vapor of non-responses develops heft and pressure and hovers harder outside your laptop, smirking.

Months in, dilemmas like Top Guy vs. Mailroom Guy begin to seem quaint. I still have my unearned self-confidence. I know I've got a great book here. I can continue to believe with all my heart that I've got what it takes, because nobody has actually asked for a manuscript yet and told me it's crap. So there's that.

But I'm not far away from querying the agent who's set up a pop-up office in the parking lot of a food cart pod. As long as it's in New York.

23 comments:

  1. Knowing very little about very much (this should be obvious by now) would it be extremely difficult to self publish? I suggest this because I have absolutely no idea how to go about it and nothing is impossible for the guy who doesn't have to actually do it himself. Was that helpful?

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    1. Sure! I just don't want to. Eventually when I run out of options to be published by the Big Five houses, I'll go smaller or self-publish. But I don't have the heart it takes to do all the self-promotion and bush-beating so that more than 500 people would read my stuff.

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  2. I was going to be a famous artist in New York City, in a brownstone apartment, with one or two harlequin great danes.

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    1. Please edit to include your millinery requirements.

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    2. Tweeds, herringbone, turtlenecks, oversized real leather portfolio, no hats.

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  3. Good luck. Authors are my heroes and I wish all of you nothing but the best.

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  4. From your lips to the goddess's ear. Or from your mind meld with her... whatever. Ernie and I dabbled in agents several years ago, but coffee table books are a hard sell. We had one for a while but it was unsellable. Sad. The world could really use The Museum of Depressionist Art right now.

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    1. I had an agent...as mentioned...and she tried but was unable to entirely seal the deal with two novels and a non-fiction humor book of mine. If I'd agreed to change them in ways I wasn't agreeable to, maybe. (I am fine with big revisions but I have to agree with it.)

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  5. My son has written a book explaining quantum physics for computer people. Don’t tell my son, but it’s not high on my to be read list. For that matter, I don’t think I could read it. Maybe the acknowledgements. But your book, yessum, where do I order?

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    1. Aw, thanks, I will be SURE to let you all know whenever it actually exists.

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  6. Your abilities in the humor department are right up there with Erma Bombeck and Dave Berry. Maybe even better. The world doesn’t deserve you, Murr.

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    1. Oooo...mean, Murr, mean - from one who laughs herself silly over your writings!

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  7. Congratulations! Is it possible to start somewhere in the mid-range of agents to get that letter razor sharp before flinging over the metaphorical transoms of better and better agents until you're finally in the top 5?

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    1. Yeah, one wonders. I mean, do you really want to do it that way? You'll get to the mid-range soon enough...

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    2. "Metaphorical transoms"...lovely phrase, unlikely to be repeated ever in the English language...

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  8. I was totally distracted by "a whole scene and you unbundle your hair bun and take off your glasses and the music swells and you're a published author."

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  9. I love the picture of you and Pootie heads down with a beer. I do hope you find an agent soon, who actually reads your manuscript and passes it on to a publisher.

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    1. Me too. So far no luck even getting one to ask for a ms.

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  10. Well, your Writing always makes me Laugh and you have a way with Words... but I'm not based in NY nor am I any contact to cultivate. But I'd probably buy your Book if it's as witty as your Blog, does that Count?

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