Last week, I discussed the trek to hunt down and capture that most elusive of creatures -- the literary agent. For those of you who follow the blogs of agents and editors, you've seen that most of them have been out of the office this week. Here's hoping they've had a great holiday and come back recharged and ready to dig into their query files because there are a lot of us out there sharpening our pencils and flexing our fingers over the keyboards in preparation of resuming the hunt once more.
So, the New Year is here and you're ready to send your baby out into the wilds of the literary world in hope of representation. You've checked Preditors and Editors. You've looked at the RWA site (if you're a member) and confirmed that the agents you're considering aren't scam artists. You've done your final check of Writer Beware. So what now? Or, more to the point for some of us, you've read the rejections from the six agents you sent the book out to. What's your next move?
Honestly, for me, it's to look at the rejections and see what they say. I've blogged before about the different types of rejections, but Janet Reid says it much more eloquently than I in her post about her year-end stats. Out of 122 novels she did not sign, 9 weren't right for her but got a referral; 9 were sent back with detailed notes and an invitation to resubmit; 1 got a "not this one but send the next one" sort of comment. But -- and this is what's important -- she doesn't look at any of those 122 novels as failures. Here's what she has to say:
. . . more important than the numbers, it's what you do with them. There are two ways to look at these results: you, the writer, made progress toward your goal, or you didn't. If you didn't, you use the information you learned in the process to figure out what to change so you'll make progress the next time. If you define failure as not achieving your goal, even good progress is defined as failure, and that's just a recipe for total frigging insanity. If I were a writer looking at those stats, the first thing I'd want to make sure is that I'm writing something fresh and new. So, how do you know that? You don't just write something and assume its fresh and new cause you've never seen it used. Nope. What you do is what Joe Finder did when he started his writing career. He read 200 thrillers. He researched what his genre looked like. . . . If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd make sure I had fierce beta critics on my team. Fierce critics who would make me want to bathe in medicinal scotch at the end of their critique, but critics who would identify structural problems or voice problems, or plot problems. If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd say "Good. Now I know what the challenges are." And then I'd make my 2010 resolution: Get Fierce.
I've had rejections with referrals. I've had rejections asking me to send the agent/editor my next piece because they like my writing but feel that my current offering just isn't right for them. Those are wonderful. Those I celebrate because they are successes. They mean my work doesn't suck big time. Even the standard three line rejection is a success because it means I sent the piece out, something I wouldn't have considered doing a few years ago. What I don't like -- okay, I'll be honest, what I hate -- are those agents and editors who accept e-mail queries and do not respond if they are rejecting you. Just, "if you haven't heard from us within X-days/weeks/months, assume we passed." Sorry, it doesn't take but a couple of seconds to send a standard rejection via e-mail. Oh, wait, maybe this should have gone into John's post yesterday about rants. Moving on, people. There's nothing to see here. Ignore the woman frothing at the mouth.
Back to the topic. You also have to know what is selling right now. That's not to say you have to write sparkly vampires and emo werewolves because every teen girl is reading Twilight and the like. First off, they aren't. But, it does mean that if you have something that isn't fresh and well-written, probably also well-researched, it is going to be a lot harder getting your foot in the door if it doesn't follow the current trend. But then, following the current trend means, in many ways, that what you write has to be fresh, have some new twist on it because, by the time it makes its way through the dusty halls of publishing, that trend is now forgotten. Also, when submitting to an agent, you need to know what they are looking for. It might surprise you.
For example, Lori Perkins would "love a Gone with the Wind that's about Scarlett's battle for self in a paternalistic society undergoing sweeping change, not Rhett or Ashley's adventures. I can't tell you the number of books that have come in with male protagonists. The only things that are selling right now are paranormal romance and young adult fiction. I personally love vampires, zombies, the vampire zombie Apocalypse, and kick-ass female characters. Female-centered erotica and erotic romance are always considered as well."
So you've made your new list of agents to send your book to. You've checked their guidelines and punched up your query letter. Stamps are on the envelopes and you've hit the send button on those electronic submissions. Now what? Well, if you're like me, a lot of angst, even more prayer and then you force yourself to sit down and start the next project. I know, I know, easier said than done. Especially for me. Ask Sarah and Kate...they have to put up with my angsting each time I send something out. But that is the life of a writer, or so they tell me ;-)
In keeping with the tradition, my resolution this year is to be more "fierce" in my writing. One short story a month -- sorry, Sarah, I just can't quite get to the one a week yet -- as well as the novels I'm working on. Not only will I write them, but I'll send them out. GULP. What's your resolution for the New Year?