Monday, May 6, 2013

Using Fantasy Agent Responses as a Writing Tool

by Julia Buckley

No matter how successful they are, I think all writers know what it's like to receive a rejection letter from an agent or editor. Sometimes these rejections are painfully terse, as in "No thanks."  Or, to quote one I once received, "Do try other agents."

Others are a bit longer, but they are obviously form letters, which tell the reader that writing is a subjective business, that an agent needs to "fall in love" with a work and did not, in fact, fall in love with this one.

And then there are the rejections that I call the "close, but no cigar," responses. In these tantalizing e-mails, the agent tells the recipient how great their work is.  How clever it is, how wonderful the characterization, how delightful the humor. And then they say "No, thanks."

All of the letters above are lessons in humility.  One can't have a big ego while they possess a whole file full of letters that say, in essence, "You're not that special."

I was musing over this the other day and imagining what an ideal response to a query would be.  Of course the response would be yes, but what, in a writer's fantasy, would that response say?  Perhaps something like this:

"Dear Writer,

I read your manuscript with a growing sense of amazement and joy. I knew by chapter two that I had hit the jackpot and found book of my dreams, and I would be honored if you would allow me to represent you.  Not only am I confident that I will find it a publisher within a week, but I am sure I can sell the film rights, as well.  I realize that you have queried other agents, but I must have this book!  Your premise is so clever, your story so imaginative and your characters so full of whimsy and verve that I know readers everywhere will fall in love.  Do you have a sequel in the works?  I can see this becoming a series.

Please call me at this number . . .  "    Et fawning cetera.

Naturally, this is a silly and overblown fantasy of a letter, but I would imagine that it is similar to the imagined response that writers harbor in their ever-hopeful hearts when they send out a query.

This fake response, though, is a good reminder to writers that one must be what the agents are looking for.
In looking at her own manuscript, a writer can certainly use the fantasy letter as a sort of checklist.  IS the premise imaginative?  ARE the characters distinct and memorable?  IS the book a pleasure to read?

Painful as agent rejections may be, they serve as a sort of writing school.  Each rejection points us to something that needs correcting, and each new submission (in theory) will get more a enthusiastic rejection.

And then, one day, it won't be a rejection at all.


Anonymous said...

You capture so much of both sides of the mail in a delicious nutshell!!! Rejection in writing, jobs or just life is never easy! Does anyone ever learn totally from it???? Thelma Straw

Julia Buckley said...

Hopefully, Thelma! But it's still a difficult experience, isn't it? :)