Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, October 8, 2007

Strike One! You're Out!

Okay. We all know that once an agent has rejected your manuscript, it might as well be dead to them. Even if you've revamped it, and totally made it better than the first tentative newbie crap you originally sent them. Even if your first attempts at query letters, synopses, outlines, etc. were just awful, but now you're a glowing god of industry knowledge. Doesn't matter - it's deader than Rasputin. (Who, btw, took an awful long time to die, but is dead nonetheless.)

My only question is: Why?

In this world that's so forgiving of much larger blunders (Ummm... Clinton?*), why is the mistake of trying to sell your work too soon so damn unforgivable?

I'm being perfectly serious here. I don't understand it.

Sure, I get that part of the reason is usually when people say they've learned and grown, they're usually kidding themselves. I also get that some crap can be repackaged and prettied up, and still be crap. I also get that agents are inundated with queries, so when they've said no to one book, they really don't want to see it again - for the sheer fact that reading a new query on an old rejection takes up time they could be giving to the slush pile.

Maybe it's the 'everyone gets one chance' thing. You know, the old 'let's be fair'. Even the uncoordinated kids get a chance to play. That was fine when we were kids - before any of us knew where our strengths would lie without at least trying. Now that we're all adults, I don't buy it. One of my favorite lines with regards to this is from the Disney movie "Oliver & Co" (which, if you haven't seen it, is a retelling of Oliver Twist with a kitten as Oliver and a bunch of dogs as Fagan's gang). Anyway, Oliver tells the Dodger he's being unfair, and the Dodger says: "Fairs are for tourists, kid."

If a writer submits an unenlightened query, and they get rejected, that's fine (and it's fair). On an even playing field with a thousand other newbie authors, you get what you get and that's that. If the same writer spends years perfecting their craft, learning the ropes, polishing their submission materials so they're no longer crap, and they can't even send a new query without breaking some unwritten rule. Well, I don't get it.

I've been trying to find an appropiate analogy for this (because I do so love analogies). The closest I can come is to that uncoordinated kid, who tries out for the baseball team. He loves baseball. Problem is, while he understands the rudiments of the game, he doesn't have it down yet. He can't really run fast, and his throwing is worse. He can't hit to save himself. The coach, of course, tells him to go home. He didn't make the team. Instead of giving up, he goes home and practices. He runs his ass off. He tosses big rocks across the yard to improve his arm. He works on learning everything he can about the game itself. Now, he knows he can make the team, but when he goes to the tryouts, the coach looks at him and says "Sorry, kid. Didn't you read the guidelines??? You already screwed up once here. You can't try out again." Sure, the kid can go to another team and try again, but maybe when he was still ungainly, he tried out for all of them, and now they're all giving him the same answer. "Sorry, but you got your shot and you're done here." Strike One! You're Out!

Raise your hand if you knew everything there was to know about the writing business before you sent your first query letter. Well, even if you did, I didn't. Sure, I read a myriad of sites - many with conflicting information - but I didn't know a quarter of what I know now. I thought I knew enough, and found how quickly how little I really knew. I've grown a lot since I first queried for Spectacle. But it's dead to many agencies, because I screwed up the first time.

Since then, I've completed another novel - which is still pretty good, but so far Spectacle is my best work - and I'm working on finishing three others. They're all good books (or they will be once they're completed), but Spectacle deserves to be published. Problem is, I either have to wait for new agencies to open up, or I have to let it go.

And I'm not good at letting go of a good thing.

(*And if you are a fan of Slick Willy, please don't try to refute me here. It's not worth it. For me, some blunders aren't forgivable.)


Maya Reynolds said...

BE: It's really hard to walk away from a manuscript.

My very first manuscript is my favorite. I've re-written it twice (three years apart) and KNOW I will re-write it once more before I submit it again. By then it will probably be five years between submissions. I doubt the new version will be recognizable.

The reality is there simply aren't THAT many stories out there. I'm guessing fully half of what an agent receives reminds him/her of another query.

If you've really learned a lot, your submission should reflect that. Wait a year, give it a new title, write a new query letter and send that puppy out into the world again.

There are a few places that keep digital records of submissions, which is why I suggest changing the title.

Stephen Parrish said...

. . . they can't even send a new query without breaking some unwritten rule . . .

That's right, it's an unwritten rule. Which means it isn't a rule.

In my previous job I reviewed several thousand applications and hired several dozen people. A few of the people I hired applied as many as three times before getting an offer; most who were turned down once never applied again.

If requerying an agent is against the rules, what's the penalty? Being branded as eager?

Tempest Knight said...

Just because an editor rejects your MS doesn't mean it's bad. I've seen one editor turn down an MS, and another one accept it. Sometimes, accepting or rejecting a MS is quite a personal matter.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Thanks, Maya. I've already re-written and renamed the book. It's much tighter and better now, plus I know what a query letter is actually supposed to say. The thing I was grousing about was I read somewhere even if you rename it, not to resend it - because it pisses agents off.

And thanks Steven, but the reason I was hesitating is because of what I just said to Maya. I don't really want to piss anyone off - not when they say the agent world all talks to each other.

Thanks also to Tempest. I never thought it was bad because of the rejections (okay, maybe at first when each rejection was like a knife in the chest), but I'm over that now.

The best I can do is just keep writing and hope for the best. If I can't get interest in the one book, maybe I can sign an agent using another, and they'll come around to the first book eventually. =o)

Andrew said...

Couple things:
A) What's the difference between a pissed-off agent and an agent that never receives another thing from you? IOW what do you have to lose by resubmitting?
B) Just change your name and book title and rewrite the query letter ;) They'll never catch on. Hmm...maybe if you like an agent, just make up a bunch of names and submit a bunch of queries...maybe one will catch on...