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Inkblitzer, Plotline and I attempt to thwart Junkenstein’s Revenge!
…without success. XD
Had fun, tho!
Competitive Season 2 is upon us! Time to play ball.
Including the first cold submission to Tor, I have now been sending queries for Sky Pirates of Calypsitania to publishers and agents for five months. I have received:
- Six form rejections
- One personal response that my writing was strong but the agent didn’t feel a personal connection to these particular characters
- Four chirping crickets
But today starts a new week, and so this morning I’ve sent off two more queries (including one to an agent who, even if she doesn’t care for the book, just seems like a cool person and I started following her on Twiter). As more responses come in, assuming they are more form rejections, I’ll keep sending more queries out, until this book sells.
Because that’s the thing, I believe this book will sell. It’s the kind of book I keep wishing somebody else would write so I could read it– and if I want a book like this, surely other people must too. It’s just a matter of connecting Book A to Readers B. I don’t expect it to become the sort of thing that makes it to supermarket shelves, necessarily, but I do think it’s a very entertaining first novel and is the good launching point of a career. I have seen (and read, and have in my personal library) books that are weaker on all fronts and yet are quite successful, and if those books can do it, so can mine.
So I keep calm and query on. There are hundreds (thousands?) of good literary agents out there, and if I get through the list, well, I’ll start over. And in the meantime, I will continue to work on the next book while waiting for responses.
We’ll get there.
On the value of good manners, the agent who passed on Sky Pirates of Calypsitania last week wrote back in response to my thank you note to say, “I think your writing is very strong and I wish you the best in your agent hunt! For me, I just didn’t fall in love with the characters in the way that I’d need in order to be a great advocate.”
This, while it may not sound like much, is actually hugely helpful feedback. When you send out query after query and get the same boilerplate “not a good fit at this time” response, you begin to question every little aspect of what you’re doing. “Is my query letter too amateurish?” “Am I committing enormous grammatical blunders that I just don’t see?” “Is my adventure story about airship pirates really just a string of vapid clichés?” “Are the weird relationships and social outliers in this story too off-putting?” “Am I a hamfisted hack and everyone’s just been too nice to say so?”
This tiny bit of specific feedback makes all that junk go away. Being told by an industry professional that my writing is very strong is a bonus, I won’t lie! But the real value here is knowing that it was a matter of personal taste, rather than a systemic problem with the work. There are plenty of books out there that are great books, but I just don’t get into them. The entire corpus of Ernest Hemingway, just for starters.
What that means, in real terms, is that I have to just keep putting the book in front of agents until I find one for whom the book clicks. Of course, that was my plan anyway, but I feel a lot more secure about it now. Even if this particular agent and I end up never crossing paths again (although there’s no reason we might not), she’s done me a great favor and I’m grateful for it.
It has often been observed that writing is a tough racket. Like, suspiciously so– people have been predicting the death of the written word pretty much as long as there have been written words, but particularly the death of the modern publishing industry as long as there has been a modern publishing industry, despite the fact bookstores tend to be full of people happily shelling out their hard-earned dollars for books even in this post-internet age and that book sales are actually up rather than down. The rates for writers are largely un-moved in decades, and editorial budgets are slashed, but book prices keep going up, so… that money has to be going somewhere.
However, for the time being at least, I am not interested in figuring out that mystery. Publishing for me is largely a giant black box where I put words in one end and, theoretically, money comes out the other. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Granted, I have not submitted that much for publication in the grand scale of things, being largely self-published or having worked mostly with editors who were also friends and colleagues already. But over the course of my writing career, I’ve had far more successes than rejections. In fact, I can only think of three rejections off the top of my head:
- A creature write-up sent to White Wolf for a Werewolf line “monster book” in 1989 or so. This was done hastily, because Bill (the line editor at the time) was in a pinch, and I basically threw together something that belonged in Call of Cthulhu instead. I’m not surprised he didn’t use it– in fact, I would have been more surprised if he had.
- Out In the Cold, my first full-length(ish) novel, sent to an agent c. 1996 in a fit of youthful enthusiasm. This was a cozy mystery, and it didn’t totally suck but it wasn’t great, either. It did at least garner me a very nice handwritten reply praising the narrative voice and depiction of the characters. I eventually decided that mystery writing was probably not where my strengths were and shelved it after that. And finally…
- Sky Pirates of Calypsitania, which as of yesterday has been rejected by one publisher and seven agents, and “soft rejected” by a handful more agents who simply did not respond (“If you do not hear in 4-8 weeks we aren’t interested.”). Of all these, yesterday’s rejection was the hardest.
The reasons why yesterday’s hit me so hard are twofold. First, this agent was specifically seeking steampunk novels– a genre which is notoriously tricky to get people interested in. I was very jazzed to see someone actually wanting steampunk, instead of having a subtext of “Okay, I guess I’ll look at it, but don’t you have any doorstopper fantasy or military SF we could check out instead?”
Second, after the initial query, the agent wrote back to me and asked for a larger sample, which was the first response of any kind on this book beyond a polite form rejection. I knew it wasn’t guaranteed that she would want to move forward after that, but I did think it was quite likely. She wanted steampunk, she liked the first chapter, and her agenting portfolio seemed like just the right fit for this particular book’s eccentricities. Alas, “After a careful reading, I am sorry to say that I don’t believe this project is right for me.” I sent her a thank-you note, and who knows, maybe something else will work later.
But in the meantime, we carry on. I really like this book– even if it weren’t my own it would be one of my favorites– and I honestly think it’s as good as anything out there. I know that steampunk is a long shot, and I know that first-time novelists always have a tough hill to climb. Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m going to put it away for the weekend and then, come Monday, pull up the next three agents on my list and send it out again.
It is, as has been observed, a tough racket.