When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be an actress. I remember going to auditions and being totally bummed out when I didn’t get a part.
In the eighth grade I tried out for the role of Scout in our community theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. They were looking for a middle school kid who could play a believable six-year-old. I was already five-foot-five at the time, and yet somehow I thought I could win the part based on my acting abilities alone. I didn’t even get a call-back.
I tended to take rejections very personally. Freshman year of high school I assumed the theater teacher didn’t like me when he didn’t cast me in the spring play. I ruminated about it in my diary: I think I’m good. I AM good at acting, aren’t I? Rejections did a number on my self-esteem.
After high school, I decided to go for total self-esteem suicide and move to Los Angeles, where I got rejected even more.
The thing I didn’t realize back then was that it often wasn’t about whether I was “good” or not. It was about whether I was what the casting directors were looking for or not. If casting directors were looking for a blond bimbo, or a gorgeous waif… well then, I just didn’t fit the bill, no matter how good my acting was (although, in hindsight, maybe I wasn’t quite as amazing as I thought I was.)
In any case, it wasn’t that I was bad at acting. It was that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.
A similar thing happens in the world of publishing. You query agents and get rejections, and it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to start questioning your writing abilities. (I think I’m a good writer. I AM a good writer, aren’t I?) It can really do a number on your self-esteem.
What you have to realize is that a rejection doesn’t always have to do with whether or not you’re a good writer (although obviously that’s important, too). It’s not enough for your book to be good. Your manuscript has to make an agent super-duper excited… excited enough to hawk it all over town.
And not only that. Your book also has to be what the agent is looking for. Maybe you wrote a really great book about time travel, but the agent doesn’t think she can sell a time travel book right now. Or, maybe she already represents an author who writes about time travel and doesn’t want two competing clients. Or, maybe she just doesn’t like time travel for whatever personal reason. Her rejection might have nothing at all to do with the caliber of your writing.
So many agent rejection letters say something along the lines of, It wasn’t right for me, but another agent may feel differently. That’s what you have to remember. It’s not (necessarily) that your book is bad. It’s that you’re not querying the right people at the right time.
I’m about to go on a big audition in the literary world. This Saturday (April 9) I’m attending the Philadelphia Writing Workshop, a one-day conference on getting your writing published. And I’ve signed up for three ten-minute pitch sessions with agents.
These are meetings I had to pay for ($29 a pop), but I am guaranteed ten minutes in which I can talk about my book(s) and see if the agent is interested.
I’m pretty nervous. I’ve read all sorts of things online about how to do these pitch sessions. “Have your logline memorized,” some people advise. “This is a chance to give your query out loud.”
“I mean, should I just sit down and start reciting my query letter?” I asked a friend of mine who’s done one of these before, “or should I talk about my book like a normal person?”
“Talk like a normal person,” she said.
“Oh good. That’s what I’d rather do.”
Anyway, I do plan on taking advice from several websites that say to give the genre, title, and word count up front so the agent knows what she’s in for.
And I certainly plan on practicing what I’m going to say – in fact I already have. But I’m also going to try to have a somewhat-normal conversation with each agent. I’ll tell them about my book, see if they’re interested, no big deal. It might be what they’re looking for, it might not be. Nothing to freak out about… right??
I’m also going to keep in mind that these pitch meetings are not just about me showcasing my book to an agent. They’re also for both of us to decide if we’d like to work together for the next few decades of our careers. (In which case, talking like a normal person and not a query-spouting robot is probably a helpful thing to do.)
In a way, it’s not just the agent auditioning me. I’m auditioning the agent, too. I’ll ask questions: are you a hands-on or hands-off agent? How many other clients do you have? How and how often do you communicate with your clients? I should make sure we’re right for each other.
All it takes is for one agent to say yes. Then I’ll have the role I’ve always wanted: the role of an agented author (again).
Not everybody has to like my book, but I do need to find the right person at the right time. So, fingers crossed that this person is going to be at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop this weekend!