So Monday, I heard back from the literary agent who had asked to see three chapters of my manuscript. As soon as I saw the email in my box, I was pretty sure it was bad news – it came back too quickly. The agent who wrote me was very kind and very professional and had all kinds of good things to say about my credentials. But bottom line, this is what she said:
While the story was entertaining, and marketable due to its draw upon our culture’s love of all things celebrity, I had a difficult time personally connecting with the voice. The story felt very plotted, very matter-of-fact. I think this is perhaps in part to the past present tense which we’re learning of the actions, the very nature of hearing the story after the fact. Regardless, the voice made it hard for me to really feel a part of the story. I kept waiting for that moment that I felt like I would be “all in” and unfortunately that moment never came.
She went on to suggest that I consider a kind of flashback/flash forward structure so that there’s a more immediate sense of urgency to the action. Anybody who survived me watching the last couple of seasons of Lost will know my reaction to that, and those who didn’t can probably guess. There was more, and it was all very thoughtful and polite, and I will be sending her a genuinely heartfelt thank you note. Because while I’m bitterly disappointed, I know from her letter that she wasn’t the right agent for this book – she didn’t like it; she didn’t “get” it; it didn’t speak to her. That doesn’t mean she’s not a great reader and a great agent – everything about what she wrote and how promptly she wrote it suggests that she is.
But it doesn’t mean my book isn’t a great book, either. As painful as they are and as useless as they feel at the moment they happen, this is what all those rejections do for us – or have done for me, anyway. When I was a new writer, if a New York agent had taken the time to write me a long letter telling me what was “wrong” with my book, I would have broken a bone rushing off to the computer to “fix” it. It would never in a million years have occurred to me that she might be mistaken or that other people just as fabulous might disagree with her and – perish the thought! – agree with me instead. But now, after seven books that a lot of people have paid for, read, and loved, piles of rejections, and years and years of reviews, good, bad, and brutally ugly, I know that one woman’s meh is another woman’s page-turner, and vice versa. I’m not saying I ignore criticism and advice or that I’m always right or that every writer has to “follow her own path” or whatever – that way lies madness, kittens. (Just ask anybody who’s read anything the brilliant, wacko, and entirely-self-propelled Anne Rice has written in the past 10 years.) What I am saying is that my opinion – and your opinion on your own work – matters, too; matters a lot; ultimately matters most. So the trick is to listen carefully to the criticism, think like a grown-up about what’s being said in relation to your manuscript not as your precious baby but as a piece of work, one of many you’ll produce over your career, and decide what to incorporate and what to leave alone. And in this case, I’ve decided what to incorporate is, either find another agent who does connect with the book or self-publish it as I originally planned, not because this woman isn’t smart but because in this particular instance, this woman is wrong.
And incidentally, in her letter, she allows quite graciously for this possibility:
As you know this is a business based on personal taste and as obvious from my notes above, these couldn’t be more subjective of opinions. I wish you the best in finding a better suited match for this project.
I think that’s very kind, and I intend to take her good wishes in the lovely spirit in which they were obviously intended. And if I write something in the future that I think is more in keeping with what she’s looking for, I will definitely consider sending it to her – again, I couldn’t ask for a more thoughtful reading. But in the meantime, American Starlet is going to stay as she is. Because I love Scarlett’s voice, and I’m still convinced a lot of other readers will, too.