Friday, August 16, 2013

To my literary agent

Dear ——

If I knew your name, I wouldn’t be writing like this to you, in public. But we haven’t yet met. We’re still two lonely hearts, so to speak, seeking one another.

I did write to an agent last year: one whose web page says

I am willing to be seduced, amazed, charmed, or moved. What I really want is for you to share your enthusiasm with me, your passion...to invite me along on a journey...tell me something you, and you alone, know...to open my eyes to a truth that will enable me to see the world in a different way. And, of course, to do so with beautiful writing.

So I took great care in following her “submission guidelines”; prepared myself for our first date. I ended my email saying. “There is no hurry and I have no plans to talk to other agencies.” That was six months ago, surely long enough. I’m beginning to suspect she wasn’t seduced, amazed or charmed. She certainly wasn’t moved, not even enough to send an acknowledgement. I hereby declare myself fancy-free; and ready to hear from you.

Some might call me naïve. “You have to endure many rejections,” they say (these imaginary advisers, so experienced, so wise). “It’s a numbers game. Write to agents by the hundred. One day, someone will respond.” That’s like proposing marriage to all the girls, taking the first one who says “yes”. But let’s stop that silly analogy. I’m just an author. You are my agent, dear ——, though neither of us knows it yet. You are the one who knows the ropes. It’s not for me to send junk mail to unwilling in-trays.

I’ll be like Noel Coward, who flung his letters from the window, trusting passers-by to post them in a pillar-box; or a shipwrecked mariner, entrusting his desperation to a bottle cast in the wide ocean. Let it wash up one day on some sympathetic shore. After all, as a blogger, this is what I do, metaphorically, every time I post something on this site, as I’ve said indeed here and here.

Not only that, but using this means I’ve rediscovered a long-lost step-brother and had news of a friend last seen fifty years ago, now sadly passed on.

And the man I wrote about here actually had been a shipwrecked mariner who did send a letter in a bottle. A boy in New Zealand found it on a beach and sent it back to him, stained and tattered. I’ve never mentioned it here till now. We had discussed me helping him write an autobiography.

I digress, dear——. Meandering is part of what I do. I’ll write more another time, explain my project, tell you what I’m looking for in an agent.

27 comments :

Bryan M. White said...

I love when publishers and agents give guidelines like that. "Amaze me! Thrill me! I'm willing to be seduced!" Umm, okay then. Aren't we all? The person who isn't interested in being thrilled or seduced should find the nearest deep hole and an obliging friend to shovel the dirt over them. After all, what's the point then?

It reminds of restaurants and stores I've worked at. They show you these orientation videos where someone invariably says, "Customers are our number one priority!" Is that right!? No kidding? They seem to think this is a profound piece of wisdom when it's just a gross overstatement of the obvious.

Likewise, such a passionate thirst for good work certainly SOUNDS laudable, and it's certainly expressed well at any rate, but what is the poor writer supposed to DO with that information? Curl up like a potato bug of self-doubt? We all hope our work is "seductive." And any agent worth their salt should be looking for seductive work. How is this news to anyone? And these are the people we're entrusting to evaluate our writing? Uggghhhh.....

Davoh said...

I am willing to be seduced, amazed, charmed, or moved. What I really want is for you to share your enthusiasm with me, your passion...to invite me along on a journey...tell me something you, and you alone, know...to open my eyes to a truth that will enable me to see the world in a different way. And, of course, to do so with beautiful writing.
----------------------------------------
um, have forgotten - 0r can't be bothered - to do the html on this one - reads like a response from Mills and Boon - or Harlequin.

Davoh said...

...or, cynically - the response from any young, enthusiastic - probably female - ambitious - editor.

Davoh said...

.. interesting concept. How can one person 'tell' stories.. to someone who cannot 'imagine' them?

Vincent said...

The magic of the internet is that you only need to put part of my quote into google and you discover who my non-responsive agent is ...

... i blush to recall that those words took me in at the time.

Curling up like a potato bug of self-doubt is something I can do very easily. Now I shall try "potato bug of self-doubt", put it in Google, or even Google images. We shall see ...

Davoh said...

.. within their 'own' experience. how could i possibly "tell the stories" of my own experience - to a 9 year old child ... discovering that 'violence' between male and female - is not in their best interest - in their future. Break the circle.

Vincent said...

Davoh, there is a great mystery in this, a paradox. How indeed is it possible to tell stories? I think the answer is that in general the listener or reader does have imagination, waiting to be brought to the surface, like an underground aquifer waiting for a well to be sunk. And the rest is magic.

Vincent said...

Looking for that curling-up bug I discover that it must be armadillidium vulgare. But in the process of looking I discover an interesting blog:
Anecdotal Evidence: A blog about the intersection of books and life"

Bryan M. White said...

A Google search for just "potato bug" might be more enlightening, if you don't have the little critters in England, of if you have a different name for them. They're small multi-pedal bugs with hard shells. When they're poked or prodded or made to feel threatened, they curl up into a hard impervious little pellet as a defense mechanism.

Somehow this struck me as an apt description of how a writer feels when some lunatic is pelting them with demands to be "Amazed! Mystified! Light an ever-lasting fire in my soul that can never be quenched! Show the blinding face of God Almighty in words that capture the very core essence of the universe itself! Set off a billion microscopic fireworks in my heart all at once! Write the very last words I want to read before I die in an ocean of velvet bliss!!!!" But hey, no pressure or anything.

zalandeau said...

Je ne cherche pas d'agent littéraire.

J'écris pour moi et accessoirement, pour mes enfants, afin de leur transmettre le résumé de mes aventures militaires et de celles de mon père. Ce ne sont pas des manuscrits de livres, mais plutôt écrits comme des nouvelles (parce que je ne m'attarde pas sur les détails).
J'ai également écrit des fictions (une achevée, les autres inachevées).
Je suis plutôt dans le style article de journaliste d'opinion.
Et cela me fait du bien d'écrire. C'est comme une libération à chaque fois...

B.F. Spaeth said...

"I am willing to be seduced, amazed, charmed, or moved...".
This sounds terribly familiar, and I am fairly certain that I also sent my manuscript to this person a while ago. I recall having sent out well over 100 "queries"(as they are called) to prospective agents and publishers. I spent a considerable amount of time & energy learning how to craft a proper query (which I do not regret, btw). All to no avail, however.
At almost every site that I visited, I kept seeing references to something called "Chick-Lit", as well as various categories such as "Para-normal Romance", "Sword & Sorcery, "Steam Punk", and endless permutations of vampire-themed pot-boilers.
For some reason, I did NOT descend into suicidal depression... perhaps realizing that things have always been this way—only now it's easier to see them thanks to the internet.
Working on a new short story about a sword-wielding, female hipster-vampire with para-normal abilities who is struggling to work out her relationship with her sorcerer/punk/boyfriend.

Vincent said...

Brian, you can google the phrase and you'll find out the agent's name. Her website gives no clue as to which corner of the planet she sits in, but a little snooping reveals it's a stone's throw from Central Park, nearest subway station 72nd St. Not that either of us are likely to make pilgrimage to that hallowed spot.

On second thoughts she may like your story idea, but I suggest you call yourself Bryony and stress your feminist credentials.

Vincent said...

Zalandeau, you sound wise. We do have a duty to bequeath stories to our descendants that only we can tell; and never mind the literary pretensions. Never mind strict fact either: we can always plead "false memory": something which Salman Rushdie claims to have purposely introduced into his fictional autobiography, Midnight's Children.

good luck with all the writing. I'm a bit behind reading your blog. It stretches me to read modern French, having trained on Racine, Corneille & Moliere.

Vincent said...

Bryan, I remember them from childhood but these days I only see what we call woodlice. They look very similar but don't curl up into neat spheres.

I agree with your sentiments all the same. A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do. The rest as far as I'm concerned is selling out to the enemy. I need no exhortations from anyone in the book world. My inner Muse does that already.

darev2005 said...

Vincent- I have gone way past any dreams of being published and slipped into the comfortable musing of just being acknowledged.

As long as I can let this nonsense spew from my brain and once in awhile someone says "Hey, I like that." then I'm good with it.

ZACL said...

Vincent, don't try so hard. Relax and enjoy following your pathways, mental and physical, for the pleasure of doing so. You may be surprised what flows and sometimes you will not. C'est la vie.

Vincent said...

Not for the first time, ZACL, you unwittingly act as the mouthpiece of my guardian angel. Thank you so much for this timely message!

Vincent said...

Rev, I can completely relate to that. I shall publish (in another form besides this) and it started as a modest and reasonable aim, but then it gets above itself and starts bossing me around, till there are days when it threatens to go beyond comfort and approach martyrdom.

Exactly, that's the thing, we'll let this nonsense spew from our brains, & someone might like it. I recall the very first time I ever heard trad jazz played, in 1956, when I was walking home from school. There was a tumbledown Boy Scout hut set back a little from the road, and a band was practising. They were pretty good, mark you, the old New Orleans style of trombone, clarinet, banjo, string bass, perhaps drums, I don't know. they seemed to be playing different tunes that danced and mingled together. I'd never heard anything like it in my life, not until a year or so later when they had Acker Bilk on Radio Luxembourg which I heard when I went to stay with my cousin, and realized it was a recognized style of music.

Why am I telling this? I think because there was no stage, no posters, no impresario hiring a stadium: just an audience of one.

And another thing, if I didn't already mention it the other day at your place. I really hope you'll write on your blog from time to time, like before. Your unique voice has been missed.

ghetufool said...

ZACL rocks!

keiko amano said...

Vincent,

Have you been sending your query letters to all British literary agents? You probably already know this link, but here is one place I found. http://www.pw.org/literary_agents?perpage=*

Last year, I found only a few agents who accept query letters through email. I don't think I saw the above listing. It's extremely hard to find one who cares enough to publish our work, but I'm happy to see more agents accepting email submission and query. It makes our life much easier.

Vincent said...

Certainly not, Keiko! As I wrote above, “It’s not for me to send junk mail to unwilling in-trays”. For that would be to make the same mistake hundreds of times.

I sent out one query letter only. That is one mistake. Writing the above post (in so far as it was a serious attempt to reach out to an agent) may be a mistake also but it doesn't really have consequences.

But I’m being ungracious. Thanks for the link, it may help a writer find an agent.

ashok said...

Best wishes to you Vincent in your pursuit with literary agents. Would love to see your book in print at Amazon and other leading online retailers.

Vincent said...

Thanks, Ashok. I'm too proud to pursue them. Arrogant might be a better word. It's for them to pursue me now. These days you need an agent to help you find an agent to help you find a publisher. I shall merely do what I know how to do. By the time someone is ready to handle my work, my work may be ready wider publication. This well-established blog will provide the arena. The first edition of the e-book will be on sale cheap to present and past readers of the blog.

ellie said...

John 12
[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
[25] He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

A way will open to you if you are able to let your work fall into the earth and die. Plant your seeds confidant that they will germinate because it is in their DNA to do so.

keiko amano said...

Vincent,

After I wrote it, I remember the last time you wrote about how you feel about publishing, and I think I wrote a similar message. I'm sorry about that. But this is what I think. Because you're a British person, it's more interesting if American literary agents read your work than British agents. I enyoy British television crime drama now because I used to watch Americans only. I think we prefer different air, so to speak.

Vincent said...

Ellie, thank you so much. I'm shocked to discover I didn't know these verses. For some reason we never covered St John's gospel in school, so I've never read it right through.

I love what you say about letting the work fall into the earth and die, with confidence in the seeds. I've had that feeling too, but wrapped in a different metaphor, that of a mother who gives birth, brings up the children properly, then lets them leave home, trusting them to find their own way in the world without further parental worrying or intervention.

Vincent said...

Keiko, yes I agree with you about American agents, in that they represent American readers, whom I have in mind all the time when writing: for example when I refer to the "common" or "European" blackbird, famed for its limpid melodic improvisations, but not occurring in America. And when I write about walking, and the great network of protected public footpaths in town and country, I'm aware that these may be luxuries not available in most parts of America, while taken for granted here.

Yes, it is different air.

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