Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The waiting game

I didn't take on two novels this week for very different reasons.

The first was for a novel that is simply out of my league.  I'll read it when it gets published. I'll be in the author's fan club for life (I hope!)  But I won't be his agent.  He needs an agent who has better editorial acumen than I.  A lot of agents spring from the primordial ooze of editorial; not I.

My pass to him closed with this: I have to recognize my own limitations and step aside. You'll thank me for this. Maybe not right this second, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

The second was for a writer who's going to be very very good.  He writes very clean crisp prose.  He just doesn't have the right book yet.  The novel he queried me for is one I've read a dozen times.  It's possible to get those published these days but only if you're in the midst of a multiple book contract. He's not. He's writing his debut.  He needs something fresh and new.  I have no doubt he'll find it.

What I'm wondering now is how this will all turn out. It will be interesting to come back in a year and see what's transpired. Was I right to say no to the Amazing Novel? Was I wrong to let Talented Unknown get away?

The only way to know will be to see the results.  Unlike poker there are no published odds. There's only experience and instinct.  I've been wrong a lot. But I've been right enough.

What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?


kbrebes said...

I respect and admire you for being true to yourself. Takes guts!

J Larkin said...

Wow, I hope it works out for those two authors! I'm sure your passes only served to further inspire them. I have a 'Rejection Bag' on which I'm writing every rejection letter (okay, the key points) I receive, so I can remember them, draw inspiration from them, and hopefully one day wave the bag around and laugh maniacally for victory.

Decisions I've made that need a year to boil?

Right now I'm taking a sabbatical from school to see if I can make the whole 'author' thing happen. I've given myself a little more than a year. If I can't make it in that time, then all the people who told me I'm a moron (about 98% of the people I know) will be proven right, I suppose. Until then I'm going to just wreck my nose against the grindstone and hope that my hard work gets together with some sweet luck and results happen.

My novel will be in the hands of Beta readers in November, and queries will be sent out in January. If there's no results by December of 2012, then it's back to having a keyboard in one hand and a textbook in the other. Que sera, sera! Gulp.

Ilima Loomis said...

"What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?"

Whether I should get married to my husband! Fortunately he passed the test! (But don't tell him that -- I like to keep him on his toes.)

catdownunder said...

Oh, maybe that agent really did mean it when she told me "try elsewhere". I thought she was just being nice. You have given me the faintest flicker of hope.

Michael Seese said...

"What I'm wondering now is how this will all turn out. It will be interesting to come back in a year and see what's transpired."

A little like parenting, eh?

Joyce Tremel said...

This is one more reason why I respect you so much. I hope these two writers realize what a gift you've given them.

Ali Trotta said...

You're doing what's right for them, and that is the best choice. Not the easiest one, but the one that promises awesomeness for all. (Cheesy phrasing, I know. But I'm pre-coffee; it's a miracle I can type.)

I think it took me a year to realize that my first novel just wasn't good enough. It had good things about it, but it wasn't ever going to be what it needed to be. I'm okay with that, because I learned so much from writing it -- and from querying.

And now, I need coffee, before the universe implodes. :-) Great post!

David Kazzie said...

Far worse is ignoring your gut which is screaming not to do something, doing it, and then suffering mightily for it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

October 19, 2012...
Please let us know, a year from now, how your decisions played out.

Ms. Trite says:
Right or wrong, once a decision is made, if you cannot right what you think is wrong, and cannot change the right you know is now wrong, live with it.
We do that every four years when we vote for presidents
Choosing colleges, boyfriends, spouses and jobs, as well as having children, parties and affairs count.
One author over educated gut reaction...a conundrum.

Anne-Marie said...

I truly respect you for letting them go- that could not have been easy, for anyone involved.

I will have to let you know in about 9 months whether my choice was right. I too, am on sabbatical, trying to get the author thing done, except that I am going to try to e-pub, self-pub route instead of agents. My year is going fast already, with one novel done and in the editing stage, and two still needing to be finished. I would say it feels right already because I am quite productive, inspired, and getting to do what I want without having to squeeze it into everything else.

Can't wait to see how your story turns out though.

P.S.- Word verification is "cesser", which is French for quitting. Never!

Jill Thomas said...

An eye-opening post for this writer, one I had to share on my blog. Thanks for the insight.

Melissa said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

Patrick DiOrio said...

Knowing deep down that there will always be Paris, that sustains me. It doesn't take much to realize that my problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. My book's been on submission for awhile...maybe not a year, but close. Did it need another rewrite before sending it out? Maybe. My next is now with my agent. Waiting on her take. So Here's looking at you, kid.

Unknown said...

I resisted entering the Terry Pratchett Novel Competition which closed in December 2010. Since then I have done a complete rewrite after a professional critique, and further revisions after a second critique. It might be my debut but it's a much improved piece of work, so I am glad I didn't submit the substandard version. I have completed the fifth rewrite, so I shan't overwork this one now, but start the sequel.

ryan field said...

"What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?"

In publishing there are a lot of times I've had to do this. But one small instance was when I was almost contracted to do a collaboration with a group of authors. I said yes to be nice. But I backed out last minute because I prefer to work alone. And I don't like anyone else in my head while I'm working. And I think I made the right choice. A year later, the book didn't take off.

Laurie Dennison said...

I think almost every relationship is that way-- spouse, parent, friend, business partner. Sometimes you find out if you made the right decisions sooner, and sometimes it takes a decade.

Kathryn Schipper said...

Ilima, did your husband's query need any refining before you accepted it? :-)
My "We'll see in a year" adventure: I'm writing a novel in real-time (protagonist's diary entries) via Twitter. Either a great idea or incredibly, publicly, stupid. Time will tell. It does force me to plan ahead, think carefully and write every day.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as an agented writer who has "been there" among the unagented, I hope you shared with the promising writer your reason for rejecting the "wrong time" story. An encouraging word from a professional can mean the world to a struggling writer. So many rejections are simply forms or no response at all because agents are so busy.

Unknown said...

If you think the writing is good enough but the story not there, do you tell the writer that? Or is it a formal rejection? I keep hearing about people getting personalized rejections and it feels as if it must be so that I'm not even close to being good enough when all I get is formal rejections.

Lisa said...

In my twenties, after years of work, I decided not to inflict my first manuscript on agents, and put it lovingly away. Ouchie.

Later I became a mother. It always seemed odd to me; bringing a stranger into a family whose other members joined voluntarily. After about a year of living with the results, both choices proved to be (and remain) among the best I've made.

You said you've been wrong a lot, but right enough. Keeping the scales tipped in that direction is what matters.

Janet Reid said...

Susan and Malin, oh yes. Neither author received a form letter. I've heard back from one but not the other. I know rejection is a bitter pill, so I'm hoping some time will pass and then I'll hear.

Anonymous said...

Choice #1: the choice to let nature take its course and let my little heart baby pass away peacefully or to fight like hell with her, sign the surgery consent forms over and over again and be a kick-ass mom, nurse and advocate to/for her. Today, she is 6. Right choice. CHOICE #2: To write 'that book' because it lived inside me forever. It took a year but I did it. And someone important is reading it now. Even if it goes nowhere...I wrote it. I finished it. Right choice. Thank you for your post today - it's good to hear from the other side of the table.

Colette Martin said...

This is such a great post. As I was looking for my agent it was clear to me that it's not just about me, or them, or the book -- but about the making the right match. So, kudos to you.

Ali Trotta said...

Lavender, your comment is awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Basically, you rock on both accounts -- for being a kickass mom and advocate and for writing that novel. Not everyone can do that, and no one else could write what you've written. :-)

jill said...

Congratulations to both these authors. I hope they see this post and keep going. Once they're published, I hope you'll let us know who they are so we can look for their books!

I don't think I've set a time-based deadline on knowing whether I've made the right decision. More like, I'll rewrite it *this* way and see if it's better (it wasn't, but let me see where to tighten it up).

Graeme Smith said...

Lady Shark

'What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?'

Emigrating to a new country, one I'd never visited even on vacation, with no job to go to, no place to live save a hotel for ten days, no family or friends waiting? Heh. That took a little longer than a year. Starting a sequel to a book form rejected by every potential Agent who saw it, save one finny fiend (she rejected it too, but it wasn't form :-P)? That one's over a year, and still counting. Ask me next July. Or maybe September :-P.

Writing at all? I guess it all depends on how you define 'right' :-).

BP said...

"I've been wrong a lot, but I've been right enough." HAHAHA ZOMGORSH I NEED that saying in my life. You, Empress Shark, are a witty one with the words! :D

E said...

Perhaps I'm just too practical for my own good, but I've always mentally separated form rejections and feedback rejections. Though they both have a certain twinge of agony to them, getting a feedback rejection still makes me feel like I'm heading in the right direction, which can propel me forward with a certain hesitant confidence.
Like a lot of folks here, I decided to take a year to focus on my writing, though it was only after the universe banged me over the head with the opportunity. I'll pass my year mark in a week with a polished manuscript and a brand new daytime job. Follow that gut, folks!

Jacqueline Howett said...

Susan and Malin, oh yes. Neither author received a form letter. I've heard back from one but not the other. I know rejection is a bitter pill, so I'm hoping some time will pass and then I'll hear.

It's nice to know you don't reply with form letters!

Great post!

gregkshipman said...

Two decisions stand out in my mind:

I left Baltimore nine years ago for a position in Alaska (deepest, darkest Alaska... the darkest is sky, not skin!). In one sense I'm as out-of-place as sand on a glacier... but the career-side has been fan-tabulous.

The second is to take my time and learn to write... Writing an engineering design report is a lot easier than writing fiction. I can write a sentence... the trick is herding a buncha them together into a paragraph interesting enough for someone to WANT to read.

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

Thanks for the post and the comments.Today's about reflection.

A year? I spent a year writing a novel, 9 months querying agents and was turned down by many. Finally found an agent who sent that ms out to editors who also turned it down. Was in the middle of a re-write when I found out on an internet site that my agent had been fired. Agency fired me as the book hadn't sold yet.

I felt kicked in the stomach. A friend took my ms to a teensy indie publisher who loved it. One year later Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys has sold around 8000 copies. Not huge, but not bad for a debut with no brick and mortar distribution.

Took five days and delayed sending my aunt videos of my cat doing silly things. I was busy writing, blogging, working. Aunt died unexpectedly yesterday. I could have given her a few giggles but I waited too long.

Don't wait too long.

Anonymous said...

Leaving my first novel for a year after I thought it was perfect, turns out there is a WAY better story in there. Unfortunatly I am now tearing my baby apart.

I've had a couple of not quite right for me (on a story that is finished!) but keep trying else where. I really thought they were just being nice, which is always appreciated, but do agents actually mean it when they say it has potential just not in their hands?

Anonymous said...

"I didn't take on two novels this week for very different reasons." I admire your decision, but also respect you for taking time to send personal replies to those two authors. Thanks for the post.

"What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?"
Moving to a new country, standing by my boyfriend when he dragged his feet on marriage, changing careers in mid-life, deciding to make the best of a part-time job by using the other half of my day to write.... The first three worked out, but actually took several years. As for my writing aspirations, after three years, the jury is still out on that one.

Kristin Laughtin said...

"What choices have you made that needed a year to know whether you were right?"

I think any of us who have been writing for a while had to make the decision whether that was the right thing to do! Whether it was "right" in that we all attained our goal of publication is still unknown, but I'd hope we've all decided it was right because it fulfills us in some way.

A lot of people are talking about finding/waiting for their spouses. In my case, my choice not to go after an ex was the right one once, although it did take me quite a while to see.

And best of luck to both those authors! You seem pretty confident in your decisions, so we'll all hope you're right this time, too.

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

The situation you explained, is it appropriate as an agent to possibly refer them to another agent knowing they wrote well, good premise etc?

On the other hand I believe your integrity in the end will be respected it wouldn't have made sense to accept them as clients if you wouldn't be able to give them 110% I also respect that it wasn't all about making a possible quick sale but knowing you and what you can offer your clients.


Kristy Shen said...

Hi Janet:

Out of curiosity, how often do you send form rejections for requested manuscripts?

And since your blog post is about "the waiting game", do you think it's OK to follow up with an agent 2 months after sending the query? The agent has a "no response means no" policy but she also has a query status log that hasn't been updated since we sent it.

I'm worried that my query was SO BAD that it killed her...

(on the plus side, I might have invented some kind of Query of Mass Destruction...)

DeadlyAccurate said...

J Larkin: "If I can't make it in that time, then all the people who told me I'm a moron (about 98% of the people I know) will be proven right, I suppose."

Bullshit. Are you telling me those of us who didn't make it in a year (or five or ten) are morons, too?

I'm a damn good writer (I know, 'cause I once had a damn good agent), and I still haven't sold a book. I'm not a moron; I'm an unpublished writer.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Great post and comments about following your heart or gut straight from the Shark's mouth.

Since you're asking 'what choices have made that needed a year to know whether you were right?'

It took me 18 years to come around to that guy who paid $1.50 for a bowl clam chowder. But I was too proud at the time and got mad.

When the time came it took me three months to drop everything I'd built and move to a new country — what I let go of was what most people dream of. After a year I knew it was right, but I guess I knew all along.

I was writing my memoir, on the second re-write, when I came across Query Shark. I sighed after reading much of the archives then started from scratch, again. After the third re-write, more Query Shark, and a year gone by I realized it was a fiction, not even a Fake Memoir.

Thanks Janet for such a great blog. I wish more agents would blog like you do, but maybe they can't.

J Larkin said...

Deadly Accurate: Um, yikes, no. But there does come a point where plans 'A' and 'B'smile have to be shuffled around a bit. I'm taking 1 year off of school to devote all of the time I felt was being wasted (have you paid hundreds of dollars to take a required elementary refresher course recently? Most disheartening!) and devoting all of that time and energy instead to the author dream. The 98% previously mentioned think this is a bad idea because, among other things, a lot of authors--unbelievably good and otherwise--still can find themselves unpublished due to poor timing or terrible luck. It happens. It is a gamble we all take. I've decided it's worth it, and I'm glad you've decided it's worth it, too. But if I can't make any progress in a year, 'school' goes back ahead of 'author.' That's all. Neither priority disappears; they just get rearranged. So, fight the good fight! And I shall do the same.

Janet Reid said...

Kristy, I'm not sure. Not really very often. I elect to read more novels and send fewer personal rejections.

In this specific instance both writers had met me and I'd asked to read their work. I had both novels before anyone else.

Generally though I pass with a form rejection even at the full ms stage.

Not every manuscript is right for me but that doesn't mean it's bad,or unpublishable.

I have valued and trusted colleagues who represent books I can't stand.

There's enough room here for every taste.

Stephsco said...

I enjoyed reading the post & comments. I can only imagine how much work goes into repping a book. Even if one is great, it still may not be a good fit. That makes sense to me. I hope at some point you can reveal which books they are if they get published!

Jack LaBloom said...

Good for you, Janet Reid.

I would hope all literary agents turn down projects that have the potential for success, but don't feel right for that agent.

In my opinion, it is a disservice to any debut writer to be represented by a literary agent who does not have their heart in the project.

Eden Dalia said...

Nice to know that agents fret over queries just like writers do. When the two hook up, magic can happen. It's comforting that you look for the right fit when going through queries. I'm sure I won't feel the same when I get my first rejection letter.

Heather Wardell said...

I released my first novel for free at the end of 2009, and after a few thousand copies were downloaded I very tentatively put out my second for $0.99 in May 2010. I'd never wanted to self-publish but I really wanted my work out there with readers. That book sold a few copies (and I mean that literally, it sold three in May 2010 :) but those few sales made me think maybe I could do this.

I kept going, putting out a new book every 3-4 months (at that point I had a small inventory of them) and each book gathered a slightly larger following.

Interestingly for your question, it was May-June 2011 when my sales took off. I've sold over 60000 books this year and nearly all of those are from May on. More important than that, to me, is the daily emails I get from readers who loved and were touched by my books. That's all I wanted out of the industry and now I've got it. (Money is obviously nice but the other honestly matters more.)

Do I think I made the right choice self-publishing? Absolutely. Did it seem like it back in May 2010? Not so much. But I'm glad I stayed with it!

Susan Lynn solomon said...

An important lesson learned: time hasn’t been needed to find out if I was right; it’s been needed to understand where all the pieces were then, and where they are now.

As an example, three years ago I completed a novel. I believed it worked. It didn’t, not on a professional level. Since that time I’ve been fortunate to work with a rather good editor, and talented writers in a local critique group. This resulted in a few published short stories—one of which will be in Imitation Fruit’s November on-line journal—and a second novel that’s ready to be shopped. Six months ago I pulled out that first novel. Aside from understanding the technical shortcomings, to my surprise, I understood what the story was really about.

So, it strikes me that decisions, like feelings, are neither right nor wrong; and time is not an arbiter. Looking over my shoulder mattered only because I saw the myriad disparate facts that together altered the present.

LiveCharge said...

I just wanted to say that this was a fantastic post, and that your sense of integrity is inspiring. I can't imagine passing up a book like that - and I actually found it really encouraging that you did (as odd as THAT may sound). So thanks for posting.

As for taking a year to figure something out - moving to Africa to volunteer on board a hospital ship has definitely taken me a year to be certain about in some ways. I didn't question it much when I got here, but it'll be a year in a week and I think that it's taken near as long to be certain that I didn't make a massive mistake.

It turns out Africa is really hot.

Bukash/ Lyudmyla Mayorska said...

I wonder if you have an update yet. It's been 10 months now!

Janet Reid said...

no update yet. Publishing moves at glacial speed. Ten months is nothin'!

Macainmhire said...

Just browsing the archives and came across this lovely thoughtful post. What became of these two writers, do you know?