Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sad Truths

Although we suspect that many writers view this blog hoping to find a simplified list of steps to getting published, the purpose of it is for writers to get a sense of who we are. That’s really important, and if you don’t think so, ask any writer who has terminated a relationship with an agent due to personality conflict.

Here are some things you should know about us that are absolute truths:

  • We still have a Christmas tree set up in our office. It is two feet tall, aqua, and is decorated with silver ornaments and tinsel. I’ve thought about taking it down, but Sharene wants to put red hearts on it for Valentine’s Day. I think she’s hinting at something.
  • We have three calendars, two 2007s and a new 2008 one, hanging in various locations around the office. On any given day, we may be a year behind. To our credit, editors and publishers don’t seem to notice. Tomorrow, or maybe sometime next week, I’m going to take down the old calendars. Or maybe not. I’ll let you know in 2009.
  • There’s a large map of the world, on which the new calendar hangs, tacked up on the wall between our computer workstations. I used to worry that it would block the location of a place where a potential market is just waiting to be discovered, but since it only blocks the continent of Antarctica, I may be wrong on that. However, one never knows. (foreshadowing and irony used here)
  • Bitty, our cat of blog posts past, has a habit of lying on Sharene’s keyboard. She also has a habit, neither of us knows why, of walking back and forth between us as we work. Perhaps she is trying to help us coordinate our efforts. I think it is just another way to tick me off.

On a more professional note, we’ve been asked many times if we regret turning down queries and how would it feel if we rejected something that went on to become a best-seller. I think that most writers want to hear that we are devastated and punish ourselves ala the preacher in A Scarlet Letter. Since we are talking truth here, I can only echo what one of my favorite editors quoted to me last summer when she turned down one of my projects, “I may get egg on my face by turning this down, but I have to call them as I see them.”

No truer words have been spoken.

Do we regret missing the opportunity if it happens? No. Why regret opportunity when you can make your own? There’s always the next great thing. Sharene has admitted many times that she would have turned down Harry Potter. She still would. Seriously. She has her reasons. In my case, I would have turned down The Da Vinci Code. All agents and editors have that one book that no matter how successful it has become, they know they would have turned it down and been happy about it. Writers tend to think we would get disgusted with ourselves because we turned down bestsellers and missed a chance to make a lot of money or become famous on the coattails of a literary icon, but the truth is (and this is all about the truth) what agents and editors rarely confess is the books that went on to be best-sellers that they wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole. And there’s lots of them.

Would we be sorry and get all mad that we didn’t see the potential of a book project? Get mad, no. Regret no. Even think about it and say to ourselves, “Man, we had the chance there and blew it.”


Now this might sound cheesy, but I’ve have had works that I’ve passed on that went on to be published and a couple of the authors did write back to update me. Did I get upset? I did not. I just sent them my congratulations because that’s really how I felt about it. I’m happy when someone finds success, whether I had anything to do with it or not.

The truth is that editors and agents are not gods. Publishers are not divine entities and getting published does not validate a writer as worthy. Only a writer can really ever know if his writing is worthy. We make mistakes in judgment; every human being on this planet does.

And that's the truth.


Dawn said...

Sometimes a writer needs the reminder of that last paragraph. Thanks!

John Arkwright said...

After reading thousands of agents' blog posts, I often evaluate whether a book I'm reading would go further than a query. Some good books that I read would definitely catch an agent's eye--The Poe Shadow, Poisonwood Bible, and The Book of Air and Shadows, for instance.

But a few excellent books I have read would never boil down to a great five sentence hook/summary. Lately, I have begun to suspect that some authors write the blurb before writing the novel.

Candee said...

Do you anticipate accepting queries for children’s projects any time in the near future? I found your listing in the 2007 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (yes, I know it is now 2008!) and I was disappointed to find that you are no longer accepting queries of this type. The silver-lining is that I have read your blog with interest, and I find much of what you have written to be very informative. Thanks for taking the time to do it!


Scott Jensen said...

I think another sad truth is that most writers view their job is only writing and nothing more beyond turning their manuscript over to their agent. Being a marketer by trade, I just don't subscribe to the "If I build it, they will come" mentality. For example, while my mystery novel is now being gone over by my logic reader (and then proofreader), I am in talks with two companies to do tie-in promotions for the novel and its future series. My hope is to get them to at least a tentative agreement by the time the polishing of my novel is done so I can mention the tie-in marketing deal in my query letter to agents.

I just feel that without adequate marketing support no novel has a realistic chance at hitting it big.

DLM said...

Regret and hope cannot abide together, now can it!

jarthur said...

I believe you misunderstand Bitty's intent and your own place in her world--when she walks between you at work, she is supervising and micro-managing her minions. ;)

Thank you for the delightful glimpse into your lives and for your professional comments on rejected bestsellers. This post speaks highly of your integrity as agents. Having faith in your own good judgment isn't always easy, so I admire your ability to stand by the quote, "I have to call them as I see them." As you have noted in another post, a bestseller is not always a good book.

Also, I'm curious to know if the Christmas tree is still up. Perhaps with colorful eggs dangling and little chicks dancing over the branches? :)

All the best,

rosa49 said...

Thanks for your candid comments. Your sincerity is really appreciated. And, by the way -- is Bitty accepting queries?