April 18, 2011
You gaze lovingly with pride at your bundle of joy. You’ve nurtured and labored for so long. The pain, the sacrifice, the years of waiting are all behind you. No, I’m not talking about having a baby. I’m talking about writing a book.
You know what happens after a mother has a baby, but what happens when a writer finishes a book? Publication is a long, complicated process and querying (writers shudder at that word), the first step, is the most difficult.
Querying is not something you can understand or empathize with if you’ve never experienced it. Imagine (just go with me here, OK) you’re a new parent, certain that your special baby will enrich the world even if it’s only with a coo that makes people smile. This is the feeling a writers have about their manuscripts (it’s not a book until it’s published).
Let’s say you’ve heard about a new hit reality show, “The Life of Adorable Babies”, that promises to be the perfect opportunity to share your special bundle of joy. But to get an audition, you need an agent to represent you.
Your first step in procuring an agent is your child’s photograph. This photo is crucial.
Hundreds parents are bombarding agents with photos of their special children. Only a few are chosen. Therefore, you can’t submit the typical photo of a smiling baby. It must be so creative and striking that an agent chooses to contact you over the others to discuss the possibility of representing your child.
What a dilemma. Your child is adorable in so many ways: sleeping, smiling, drooling orange carrots. She’s even adorable when she’s screaming for heaven’s sake. How can one photo possibly communicate the uniqueness of your child? But one is all you get.
For a writer, this photograph is called a query letter. We get about three hundred words or one page to interest an agent enough to want to get to know our “baby” personally. Trying to condense a labor of love that has cost sleepless nights, worn out brain cells and many years of one’s life into one minuscule page is very daunting. But writers do it because we want to enrich the world with our labor of love.
After working almost as hard on the query as the book, a writer begins sending it to agents. Surely each agent will see it’s uniqueness and clamor for the opportunity to represent this work, just as you imagine they would see the uniqueness of your baby in his photo.
Agents are busy people. Their primary job is to represent current clients, a full-time endeavor by itself. Yet they somehow find time to read the hundreds of queries they receive each week from unpublished writers. These queries become the dreaded “slushpile”.
Imagine sending your baby’s photo, knowing its fate may be the “slushpile”. But you’ve followed all the guideline and requirements, and darn it, your baby is so cute. How could anyone resist?
Then you begin getting responses. Most of them are form responses:
“Dear Parent, Your baby is not what we are looking for at this time. Keep in mind that other agents may be looking for babies like yours, so don’t be discouraged or take this rejection personally.” Hmmm.
Some of the responses are more personal:
“Dear Ms. Parent, Although your baby shows promise, he is lacking a certain sparkle in his eyes and freckles. The babies we represent have freckles. We will have to pass at this time. Best of luck to you.”
“Dear Mr. Parent, This baby has potential, but I would have liked to see curly brown hair instead of straight brown. I also feel that if you had waited until the other top front tooth had come in, the smile would be more engaging. Of course, there are other agents looking for exactly this kind of baby. Don’t give up.” Ouch.
After a certain number of rejections, you begin to doubt–maybe your baby isn’t as special as you thought. Or you get defensive and angry (I certainly never did) and you decide those damn agents don’t know what they’re talking about; it’s their loss.
You’re faced with a choice. Plow ahead or give up.
You may decide to take another photo (or rewrite the query ten times) and send it out to other agents, hoping one of them will see the unique sparkle in your baby’s eyes and take a chance on her. Or you may decide that your skin is not thick enough and the world will have to be deprived of the joy that is your baby.