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Midnight Show: The Boom Lowered…Again

June 17, 2011

[Warning:  there are about 1,700 words in this post. Roughly 450 of them are probably f-bombs.]

So yesterday I got my full rejected with this comment:

Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you. In the long run, I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass on A Hero’s Journey. You are a wonderful writer, but the story just went a bit too far out for me. This is a very subjective business and you need an agent who falls in love with your characters. I wish you the very best in finding a home for this.

I wasn’t all that angry yet.  Mostly still numb about it.  Plus I naively thought, well if it’s just some “far out” stuff that’s the problem, then maybe I could change it.  A few ideas did occur to me later that afternoon on how to do it.  So I asked if I changed that stuff if I could resubmit the piece.  And I got this response:

Probably not, but you write so beautifully that if you ever write something in a different genre that doesn’t go quite so far over the edge, I’d be happy to see it.

OK, now the anger is kicking in.  So I need to rant about it.  Better to get it out of the way now than in the car while driving across the state on Monday.  That way I’m not so enraged and wind up with a speeding ticket or running someone off the road from road rage.  Plus maybe if I do it now I can get my head around doing some more writing on Saturday.

Anyway, I bolded the “falling in love” part because that’s one of those excuses that always bugs me.  I always think, “I’m not asking you to marry the fucking character.  Just make a few phone calls to some fucking editors.”  But what Mr. Vogler said in his comment on Thursday made sense too:

But agents are different: ultimately they have to be able to defend every decision you’ve made about these characters, because mainstream publishers want to make your book accessible to the widest possible audience, and are therefore looking for any tiny excuse to pass on your work.

I get that it’s a business.  When the agent goes to her bosses and to the editors and stuff it can’t be, “Hey, here’s a neat story.”  No, especially today when all the major publishers are owned by international conglomerates, there’s probably all sorts of numbers and gobbledygook about how this will play with young women or old women or young men or old men or whatever other demographics.

So I’m not even sure “love” is the right word for it.  If they were being honest they would probably say, “Your character doesn’t appeal to our marketing demographics.”  Which is a bunch of bullshit.

Look, agents, editors and all them want to act like they know what’s going on, but the famous Hollywood saying of “Nobody knows nothing” is still true.  Take a gander at this blog entry by Steven LaBree, which lists a few books rejected over 15 times, including Gone With the Wind and Carrie.  Probably some marketing experts thought those wouldn’t play with audiences either, only to feel as stupid as the record companies who turned down the Beatles.

As the agents themselves are so quick to point out, it is a subjective business.  You can’t say with authority that this won’t work because the character isn’t a vampire or because the character isn’t blond or isn’t Christian or whatever fucking idiotic reasons they come up with.  YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW!  Hell, I don’t fucking know either.  The public doesn’t even know what they want.  Really, go out and ask people what they want to read and those who don’t say I ain’t readin no books! probably wouldn’t have one fucking clue what they want.  They only know after they see it–or more likely after someone tells them to like something.  All your pseudoscience, all your mental alchemy, all your gut feelings, all your women’s intuition don’t mean a hill of beans because you don’t fucking KNOW anything!

To echo my response to Mr. Vogler’s comment, it’s hard not to be frustrated with that “fall in love” business.  I really do want to scream at her, “What part do you object to?  That she’s 19?  That she has red hair?  That she has blue eyes?  That she’s smart?  That she has a PhD in Geology?  That she works at a museum?  That she’s tall?  That she’s skinny?  That her feet are too big?  That her parents didn’t take her to church?  That she’s nice?  That she’s shy?  That she doesn’t drink or smoke or eat fatty foods?  That she exercises daily?  That she likes opera?”  I could go on for hours here and at the end I would scream, “Whichever it is, you tell me and I’ll fucking change it!”

But no, you can’t tell me.  It’s just some vague notion.  Shrug your shoulders and wave your hand around and say it just one of those things, you know?  Which is always a lot of shit.  When a girlfriend (or boyfriend) dumps you, they know why they’re doing it.  When a company fires you, they know why they’re doing it.  They just want to spare your feelings so that you won’t go psychotic on their asses.

But the stupid cliches don’t help!  At least not in my case.  The cliches frustrate me even more because I want concrete problems.  I want things I can fix!  I can’t fix a vague fucking notion!  So, no, please tell me which fucking characteristics I can plug in there to match up to your market demographics and I’ll be real fucking happy to make the changes and get it back to you.  Except you’ve got 100 more email queries in your Inbox, so who has time to fix my problems?  Well, I have all the fucking time in the world but I’m not a fucking literary agent.  Now if I were fucking a literary agent, then it might go better for me…


Now then, part two.  The part that bothered me about the second email was the idea that if I write something in another genre.  Now wait a fucking minute here!  Why the fuck did you ask me to go to the trouble of sending in a full and writing a two-page fucking synopsis if that’s not even the fucking genre you wanted?  What, it was all a fucking lark?  Gee, maybe I’ll request a sci-fi story (or would you call it urban fantasy?  Whatever.) and see what that’s like!

This isn’t like picking a fucking restaurant.  You don’t just decide, “I think I’ll try romance today.”  Then the next day, “Some mystery really sounds good.”  How long have you been in this fucking business?  You should have known from the fucking query letter that it wasn’t a genre you wanted to read, you bloody twit.  Why the hell did you make me waste hours trying to write a fucking synopsis and then get my hopes up for eight fucking weeks waiting to get a fucking response to it?  Was this some kind of fucking game?  Was it all a fucking joke to you?  A little late for a fucking April Fool’s joke, don’t you think?

That’s one of those times I read the email and think, “What.  The.  Fuck?!!!”

You know what would be more helpful there would be to say, “The whole superhero thing is played out.  Write something about sparkly vampires and get back to me.”  Then I would (eventually) shrug my shoulders and say, “OK, you want sparkly vampires, I’ll give you sparkly fucking vampires fucking whiny chicks.”

If I weren’t so lazy I’d go to YouTube and search for the “Family Guy” clip of Peter’s “Grind My Gears” commentary where he says to Lindsey Lohan, “You’re up there jumping around in your little outfits and I’m down here thinking, What am I supposed to do?  WHAT DO YOU WANT?”  OK, that’s a little rough, but maybe you get the idea.  Just tell me what the fuck you do want and maybe I can provide it.  Why don’t you motherfuckers put that right in your submission guidelines on your website and on QueryTracker and just be up front in saying, “We only want ‘Twilight’ ripoffs right now.”  Or “Hunger Games” ripoffs or whatever the in thing is among people who usually don’t read anything.  Don’t make me waste another fucking year writing a fucking story you aren’t going to buy into because it’s not really your thing.

But again, they probably don’t know what the fuck they want anymore than Jane Blow on the street.  All they know is what they DON’T want.  Which makes it this absurd fucking guessing game.  Guessing games fucking suck.  I’m not an old man by any means (not even a middle-aged man yet) but it feels like I’ve been on this fucking carousel forever.  I think I need to get off and go throw up for a while.

Anyway, to sum it up, I wish they could just be honest and open with us.  All these bullshit cliches only get me more annoyed instead of softening the blow.  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  And don’t fuck with me by requesting a full of a story when you aren’t interested in that genre.  Maybe that was just a lark to you but it was my fucking life and I do not appreciate it.

So, in summary:  Dear agent, Fuck You.


I don’t know at what point this post went from an actually angry rant to a semi-comic exercise in trying to use the f-word as much as possible.  Venting does feel good.  Who needs a shrink when you can rant on your blog, right Laura Diamond?

So that’s it.  I’ll be off on vacation then.  Enjoy three short stories in my absence.  Though since I won’t be around to comment on people’s blogs I doubt anyone will stop by to read them.  Still, it beats virtual tumbleweeds.


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  1. Agents are just people like you and I. They get up in the morning, they go to the post office, they bathe, buy groceries, etc. They’re selfish (just like everyone else in America). To elaborate, they will cut you off in traffic, they will use their cell phones in a movie theater despite you wanting to watch a film, and they can have bad days. Many of them wanted to be writers and went to school to get MFA’s in non-science degrees (because they had no skill at math or science). Once they graduated along with tens of thousands of others with student loans piled to their eyebrows, they realized they needed money, and applied to agencies like Donald Maas, Writer’s House, and Curtis Brown. But many of them are hoping it’s only temporary. They see manuscripts like Twilight that make millions and that’s what they want. They want the money, attractive men, and respect. It’s like the Rejectionist says on her website (at least she’s honest about herself as an Agent turned writer) “You’ll be sorry when we’re famous…”

    So, just like most of America, they want a huge payday so that they can look down on other people (don’t tell me that you know no one in your life that doesn’t look down on someone…because I know a ton). My point in saying this is you’re right about everything you are ranting about. The business is totally subjective. However, the publishing houses have given these people a ton of power because that is the way publishing works in the United States of America. I think it got this way because Editors were tired of doing their job. They were tired of reading through manuscripts to find something to publish. There is after all a need to play golf during the day. Agents manufactured employment from nothing and the query process is their justification for their existence. It reminds me of a state government agency that I worked for in Idaho called the Idaho Industrial Commission. This state agency is essentially useless. But they justify their existence to the insurance companies by documenting work related injuries so that they can furnish the insurance companies with enough evidence to warrant cutting off benefits (and thereby saving them money). The insurance companies could have done this themselves, but they paid the industrial commission to do it (thereby giving them an existence). The people that worked there reminded me a lot of the situation we have with literary agents…they were pretty stuck on themselves. Think “proud” people because they had life and death say over a person’s workman’s comp benefits (Republican state legislation). The thing that always got me is that because they are a government agency, poor misinformed workers that were injured willingly submitted to oversight by the Industrial Commission thinking that the agency would help them with their benefits. What they should have done was lawyer the hell up because they were cutting their own necks.

    In the current state of publishing, if you want access to the resources of a major publishing house, you must play the agent’s game. You don’t have a choice in this matter. Agents determine what gets published in this country…not editors. Editors never see work that agents don’t recommend. Keeping that in mind, the agent that sent you that rejection probably decided it somewhere during a commute. It probably happened over a cup of $5.00 coffee with some chocolate biscotti while stepping over a bum that lost his job due to the down economy and had the audacity to lay in the street to ask for change (if he was married no doubt the bum’s wife left him–a lot of women I know ended up doing just this). It could have happened during a conversation about what movies are playing with an attractive man that fits the Twilight bill or over a discussion of which Prada shoes happened to be in season (and how disgusting some other women dress because they don’t wear Versace).

    The publishing industry in this country (sad to say Mutt) is filled with arrogance and greed. Go to Janet Reid’s website and read the latest comments on queries submitted to Queryshark. I laugh at them…why? because her comments are funny. But here’s the disturbing bit…WHY DO I FIND THEM FUNNY? I’m not the only one…my boss looked at them today with me and he laughed his ass off. So why are we laughing? Well, because Janet is mean mean mean. And mean is funny. It really is and I’m not the only one that thinks so. Just watch some stand-up…the mean ones have people that laugh at their jokes. Janet attacks those letters with such fervor…she picks out the smallest things on the letters to say, “don’t do this because it’s bad and this deserves a form rejection and whatever”… Like seriously…some of the things she points out are there because the writer respects whoever they are writing. Example: “Dear agent, I’m writing you to seek representation for my novel…” She would attack something like this and say, “I know you are SEEKING REPRESENTATION because I’m an agent. Right off the bat this loses me and is a form rejection!…” It’s funny, but I scratch my head and think…man…what a bitch. That salutation is there because the person writing to you has respect for you and you just attacked it… and then it just gets worse from that point on. It’s sad really…but agents are like this. Take Janet Reid and clone her a thousand times and you got just about everyone in the business. She took on 0 clients last year from queries…zero…zip. And her job is supposedly to recommend books to editors for publishing. Obviously she doesn’t need money…she’s sitting fine right where she’s at. I’d make a statement that most agents are sitting fine…but there’s never enough money. So essentially, your book has got to push a person out of that complacency by dangling millions in front of them. The salivation will make them drop what they are doing and realize that you’re going to make them rich. If they don’t feel that strength from your writing, it’s going to be a no. At least that’s my opinion. Sure…your work is good enough to get published…but if it don’t make them rich…it isn’t worth their time because they are already sitting “okay”. The bills are getting paid with a little extra to allow them to live in Manhattan…ya know?

    Another point I wanted to make is that I guess that’s why most agents these days seem to be taking their clients from conferences. It’s harder to be an asshole to someone when it’s face to face. It really is. If that agent had been standing in front of you, you’d probably have representation because she could have fessed up to what you needed to do or where you lost her. But it’s water under the bridge.

    My advice: Pick yourself back up, shelve said manuscript, and write something else and start querying all over again. That’s what I’m doing (self-editing another novel I just finished last week). I’ll probably query it sometime in July whenever I get around to seriously writing a query letter. It has “telling” in the first chapter because it’s a fantasy and there needs to be “telling” instead of showing to get some things out of the way. However, I’m not going to listen to some bullshit from some writer that preaches fucking “show don’t tell” because “telling” books get published all the time. A rejection is never about the writing in my opinion. It’s because they hate your face, they hate your blog, or they just think you fucking smell bad.

    I’m going to use all of Janet Reid’s guidelines though because I know the industry and that’s what I need to do. And then while that things going on…I’m gonna write something else (not a sequel…oh gods no…too much work to put into something that may never get published). Don’t give up.

  2. Wow, so sorry for your rejection – I really get disappointed when rejections on fulls are not a bit more ‘meaty’ than that. I mean I haven’t actually been rejected on any fulls yet, as nobody has asked me for any, but still I’ve seen others mention that rejections on fulls just got a generic ‘sorry, it’s not for us’ answer. It is a bit of a let down!

  3. Rogue, I feel your frustration, but the simple truth is the agent doesn’t feel she can make money with your story. All her other comments can be disgarded. She should’ve said “You write well,l but I’m not sure I can make money with this, and I don’t feel I can take that chance at this time.” Because that’s the only truth in the matter. I think from her comments she really does like your writing, but the genre comment makes me think that perhaps she doesn’t feel that genre is selling very well. But the thing is you can try to write to their mold and it still doesn’t mean they won’t find some other reason to reject you.

    I gave up submitting to agents a long time ago. I have a couple of Indie author friends who have been approached by agents because they’re stories sold so well the agents came after them. So I tried Indie pubishing, is it going that great for me? No, not really because I knew little about marketing (but that’s another story).

    Anyway, the only thing a person can do is continuing gaining a reader one at a time. And if you don’t want write about sparkling vampires, ack, don’t write about them. Someone suggested that to me, and I can’t bring myself to do it.

  4. Hi Rogue. I totally feel your frustration. That second comment the agent made was ridiculous. And I agree: say what you mean or say nothing at all.

    I’m a little concerned that I come off as sounding like a douchebag as quoted in your post, though. The point about my comment in total was to reflect some solidarity. I remind you that I did also say: “This person was definitely NOT the agent to represent you. Be glad: you dodged a bullet. The right avenue for this book is out there, I’m sure. And for god’s sake, don’t sanitise your work and try and make it “safe”. The last thing I want to read is safe work.”

    I hope it’s clear: I’m on your side, dude.

    And I don’t think you should shelve the book at all. In fact, knowing that an agent thinks it’s too far out just makes it sound more interesting. If you ask ME as a reader what I want from a book, I can tell you very easily. I want a book that blows my mind. I don’t care how it’s done, I don’t care what genre it is, I don’t care who’s written it or why or what their history is. I just want to read something that grips me and makes my head spin with sheer delight at the raw power of the written word. And writers don’t achieve that effect without taking some very big risks.

    If you’re taking risks and ditching cliches, then in my opinion you’re on the right path.

    Far out is the point.

    Have a good holiday.

  5. I saw my name and was like, wow, uhhhh…

    It’s an understatement to say it, but rejections suck donkey balls. There’s so much excitement to get a request in the first place, that the fall of the R is like a thousand tines farther. Plus, it’s hard not to feel it personally and deeply because it’s like getting a part of you amputated, cut to smithereens, or blown to bits.

    It’s quite natural to react to this loss with anger. It’s not fair, right? All this work, all this effort, all this time, and for what? To go back to square one? SUCH a let down.

    Let’s look at this a different way. Regardless of agents,’ publishers,’ and editors’ motivations, the odds are stacked against writers. It’s the nature of the game. To even GET a full request means you’ve got a lot of talent. That’s saying something! I queried for 18 mos. Sent letters to 150 agents. Didn’t get ANY requests. I wanted to quit.

    But I didn’t. I harnessed my anger at the injustice of it all and honed my writing skills. After 16 months, I’m just starting the querying game again. 30 queries, 1 rejected partial, and 1 full still out. Getting better, but only a little bit. Still discouraging.

    I don’t say this to get your sympathy. I say this to point out that things rarely go as we plan. Things happen in their own time.

    Also, as infuriating as you felt that agent’s words were, he/she was trying to be tactful. Notice the compliment you got. That’s awesome! Hold onto that. Don’t pick it apart and turn it into a negative. The R is negative enough.

    Ranting is definitely one way to go, however, be mindful of the potential repercussions. As with everything, you have choices. Choices of how to handle this. Choices of what to do about it. You can keep querying, you can take a break, you can work on a different project, you can look at small presses, you can self-pub.

    Don’t let this disappointment leave you open to getting bitten later. This is a public forum. You don’t know who will see this. I’d hate for something to go against you, you know?

    There. That’s my piece. What you do is up to you. All I ask is for you to think about all the avenues and consequences before you act.

    And I’m not saying thus as a shrink, I’m saying it as a concerned blogging buddy, ‘kay?

    Enjoy your vacation. Take a break from this whole thing. The sting will fade.

  6. pk hrezo permalink

    I’m glad you got your frustration out, Rogue. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need… and I won’t lie, I’ve felt it just like you say it. More than once. But now that you’ve released some anger, make sure you delete this entire post. I’d hate for it to come back and bite you. I agree with a lot of what you and Mike both said, but it really doesn’t matter because we still have to play the game, or go indie. I’ve had numerous rejections that said basically the same thing: the writing is good, but the agent didn’t “feel passionate or fall in love with” my story. Ouch. It stings.
    But I equate it to doing ms critiques, and I’ve read a lot thru exchanges. Very few have I fell in love with. Not that they weren’t bad stories, or bad writing, I just didn’t love it. It’s why it’s so subjective and so friggin hard. We have to sift thru thousands of agents to find the one who really gets the story. It’s a PITA. And then you hear about writers who have multiple offers from agents. Well, heck, they must be doing something right… so maybe it’s time to rethink our stories. It’s such a struggle. And the amount of time and thought we put into our queries, only to have it stomped on or made fun of is so sad. Or getting no response at all from something you took time to tailor to a specific agent you admire? Ouch.
    It’s all about the thick skin in this biz. And if you ain’t got it, it’s not for you. Right now it’s agents, but one day it’ll be critics. Cuz you better believe not everyone is going to love our work even if it’s been pubbed.

    BTW I get your posts via email, and I read this one early yesterday, which is what inspired my post on dancing. So, no, I didn’t just come here because you commented on my blog. I just didn’t have a chance to comment til now.

  7. Wow.



    Loved it, though.

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