Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curses. Foiled Again.

You know when you think you have a really, really, really great idea?
And you don't do anything about it?
And then, a few months later you hear about someone who just became fabulously rich because of that same great idea?
Admit it. That's never really happened to you.
It's never really happened to me, either.
Except for the part about thinking that I had a really, really, really great idea.
A couple years ago, I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write.
This is not entirely unprecedented, given my career as a writer. I am prone to having many, many ideas that I think are wonderful.
Most of them wind up being less wonderful than I had originally anticipated, but that's the way it goes.

Even if I never had any more wonderful ideas, I would still have access to innumerable ideas supplied by other people. Nearly every event is seen as of a wealth of brilliant potential that I am simply wasting. Not a day goes by when there isn't some event–such as a person eating a sandwich and having a glob of jelly squirt out the backside–and the person will say, "Whoa. I'll bet you could write a book about that, huh?"

"About jelly?" I will ask.

"Well, yeah. But you'd make it all funny and crazy and stuff."

"Funny, crazy jelly?" I will ask.

"Maybe it could be a book about a dog who loves jelly."

For some reason, most of the book ideas people propose to me are about their zany friends or their dogs.

I am genuinely grateful for this input, as it relieves me entirely of the need to create anything on my own.

There are occasions, however, when, despite everyone's brilliant input, I am able to come up with an idea that I think is really, really, really great.

And, as I said, a couple years ago, I had just such an idea for a book.

And, lest I wake up a few months later, seeing my idea as the new number one  New York Times bestseller, I acted on this idea.

I spent nearly ten months, slaving away for hours every day on this brilliant opus.

I toiled and sweated and wrote and rewrote.

And when it was done, I had a staggering work of nearly 250,000 words. The average novel, by comparison is in the neighborhood of 80,000-100,000 words. So obviously, mine was not an average novel.

I was eager to share my genius with the world. I sent it to a few close friends and asked them for commentary.

One friend gave me actual, wonderful feedback.

The rest of them offered feedback like, "Um, no I haven't gotten through that yet" and "Did you just spend all your time looking through the thesaurus so you could sound like a pompous ass?"

The most concise observation came from my brother who said, "I only got through the first 30 pages or so. That was awful."

Undaunted, I carried on.

I made changes, fixed things and cut the book down to its barest elements, reducing it to a lean 242,000 words. Obviously, removing any more would mean depriving the world of my genius.

Convinced of this genius, I actually wrote a query letter to an agent, seeking representation for this book.

An agent is the person who will sell your book to a publisher for you in exchange for a mere 20% of every penny you ever earn on that book. A query letter is when you beg someone to look at your work of genius.

The agent I selected represents a few of my favorite authors and is a very serious big time hot-shot agent.

He responded to my query email within 20 minutes, saying that, since my letter was so great, he wanted to see the entire manuscript.

This is absolutely true.

So, I naturally did a tippy-toe dance of unbridled ecstasy around my home.

I sent him my slim and trim 242,000 word epic and admitted that I was still in the process of revising it, so maybe he should consider this the extended director's cut version.

A few weeks later, I heard from the agent's assistant, who loved the book, but suggested that a bit more cutting, enough to reduce the book to 80-90,000 words might be in order.

I dutifully went to work, excising pages and pages and pages of brilliant prose. Tears dribbled into my computer as favorite passages were ruthlessly cut.

I sent the revised story, now a filmy, shadowy 103,000 words.

After several months of eager anticipation, I checked on the book's status. "We're still quite interested. Other agents in the company are looking it over. Based on how well received it has been, there is a very real chance that we will represent this book."

And so I waited several more months before getting an email that said, "We would like to possibly represent this book if you are open to more editorial revisions."

After more tippy-toe dancing of ecstasy, I eagerly agreed.

I waited 5 months, but the suggested changes never arrived. After all my possible restraint was worn away, I, once again, emailed to find out what was happening. An anxious, sleepless week later, I still had no reply. So I called. A reckless and desperate move, I fully concede.

"I'll try to get an answer for you by the end of the day," I was told by the agent's assistant.

The end of the day came and went, but the next afternoon, there, in my inbox was an email with the cheery subject, "Hi Marty".

I took several deep breaths and clicked on the email:

Hi Marty,

I'm writing to say that unfortunately we have a very full client list and don't feel passionate enough about your project to offer notes and effectively represent you. We wish you the very best of luck in your search for representation. I apologize for the long delay in getting you a final answer. Our office was undergoing several transitions. Taste in fiction is subjective and I hope you find another agency who's opinion of your work overrides ours. 

Then I took several more deep breaths and tried not to cry.
I can't describe the disappointment of that email. Mostly because of the content, but also because of the improperly used word "who's".
I stewed and steamed and fumed and raged.
And then I got over it and carried on.

I've already got queries out to a few other agents, who seem like they may be an even better fit for me and my book.

And if that doesn't work out, I can always write another book. Maybe one about a dog who loves jelly.

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