10.31.2006

Alienation of Affections


Dear Miss Snark,



Last spring when my just-completed ms was as good as I could make it, I did my research and offered it to my Dream NYC Agent for representation. I was thrilled to hear Dream Agent loved the book - up to a point. There were problems with it. Dream Agent reminded me that Dream Agency only deals in 'big books' - meaning bestseller type books - and that mine could become one if I made some major revisions. I happened to agree, and made careful notes of our conversation, vowing to resend the ms after I reworked it. Dream Agent promised not to forget me, and I hung up the phone convinced it would be just a short time before I became a Big Shot Author.

Friends in the know, even an Editor at a NYC publisher, were most impressed that this particular Dream Agent had read my book. They said I should drop everything and revise.

That was last March.

I've just started to work on the revisions now. My question is, when I finally contact Dream Agent, do I offer any sniveling excuses for why it's taken so long? Does Dream Agent really care that I was on deadline to finish another book? Or that my inlaws came to visit and wore me out? Or are Dream Agents fed up with hearing this kind of crap from writers they've never met?

Hopefully this letter is not making you sick right down to your stilettos right now.

No snivelling.
The only time I want to know about your inlaws is if they are aliens visiting from outer space and the book you were finishing is your memoir "Alienation of Affections".

Other than that, "herewith" is the only thing I want to read.

19 comments:

Ryan Field said...

Eight months? Olive Ann Burns, author of the classic, COLD SASSY TREE, went through cancer, chemo, radiation and more, but managed to get that book out without excuses in less time.

SING OUT LOUISE...or you'll die with your secret.

michaelgav said...

On the other hand there are Joseph Heller, Ralph Ellison, the esteemed Mr. Pynchon . . .

You could have started this rewrite the day after your phone conversation and still not be ready. Just get it right.

By the way, I am beginning to think there is something wrong with me because I do not have a "dream" agent. Is that the literary equivalent of finding my "One True Love?" My ten-year quest for the perfect barbeque spare ribs is probably the closest I've come to understanding the concept, but at least I've enjoyed a lot of good smoky meat in the meantime.

Kimber An said...

Yeah, Ryan, but did she have a husband and children?

Jane Doe said...

I worry about what appears to be a need-for-speed syndrome in the writing biz these days--thinking maybe it's a career killer if a writer can't produce two, three books a year. I know it's all about name building and all, but am I already floating face down in the literary backwater, because I *can't* produce a good book in less than a year?

And don't get me started on how often a wife/mother has to put their writing aside to take care of household business . . .

Goddess, that was a glorious whine! I feel better now.

SherryD said...

I wouldn't worry too much - if the dream agent liked it that much seven months ago, she/he will remember it. Good luck!!!

Janet Black said...

If I finished my book, found a benevolent agent and a willing publisher, and that publisher wanted another book within a year - I'd make darn sure nothing short of a major flood, earthquake, tornado or direct lightnigh strike would prevent me from getting it done. Even visiting relatives would have to excuse me for a few hours each day. Seriously. Cancer-chemo-radiation-puking . . might slow me down.

Kimber An said...

I know I could produce a novel or two a year, but that's because my head has over three decades' worth already stored up. Couple that with getting better at the revision process (I'm certainly not claiming mastery yet!) and I can see how published authors can put out that much, even with a cute husband and a house full of crazy children. I certainly haven't reached that caliber yet, but I'll get there one day.

Samus said...

Hey Jane -

I try not to think about that. After spending a year struggling for agents and recognition, I found a little and discovered it was an empty enterprise. I'd rather keep my day job (I also watch over a family: inlaws, husband and toddler) and make my writing the best it can possibly be, publishing be damned. Or, at least, publishing be put on the backburner until I have something I'd be proud to see in print.

nice anonymous said...

A Dream Agent: Someone who makes sure that elaborate, well-imagined dreams are appropriately placed with all of the various sleepers in the world. (It's a form of outsourcing -- Americans are very busy & their own subconsciousnesses were overburdened, so someone had to do it for them.)

Ryan Field said...

She had a family, a job at the Atlanta Journal and knew she was dying in spite of all the horrific treatments.

Kim said...

I can't help but wonder, though, how will this author cope with deadlines? If his/her dream is to be Published, and it's taken this long for a first novel (which has already gotten interest that some unpubs would kill for, no less), what would happen if s/he can't make the other deadlines that go hand in hand with publishing?

Believe me, I understand outside obligations. I, too, have a home, cute husband, a kindergardner and a toddler. Not to mention birthdays, holidays, yadda yadda yadda. Life if crazy for just about everyone. You have to make the time - even if it means toiling away while everyone's asleep or getting up while it's still dark. And I don't know that editors or agents really care why you haven't done something. I should think they're much more concerned with what you have done.

I would do what was recommended to the best of my ability and get it back to the agent as soon as possible. Make the best impression you can from then on out when it comes to deadlines, etc. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Anonymous said...

There's no point in comparing yourself to someone else -- just to the best you can be.

Dream Agent will be happy if you produce a better book. Now go on, get it done. Go, right now.

ya writer said...

I used to think I wanted a dream agent. I've changed my mind.

My goal is to find a living, breathing agent with a pulse.

All I need is one.

Kimber An said...

Wow, Ryan, that is amazing.

Georgiana said...

Ryan - I'm only a woman with no college degree but it seems to me that eight and a half years is actually a tad longer than eight months. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1230

Her youngest son was 24 when the book was published and she stopped working for the Atlanta Journal in 1956, almost thirty years before the book came out.

I'm not saying she didn't do wonderful, amazing things, I'm just saying if you're looking for a way to make people feel bad for not writing fast enough you're going to have to pick someone else to beat them over the head with.

Rewrites can be especially hard, particularly when they are major because you may not have enough distance from the material to be able to make the changes. I think that there are times when a project isn't ready to be finished. I started a script once and stopped after four pages because I couldn't get it to work. Three years later I sat down and wrote the whole thing in less than a month and it was a very different, but much better, story than I had started to tell.

And look at Neil Gaiman, he had a couple of false starts with Anansi Boys, let it sit for awhile and finally had a wonderful book. And it took him a very long time to finish Coraline.

A couple of people mentioned not being able to hit a deadline, but I don't see where Dream Agent gave this person a deadline. Missing a self imposed deadline is annoying, but not a deal breaker, right?

Ryan Field said...

Speed of writing wasn't the topic here. It was about taking advantage of an excellent opportunity. There are people out there who've worked for years to be recognized by their "dream agent" (whatever that means). When this happens, given the market and the competition, taking eight months to revise is beyond my thought process. Who knows if there was a deadline or not? It wasn't mentioned. But maybe there should have been. We all work on deadlines, and until you've learned how to do that I don't want to hear complaints. You can make all the excuses you like, compare it to anything you like, but eight months is far too long. The good thing about this is while there are people out there taking their time to reply to the "dream agent", those who are willing to work into the dark hours, skip meals and let their roots go for a couple of weeks have less competition.

Georgiana said...

Interesting perspective but that really doesn't justify making stuff up about a dead writer and using her illness as a weapon.

And again, maybe it's just me and my brain damage preventing me from understanding but I think there's a big diff between colouring your hair and writing another book that actually does have a deadline. I mean for one thing one take about twentyfive minutes and the other takes quite a bit longer.

Writing a book on spec never takes precedence over a book that already has a contract.

This writer did exactly the right thing by finishing the project that had a deadline.

Ryan Field said...

"Interesting perspective but that really doesn't justify making stuff up about a dead writer and using her illness as a weapon."


That was rude, unjustified and way off base from the context in which it was written. I'm going to ignore it and you.

Kim said...

My point about the deadline is that taking eight months might give a bad impression. And is that a risk you'd really want to take? Everyone has stuff going on in their lives. You deal with it and find the time. There's always going to be some reason why you didn't/couldn't/wouldn't write. Always. But when you really look at it, it's not a reason but an excuse. Get over it, get the submission polished to its brightest gleam, and send it in! Then move on.