They like me...but it's still no

miss snark,

i recently received rejection letters from an old and respected literary agency in california. i had queried a two-person team i met at a writer's conference about my novel, and the first person wrote me a personalized letter that seemed to speak for both people in the team, saying they enjoyed meeting me very much, but that my current manuscript was not right for them at this time.

later i got a letter from the other member of the team, and this one was handwritten. it was very warm, and complimented my writing, my pacing, style, etc. etc. etc. the agent said she had thought about my manuscript long and hard, but in the end had decided she couldn't represent it with the enthusiasm it deserved. she also said she wanted to make a point of telling me not to give up and that she thought my manuscript would find representation.

i have gotten several rejections from other agents, and i am beginning to wonder if it might not be because of my story rather than my writing.

i have become aware that my manuscript will be difficult to place (it treats subjects that, for example, you have listed in a recent post as ones that would receive automatic rejections from you no matter how stellar the writing, and would also likely receive rejections from other agents), but i wonder, miss snark: should i keep plugging at agents with this manuscript, or do you think perhaps i should focus my efforts on completing my new novel, which is also fiction but doesn't treat controversial or difficult subjects? do you think i should shelve the first manuscript and figure that it might be easier to get it published once i've got at least one other novel publication, especially if the second novel, once published, finds a reading public?

i am trying very hard to feel encouraged rather than discouraged, but the mixed reactions i am getting to this first novel has me a bit confused about what is the problem and also seems to be interfering with my progress on this next novel. i would greatly appreciate your perspective about my situation.

Generally I'm the one saying "don't stop till you get 100 rejections" but you may be better served by shelving this one and working on something less difficult to place. Anyone getting handwritten notes, let alone letters from BOTH agents at an agency isn't getting rejected cause the writing sux.

It's much easier to publish a difficult novel when you've got a good track record. And even if you get something published by a large house that wouldn't do this book, it's easier to get a smaller less risk averse publisher to do this if you can show them good sales from book #1.

And for sure you want to query agents who handle edgier stuff.

I really never like to say give up though so make sure you read this as "change direction" not "stop".


Therese said...

I totally agree with Ms. S. I went through something like this--had an edgy novel that got me an agent but which then failed to sell.

I say shelve the finished novel and focus on the new book. I did, and my next book sold very quickly. (You can find out more on my blog, http://theresefowler.blogspot.com)

Sounds like you know HOW to write, and just need to fine-tune WHAT to write. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

My very good friend, who is also published, has four novels in the drawer before her fifth sold. A long hard slog, and her description of those first four is "unpublishable." Of course she didn't know it then, and couldn't know it, but she can see it now.

I know this isn't unusual--I've heard variations on this story from lots of published writers. Put that manuscript in the drawer, and try with the next. Let it compost for a while and focus on something else.

It seems from the responses you're getting that you can write. That's good news.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, my "difficult" novel, while it got me lots of personal notes from agents and editors saying it was well written but they couldn't sell it, also got me a wonderful new agent and a better book deal than I could negotiate on my own.

Just because some editors or agents find a book too challenging to sell doesn't mean they all will. I'd give it a few more tries.

Ryan Field said...

An old literary agency in CA? And they go to conferences? And work as a team? I can only think of one that meets this description. If you got them to take interest and comment and encourage you to seek other representation don't quit. If it's the same "team" I'm thinking of you've done something right. Before there was a world wide web, they were making "agenting" and art. You might want to take a break, but don't give up.

Anonymous said...

It's also possible that once you've worked on something else for a while you might come back to this and realize the more difficult elements are secondary subplots you are happy to cut out. Or maybe this is your Titus Andronicus, which would've faded into oblivion long ago, if the author hadn't moved on.

Anonymous said...

Edgy novels don't sell? Better tell Alice Sebold, Carolyn Parkhurst, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Bret Easton Ellis, Nabakov.

All had debut novels on topics that are at best described as distasteful, at worst, horrifying, but they each had amazing sales. If you believe in this book, keep querying.

Bernita said...

There's a new publishing house - Kunati - which is accepting ONLY edgy, provocative novels. They do not require agented submissions the last I looked.
It small, new and Canadian, but a possibility. They have a website.

Anonymous said...

What was so distasteful and horrifying about Nabakov's Mary?

Anonymous said...

Come on writers(?) -- describe "edgy" please. The term is subjective. We need specifics. Examples. What is "edgy" to the questioner may be My Pet Goat to you and me. So get real -- give some specifics.

And great point about Bret Easton Ellis -- and Nick McDonnel and Joan Didion and Chuck Palhaniuk et al.