Take the Blame

near the edge in Greece--New Year's Eve 1994
near the edge in Greece--New Year's Eve 1994

“She didn’t have anything nice to say about you,” my dad’s wife said to me. “But I told her that we’d always gotten along just fine and I didn’t have anything to say about things that had nothing to do with me.”

“What’d she say to that?” I asked. I was 20.

My dad’s wife shrugged. “She said I was lucky.”

I laughed. “I guess it’s good know they still hate me.”

My dad’s wife, A., was talking about a woman that had come into the store to order flowers. That was my dad’s wife job then–silk flower arrangements. The woman was the sister of my dad’s second wife. Once the woman found out who A. was married to, she explained how I’d ruined that marriage.

The sister was right in a way. I’d left. Leaving brought the lawyers, child protective service people, the judge, and the old police records. Leaving brought in a machine that changed our lives. And Dad and my step-mother divorced.

I’ll take the blame.

When I wanted to leave my dad, I asked my mom to take me in. She did. While sending out query letters isn’t exactly the same as breaking up a family, there is that–take me, take me quality. I want out of my job and into this other, this creative life. Please help. But agents aren’t our mothers. They get to say no.

The agents who take the time to write a real note with the rejection say the same thing–well-written and compelling but not for us. Sometimes they add–enjoyed reading. If they’re not being polite, then I’m choosing the wrong agents to approach. I’ve gone over that Writer’s Digest book and the Jeff Herman guide and P&E and google and magazines and author acknowledgment pages, but I’m still picking the wrong people.

I’ll take the blame.

So, how do you pick the right agent? What keyword am I missing? How do you know you’re reaching out to the right person? What do you look for? Or how do you realize that your work is unmarketable and therefore unpublishable? Or does that sound pretentious?

The amazing thing about my art, is that I walked into this shop the other day, met the owner–a woman I didn’t know–and she accepted me on the spot. “I can sell these,” she said. “Bring them in and I’ll hang them today.”

My art is on store walls. My novel is on my desk. What does that mean?

5 thoughts on “Take the Blame

  1. It means visual art of the Words Are Art variety trigger an automatic reaction. The mind processes it in a few moments and art dealers’ minds faster than that. It means each piece of art will be purchased by one person, perhaps for themselves, perhaps for another as a gift. Books, novels, must hit some $$$ figure in some agent/publisher’s head that says THIS WORK can trigger a retail reaction in hundreds of thousands of people. Books have to find the right agent who will see that potential. Please don’t let the first 50 agents letters of regret derail your dream. There is a market out there (I’m FIRST in line at your book signing!), you just need to find someone who sees that potential.

    Hmmm, have you thought of sending a small print of Words Are Art with your manuscript synopsis? Remember how that guy at the art show attached to that one sentence in your art? “HOW MANY GIRLS HAVE YOU SLEPT WITH?”

    Maybe seeing your novel in such an eye-catching form might make your future agent latch on to the possibility of the rest. Just an idea from someone who knows {} this much about publishing.

  2. From the little I’ve read, if agents say it is well-written and compelling then it is but writing is a very hard market to get into. I think if your work was unpublishable then you’d be getting back form rejections.

    Good luck with querying, it sounds like a depressing process. I hope you manage not to lose heart.

  3. I like what both Sophie and the hedgehog said. (Well, except for the bit about enclosing a print with your query or MS. Afraid it would be much more likely to turn agents off than on (but whadda I know, sitting here w/out an agent!). The press which I webmaster for routinely moves anything that resembles an illustrated work — even if mistakenly — to the Out box, and I think that’s true of agents as well (based on their blogs, anyhow).

    Take the good comments at face value — not as mere polite words, but more in the “they didn’t have to take the time to say anything at all” vein.

    As for the diff between your artwork and books, well, kinda like Sophie said: if agents could hang manuscripts in their offices and have hundreds of publishers come through a week, the two art forms might seem a heck of a lot more alike.

    Don’t post it here if you don’t want, but I am curious how many agents you’ve queried and how many have passed. I came to a screeching halt after maybe a dozen, but I’m an easily bored distracted coward :).

    Suspect you may have a bit more backbone, angst aside.

  4. Thank you everyone. No, I’m not going to send a picture with a query and I realize that the art doesn’t say anything about the quality of the writing. But part of me feels, perhaps incorrectly but there you go, that if my writing is where it should be and if they think that there is a market for it but they are not sure about me because I’m no credits to speak of–then my art and my efforts in regard to blogging, making art, and writing, ought to prove that I’m hard-working and loads of other good things to work with. Maybe this is delusional. But you know, I’ve read how agents want someone who will stick with the writing, who will be good to work with, and who has long term goals.

    Sigh. I don’t know what I’m trying to say.

    But between the two novels that I’ve query about, I’ve gotten about 30 rejections. Over half were form letters. Over half of the rest were nice personal rejections (saying what I wrote in the post). About 5 asked for more pages. Two of those 5 asked for even more pages. Of those two ,one asked for the entire manuscript. All passed, and the personal rejections have all been for the same reason–“not right for us.”

    Maybe my work has no mass appeal and I’m wasting my time. I mean, I’m not giving up. I’ll keep writing and keep trying, but maybe my audience is so small, I should be more realistic about publishing.

    Here’s what Dennis Cass (who is awesome!) recently wrote as a reply to a comment of mine–

    I think the person who is making experimental films about a forgotten technology by using academic theory knows he or she isn’t coming to your local multiplex soon.

    Same with books. A pricing guide to N scale trains may not even by stocked by Barnes & Noble, but there’s a small press out there that specializes in getting books into the hands of hobbyists.

    “Getting published” is a very broad term. Regional history, certain kinds of literary fiction, biographies of obscure personages, etc. all have their place. The trick here is not to think your book about 19th century Finnish soapmakers is going to get you on Oprah.

    Act accordingly.

    Maybe I’ve written the fictional equivalent to an N Train pricing guide. And really, I’m not trying to fish for compliments or put myself down. I just want to figure out what I’m doing.

    …aside from writing overly long comments.

  5. I agree that you shouldn’t send your artwork with your query. I think it would turn them off. I totally agree with everything else said here though. I once heard that if you are getting personal notes on your rejections, then you are very close….so don’t give up!! (I would LOVE to have gotten the rejections you have gotten!) I seriously think you need to attend a writer’s conference(s). You may still get rejected by the agent you meet there, but you could have a CONVERSATION with them about what you could do to make it publishable. Then you would have a personal contact with someone that you could follow up with on future novels or revisions.

    I would also look into small (reputable) presses. You don’t need an agent for some of them. And if you got published there, you could get an agent and perhaps move onto a bigger press someday. I think there’s a list on Agent Query of the small presses.

    Big congratulations on the artwork! I agree that it’s probably a little easier to sell art because it’s not as big of a loss for the art dealer as it would be for the publishers who need to sell books in big, big numbers to make a profit. This is also why I’m thinking more about photography now and less about writing, at least for now, until my motivation comes back.

    You work so hard on everything you do (in addition to being a mom and working full-time!) – I really admire you. And I have no doubt that someday I’ll come to this space and find out that you’ve acquired an agent and/or publisher. Don’t forget us little people when that happens! ha ha.

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