Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Flaw

A couple weeks ago, I got a rejection email from an agent who had requested a partial manuscript.  She was really nice and supportive and enthusiastic about my work. But inevitably, she passed due to some writing and grammar mistakes she’d noticed. And, from looking at my synopsis, she wasn’t sure the major plot issues would be resolved satisfactorily. 


Now, I should take heed, right? Be honored that an agent went out of their way to give me specific feedback? But to be honest, all I could think was ‘well, that’s a shame. If she liked my writing as much as she professed to and laughed out loud so much, she probably would’ve been pleasantly surprised, had she kept reading.’ Things like this remind me just how flawed the path to traditional publication can be.


I imagine manuscripts going into an agent’s inbox like a used-car lot.  Some cars are in better shape than others. Some run but still need serious work in order to get you anywhere.  But in the end, any of them could get you where you’re going eventually and each of them is perfect for a specific kind of driver.


But there’s only one customer in the whole lot. 


The Agent.


And The Agent will only look at cars of a specific make, model and color. At this point, they’re not sure how much work a car needs or if it even runs. But they decide they’ll only take the metallic green BMWs for a test spin.


Out of the ten cars that perk their interest, two won’t start, three need serious work, four need some subtle reparations but could easily shine, and one is in tip-top condition.


But, didn’t I tell you? The agent has a very limited budget. And what they secretely hope is to find a brand-new model amongst all these used cars. A diamond in the rough. Something that will take them for miles and miles. In short- they’re looking for reasons not to buy one of these used ones, still holding out for that spanking-new dream car.


But even so, she takes five-out-of-those-ten cars for a test run. 


Three don’t make it past the driveway. One has a funny smell. Another has a plush interior. The Agent wanted leather. The third....well the third’s seat just didn’t fit her ass the right way.


The model that’s in the best shape is driven all the way to the local Mcdonalds. The Agent orders a value meal. She eats in the car. She thinks this car might be okay! It runs well. Gets her where she wants to go. But then, on the way back to the dealership, she realizes it has a funny smell too. Kind of like fried onions. (hmn. Wonder why?) She passes.


The last car doesn’t run as well. It also has a smell, but it smells a little like vanilla and cinnamon. The interior is plush but, even though The Agent prefers leather, the seat fits her ass just right. In short, it’s not exactly what she wanted. It’s what she didn’t know she wanted- a car that gets her where she wants to go and is a joy to ride in.


So she takes the car. She repairs the car and takes it to a manufacturer/distributor and convinces them to have a thousand more models made just like it for the general public. Not because it runs the best. Or because it’s the shiniest or a lot of people will look at that car and think ‘Oh, I’d love to take that one for a spin!’. But, because she enjoyed being in the car. So she figures others will too.  After all, she’s got a few editor friends who’s asses are shaped just the same way as hers. 


But it won’t be the case for everyone. There were a lot of other colors, makes and models in that used-car lot that may never see the light of day. And if one-hundred avid drivers of BMW’s were allowed into the lot, instead of that one agent, maybe 75% would have preferred the blue metallic over the green or wouldn’t have pulled into that Mcdonalds and made the tip-top model smell like onions. Everyone is different. Yet, what is brought into the traditionally published world is based on the personal tastes of a privileged few.


And that, right there, is the tragic truth of the matter.  *sigh*


There’s no doubt  that the path to traditional publication is flawed and the huge burst in popularity of some self-published titles only proves this theory. Did you ever have a moment where ‘the flaw’ became abundantly, painfully clear and discouraging? Do you think, in light of recent developments in the publishing industry, things should change? 

32 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Loved how you compared this to used cars. Yes I agree with you. So much of whether we get an agent and publisher is based on their subjective perceptions. We can follow all the rules but there's no guarantee on the result. Ever. Writing and other artistic endeavors are a labor of love and it's a lucky chance if it all works out with a publishing deal.

On a positive note, that's awesome you got a personal rejection. Hopefully it'll turn into something else with a different agent.

Jeanmarie Anaya said...

This post (and its analogy to used cars) was hilarious and clever. How could that agent not see all the wonderfulness that is Creepy Query Girl?

Best of luck with querying! I'm right there up to my elbows in the querying insanity with you.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'd be disheartened too. I feel too many books that get published are all plot and action, but no substance. I wonder what kind of used car they were. When I read, them I feel like I've ingested cotton candy, which still leaves me hungry at the end.

Marta Szemik said...

I feel bad for you, but reading this post made me laugh! What a great way to compare trad publishing to cars! Keep your head up. It only takes one yes;)

KatieO said...

So sorry about the rejection, but it sounds like you haven't lost your perspective, or your sense of humor!

And if the agent couldn't see past the missing commas, you don't need her anyway. The right agent is out there for you ;-)

Annalisa Crawford said...

Someone out there is dying to read your book - you just have to find them!

My analogy would be more towards baking a cake. If someone doesn't like my cake, I don't think they're flawed, I just think that person didn't like my cake. (And I make sure I grab it back off them so I can finish it off.) The next person will LOVE my cake - mostly because I make great cakes!

Miranda Hardy said...

I guess there's a reason I couldn't be an agent. I hate used car shopping. Lol

Hang in there. It really is subjective. What one agent doesn't see, another one will.

R. Mac Wheeler said...

too many truths...I'm reeling

Tasha Seegmiller said...

This is a great analogy. We have to remember that there are agents who are looking for the car that will be just what we have too. Keep it up, you will find a home for your book!

Banadict Austin said...

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Used car reviews

SA Larsenッ said...

Woot, girl! Love the analogy. The subjectivity of this business can be tough to understand and accept. It sucks at times. That's why it's so important to believe in yourself as a writer and in your work. Someone will eventually believe in you too!!

Jamie Grey said...

Amazing post, and even better analogy - I was shaking my head YES the whole time I'm reading. Brilliant!

This whole business is SO tough to understand, when a CPs amazing book languishes in the query trenches and it's better than half the published stuff out there. That subjectivity is a killer, and sometimes it really does seem like there's no reason for why an agent passes on something vs works with the writer to make it shiny.

I'm sorry that agent passed - it sucks SO MUCH. Hopefully it means you're just one query closer to finding the one who will love it!

TC Avey said...

I'm sorry the agent passed. That stinks.
So far I haven't even gotten someone to do a partial reading.About a year ago I had someone ask for the full MS but I haven't heard back, so I'm assuming it's a no go.

Keep at it. You are talented and you are funny. Trust that your time will come.

Nicole L Rivera said...

Keep on going Katie. You're one of those cars who is going to get bought!

Have you ever thought (and you probably have) of writing a book about the Creepy Query Girl? Like a Sex in the City meets the Query world--following your day to day adventure in the Query pits. Writers love your voice and your analogies for the struggle we all face to get published.

Just a thought. I'd buy the book and, what's more, I'd tell all my friends to buy the book ;)

P.S. - I picked up The Shack today as was reminded that if God wants me to be a published author, to get my stories out there, no amount of rejection is going to keep me from becoming a published author. Keep pushing on, God has a great plan for you!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

You seriously cracked me up. And also got me thinking. Thoughtful analogy which feels too true.

mshatch said...

I'm surprised the agent wasn't willing to work with you to fix those mistakes. Unfortunately, some agents want perfection right out of the gate. Don't give up though because luckily, not all agents want the same exact thing. And I loved your analogy - I needed a little laugh this morning!

LTM said...

AWESOME analogy, Katie! I couldn't agree with you more that publishing can be the most infuriating game at times. It's the same on subs, so just be prepared.

Here's hoping you'll find the perfect agent who loves you with your plush interior and vanilla scent and all--LOL! :D <3

KarenG said...

And in the end it all boils down to the passion. An agent who's absolutely in love with your work will overlook the commas and plot issues. Just like buying a car LOL. It comes down to what you love, not what makes the most sense at the time.

Michele Shaw said...

Sadly, this game doesn't stop with an agent. Then it starts with editors, and if you find one of them to love your book it starts with all of the people they must convince. And on and on it goes. It's a long battle/life on the car lot and not for anyone easily deterred. But even the strong get tired when it comes to publishing. This was a great post and a prime example that you are a good writer! Stay strong and keep going. I know it's hard:)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

That sure is discouraging, but a very good analogy. I think there are a lot of things wrong with traditional publishing, but a lot of things that are right as well.
Have you looked into self-publishing at all? I think your story is probably fantastic and lots of fun, you could do very very well with it.
Although, there may also be that perfect agent waiting to shoot you straight to stardom - that's what I'm hoping for at least. :) (Well, if not stardom, at least a publishing deal.) :)
I'm sorry you're so frustrated, but the reason you've gotten this far is that you have tremendous talent and will. Keep it up! :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

That sure is discouraging, but a very good analogy. I think there are a lot of things wrong with traditional publishing, but a lot of things that are right as well.
Have you looked into self-publishing at all? I think your story is probably fantastic and lots of fun, you could do very very well with it.
Although, there may also be that perfect agent waiting to shoot you straight to stardom - that's what I'm hoping for at least. :) (Well, if not stardom, at least a publishing deal.) :)
I'm sorry you're so frustrated, but the reason you've gotten this far is that you have tremendous talent and will. Keep it up! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is one of the best analogies I've ever read. Considering some of the books I've read that were rejected and then self-published, I'd have to say the system is a little flawed. (And that's because it depends on people, and people are flawed.)

VikLit said...

Great analogy and a thoughtful one too. So much of this business is subjective and it is hard sometimes, to navigate that. Good luck with your MS. Nice and supportive and enthusiastic are all good things!

Mina Lobo said...

I really dig this comparison. Though I have a more cynical take, in that I don't think the agent goes for the car 'cause it'll fit her backside, but because she thinks others will think it'll fit *theirs*. In other words, I do feel that often it's not even a matter of one person's taste and interests, but of what that person thinks will sell. See? Cynical. :-/
Some Dark Romantic

Brandon Ax said...

Yeah I'm there with you, I have sent them out I am actually slow to query. I tend to send a few out every once in a while then it sends me into revisions, lol. I have just started writing other things and when i'm done I will send out several sets of querys something will hit cause I am not going to stop writing or sending. Keep your head up, loved the post.

D.G. Hudson said...

Take what you can from the advice that is useful (as in this agent's feedback). Ignore what doesn't fit your vision.

Never give up, just keep at it. We all sympathize.

Donna Hosie said...

Finding that one agent for you can be a killer. It is so subjective but I absolutely believe that you keep on trying until every avenue is exhausted.

I just signed with my agent, but I exchanged a million emails with another a few months ago who kept on emailing me about how much she loved it. In the end, I nudged her after receiving several offers and she never even replied! To quote Dory, just keeping swimming...just keep swimming...

SolariC said...

As someone who's also working to become a creepy query girl, I found this post incredibly spot-on. I've always worried about the fact that my writing may be brilliant (it's probably not - yet, at least - but just hypothetically) and yet if no single agent happens to have a taste for it, I'm stuck.

Mostly I just cross my fingers and hope sometime I find an agent who happens to like lots of things, even long, speculative novels about the human condition! Thanks for the post. It was very interesting, with a great analogy.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I wouldn't agree that an agent bases their decision solely on "does this feel right for me?" Certainly, the chance that your manuscript will happen to click with a particular agent is a factor, but to continue your anaology, the agent also has to factor in how many similar cars they already have, whether there's something that makes that car stand out from the ones other agents have, how easily someone else will want to buy the car off them, etc.

We sent out our manuscripts in a vaccuum. That's our flaw as writers. Our perspective is limited, whereas the agent can see things we can't. They have their ear to the ground and know about other releases that will clash with ours, making the book a harder sell. Sure, it's a gamble, and there are a lot of great writers out there who are still waiting for an agent or publisher to take that gamble on them.

The only thing we get to know is that we believe in our writing. If you hold on to that, you'll find the right path for you, whether that's through an agent, a smaller publishing house, or self-publishing. Hang in there and don't give up.

Laura Pauling said...

I know the system works for some when I read a terrific book that deserved to get published. I know some get lucky when I read a book that is just okay and another year never would've been picked up. I know for some the system is very flawed when I read an absolutely incredible self published book and I have no clue why no one picked it up. I assume it came down to timing, what editors were looking for, and their own lists.

But I also realize that some books are made for traditional and other skyrocket and do better self published.

Sorry about the R. You get closer and closer all the time!

Matthew MacNish said...

It's an incredibly apt analogy. And it really is frustrating, suffering through the process. I'm right there with you.

DL Hammons said...

Don't you feel a little bit like the guy/gal who reveals the magician's trick during his act? :)

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