• Kurt Dinan

How Searching for a Literary Agent has Made Me a Headcase – Part I

I have a lot on my mind (for once) and need vomit it all out. I’m waaaay out of sorts writing-wise for various reasons, and have decided to use this blog as a therapist’s couch. My plan is to go transparent about my writing life in hopes that it’ll set me straight and clear my head.

The goods: Lucky Town is a 75K Young Adult novel I wrote over the course of the last four years. That’s a long time, but when you consider that it’s gone through seven drafts, was once a 90K adult thriller, and there are very few similarities between drafts one and seven, it’s understandable. This last draft is good, and I sort of knew it. Not great, but for a first novel, I knew I had a concept that would attract some attention.

The Numbers:

147. This is the number of query letters I sent. I’m not sure if that’s a lot or not. It probably is. I wrote a decent query letter that was getting form rejected left and right, so I wrote one with some attitude that brought a lot of personal responses. (I wrote a post about that a couple of months back.)

73. This is how many form rejections I received. You’d think this would hurt, but after the first ten or so, they become funny. I have no problem with form rejections. In fact, one day I’ll get bored and write a post about the art of the form rejection. Some are very business like, some are written by agents who are clearly afraid you’re going to kill yourself and therefore write “Keep at it!” motivational responses. But hey, at least they responded, so kudos to you.

55. This is the number of agents who never responded. They work for agencies who have a “we will only respond if we’re interested” policy. Don’t get me started on this policy.

19. This is the number of requests I got for either a full manuscript or a partial. This, obviously, is what everyone who queries an agent is hoping for. Get one of these and you’re pretty sure you’re minutes away from roping an agent. The reality is that agents take about three months to get back to you.

15. This is the number of rejections I received on the manuscript. I’m not going to lie, these hurt bad. I’m thin-skinned – a definite character flaw – and I took each one of these personally. The wife and kids pretty much went underground when I got one of these because I got pretty moody. The thing is, if you read these rejections you’d probably say the same things other writers told me when I forwarded the rejection emails – “This is a really great rejection!” And I got plenty of “great rejections”. These are rejections that say things like, “There’s so much of this book I love BUT…” They praised the concept the most, and liked the characterization, and the writing itself was fine. But the BUT was always waiting. A majority of the time the BUT was “I can’t sell this because it’s not really a YA novel but it’s not really an adult novel either. It’s too “in the middle” and I’m not sure how to fix that.”

(What’s sick is that midway through the writing of Draft 5, I told my wife this response was my biggest fear. Turns out I was right. Dammit.)

I had a few other BUTS – “I’m already shopping a book with a similar theme”, “I didn’t connect with the writing”, “Too much happens off-screen” and conversely, “Too much happens on-screen and didn’t give me enough chance to dream.” It’s all subjective in some way, as you can see.

On occasion, I would email these agents with follow-up questions. Some of them offered really helpful responses. In fact, I’ll name them: Sara Crowe, Kari Stuart, Molly Reese, Steve Troha, and Katie Grimm were all great. I mean, yeah, they rejected Lucky Town and all, but answered questions I had and were so complimentary of the book that I didn’t necessarily want to jump off my roof like I did with other rejections. They also told me to email a revision if I chose to do one or to send them my next book. I felt good about that, so at least I have that going for me.

4. This is the number of manuscripts I still have out. We’ll see what happens. But really, I sort of know now, right? In fact, if I were to have someone say, “I want to rep this and we can sell it”, I’d be wary. I mean, the other fifteen agents probably know what they’re talking about, right? Or maybe it’s just the “No, that girl can’t really like me” syndrome, as my friend (and awesome writer Daryl Gregory) said the other night. But I can’t wait around for them any longer. It’s time to do something else – either revise as has been requested, or move on to the next project. It’s taken a long time – two months, maybe – but I’ve finally come to a conclusion on that.

(Okay, this is running long, so I’ll explain the rest of this tomorrow and why the decision was so difficult. That’ll really be the therapist’s couch post because, man, I’ve been a mess and it’s all sort of embarrassing.)

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