Agent query honesty and an ego-stroke!

This is probably the most honest post you’ll ever read on this blog. It’s also the most ego-stroking. And it’s my longest. Wow, a real record-breaker!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am in the query stage for my novel The Brevity of Roses. Yes, I know we’re admonished to be careful what we say publicly about agent rejections, but if any agent reads this, maybe they’ll also be curious about the second part of this post. For the record, I would like to make a statement on this agent search process: Querying sucks!

I know, I know, I’ve read all the same pep talk you have … but I’ve concluded that’s mostly bull!

  • “Don’t take rejection personally.” Yes, of course, the agent is not rejecting me as a person … (s)he is only rejecting the writing I’ve slaved over for two years, which was the whole point of the query, thank you very much!
  • “The market is very tight right now.” Granted, but books are still being published—by debut as well as established authors. And some of them aren’t exactly mind-blowing stories … or even that well-written!
  • “Whether or not it sells, be proud that you’ve completed a novel. Congratulations!” Uh … yeah. Look, writing is my full-time job … and I work a lot of overtime. So a conservative estimate of hours put into this novel is 6,240—six thousand two hundred and forty hours. But you think I should be satisfied with proudly telling people: “I’ve written a novel and if you’d like to read it … I can pull it up on my computer.” Really?!

However, one consolation I will accept: “If an agent doesn’t love your book, isn’t excited about pitching it to editors, that’s not the best agent for you.” That makes sense … and so the search continues.

Now, for the ego-stroking part of this post. I’ve mentioned before that I had submitted my novel for critique again. This would be the first time anyone read the entire new-and-improved version … yes, the one I believed was ready to query. That didn’t mean I couldn’t make it better. So, when Kayla Olson volunteered, I took her up on it.

Since the first round of agents I queried weren’t clamoring for the right to represent this novel, discouragement had raised its poisonous head. Then Kayla started reading and sending me multi-page notes on what she read. As it turns out, my novel is mostly polished, which is a relief—but a personal benefit has been in reading statements like these:

“Linda, the true beauty and depth of your writing is made so much from all the intricately woven detail – I think that’s one reason I’m totally eating this thing up. I am a detail girl, a subtlety-lover, a theme-devourer, and connection-maker. You give me much food.”

“The Brevity of Roses is the perfect title for this novel: every chapter, the rose opens up a little more, where not only can I see that there are more layers of petals than I ever imagined, but I can see deep inside to where the petals are attached. Depth and fragile beauty, gradually opening.”

Please understand, I don’t appreciate her critique just because she praises my writing. She’s also pointed out where it would be stronger if I moved a scene from one chapter to another, and where I needed to add a short scene, and here’s what she said about my twelfth chapter:

“After reading eleven chapters before this one, I KNOW you have the ability to choose words and arrange them in a way that haunts me and resonates in my head during parts of the day when I’m doing ordinary things. This one – while far from anything bad, in my opinion – seemed to lack that special spark.

You’re great at communicating tone and emotion through actions, and through the details of sight/smell/touch/noise/silence/subtle allusion.  Here, for example, I don’t get as much of that – it just feels too ordinary.”

How’s that for softening the blow? :-) Needless to say, I took her seriously, reread that chapter closely, and it’s now under revision. Kayla has the three last chapters of my novel left to read. Of course, I hope she’ll enjoy it to the end, but even if she doesn’t, I have faith that she will give me plenty of great suggestions to consider in her notes.

I’ve received so much excellent feedback from my critique partners throughout the writing of this novel … and some of them gave me praise very like Kayla’s. Their support kept me going to finish the writing and then through the revision and rounds of editing. I in no way mean to diminish their input. But I am thankful that I accepted Kayla’s offer for one last critique because it’s come just when I needed it most.

Somehow, I had forgotten earlier compliments on my writing, and even though I professed (even on this blog) that my novel was a good one, I secretly doubted and began to think it might indeed be worthy of nothing more than moldering on my hard drive.

Now, I truly believe it’s publication worthy … which, unfortunately, brings me back to the teeth-grinding, hair-ripping, nail-biting process of agent querying. Oh, the agony!

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28 thoughts on “Agent query honesty and an ego-stroke!

  1. Just. Keep. Going. (and read my Monday post about Paul Harding and his Pulitzer).

    You haven’t found the right agent yet for you. He or she is out there, though. Keep going.

    Kayla sounds like a dream critique partner as well. Listen to what she’s told you and keep going.

    Good luck!

  2. Oh, Linda, I’m so glad I’m getting to read your novel. I hope many other people get the chance to, as well. As you know, I’m the praying kind of girl, and I keep praying for an agent to see your novel the way I see it.

    Thanks for all your kind words. I’ve said it before, and will say it again: I’ve learned so much from this process.

    It’s strengthened my ability to read closely, critically, and ask myself why? over and over again: Why do I like this, or why not? Why, specifically, did I get chills there? Also, it’s been a good exercise in communicating these specific thoughts honestly, and with compassion. Without all of these things, you’d have a useless set of notes to read, and the last thing I wanted to do was waste our valuable time.

    Plus, I really like Brevity.

    I’m so glad my thoughts have been timely words in the midst of your querying process. :) Looking forward to the last three chapters!

    • Well, Kayla, evidently I learned something about giving feedback from you because I just finished a beta-read for someone and she thanked me profusely for taking such a thoughtful approach to her book. So thank you for helping me in two ways! :-)

  3. Pingback: Shadows, Sun, Stillness « Owl and Sparrow

  4. I would ask Kayla to critique my novel in a heartbeat… if it were finished. She has a very eloquently direct way of putting things. You are very lucky!

    …. & hi!

        • Oh! Ha ha, now my secret is out. I can be quite dense sometimes. Actually, the three novel starts were my attempt to distract myself. Except for the requested partial out, I’m stepping back from querying until I’m finished with this polish. And while I chill, I will definitely get a new novel underway … or 27 new short stories started. :D

    • Thank you, Cathryn, but I’m not quite done yet. I will be glad when I am (though sad to leave my Jalal behind) but Kayla still has the last three chapters to critique, and I’m still trying to write a transition scene. I think I’ve almost got that one. I guess if none of my three novel starts pan out, I can probably turn them into shorts. Anyway, I felt like something “changed” this afternoon. I don’t know how else to say it. A switch was flipped somewhere in the universe … I don’t know … SOMETHING … and I feel very optimistic. Weird, I know, but there you go.

    • It certainly is nice. Not that I hadn’t had praise before, but the querying process can trap you into listening to that Blue Muse and the doubts nearly strangle you. I’m backing off the querying until I finish this polish and then I’m revising my query letter. I’m going to start fresh.

  5. You are so fortunate to have someone as honest and giving as Kayla to look over your MS. I think we all wish we had a Kayla in our midst.

    And your confidence is inspiring! I hope to build that level of confidence before I’m ready for the query step.

    You and Kayla are really showing us all what it’s about. Your perserverence and her acts of kindness take my breath away. This is the stuff a novice like me hopes to acheive someday.

    • I heartily recommend you believe 100% in your writing before you query. The process can bring you to your knees if you don’t. Kayla’s volunteering was serendipitous for me. I wonder if we could clone her? :D

  6. Don’t take rejection personally. Yeah, I’ve always had a hard time buying into that one. That’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly, but because it’s not you, you shouldn’t take it personally.

    I would never enter my baby in a beauty contest, no matter how beautiful she is, so putting my work out there for rejection is tough, as you have described.

    But this is what we signed up for, so be resilient, hold your head up, and know your baby is beautiful. An agent out there will see the beauty.

  7. You are so lucky to have found such a thorough, eloquent and dedicated beta reader! You’re a few steps ahead of me, so it’s informative (if a bit scary) to hear you go through this experience.
    Keep it up!!

  8. Wow – her writing is beautiful! I’ve never critiqued like this! My comments say things like, “doesn’t work here,” and “great!” LOL!

    I’m glad she helped you restore your confidence. Querying is an excruciating process. Every writer needs boosts along the way, or it gets to be too much. I’m glad you love your book again.

    • She does express herself beautifully. I can’t wait to read her book.

      She did restore my confidence. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t love my book … I always have, only more so now that I’ve done so much polishing … but I had lost belief that anyone else would love it. Now, I believe that’s possible.

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