Querying: Blind Dating for an Agent

After years and years of people suggesting I write a book, I finally sat down to the computer and followed through.  Not just once, but twice.  Yes, I’ve written two novels.  The first is a work of historical fiction based loosely upon my grandmother’s life.  The second is a work of young adult fiction about a homeless teen.  I’m really happy with how the second one turned out; I’m now in the process of making revisions on the first based upon recent agent/editor feedback.

So I was lying in bed this morning when my iPhone pinged to let me know I had an incoming e-mail.  As soon as I saw the title, my heart started racing.  It was from an agent I’d submitted my first novel to; the novel that I’ve decided needs revisions. I didn’t have to open the e-mail to know its contents.  The response was too fast to turn around a full manuscript, not to mention that I now knew there were issues that needed resolution.  I had thought about asking to withdraw and resubmit, but that looks so unprofessional; and the truth is that the original isn’t that bad in its original format.  If the agent found the story compelling enough, he/she would probably ask for revisions.  I’d hoped. So, I expected a rejection, and that’s exactly what I got:  A very nicely worded rejection letter with the same words that I’m sure every querying author has read at least once, “I’m, sorry.  I just didn’t connect with the main character.”

Lying in bed, I reflected over those words until I finally started giggling.  First, I appreciated the kind wording of the rejection.  There can be no doubt at all that today’s literary agents take special care to be kind in their rejections.  As a querying author, I deeply appreciate that.  What started my fit of giggles, though, was thinking about those words and comparing them to other situations.  It occurred to me that the query process is nearly identical to the blind dating process of my youth.  Dangit!  Here I am, married for 22 years, and I’m back out there dating again…sorta.

If you’ve never sent a query letter, you may not understand; so let me explain.  The query letter itself is like your best friend recommending you for a date.

Best Friend:  “I have this really great friend.  Let me tell you about her:  she’s absolutely gorgeous and all the guys think she’s hot.  I think you two would hit it off.  She looks like a young Brooke Shields”

Query Letter:  “My novel is about ___.  It is complete at ___ words and can best be compared to (insert title of best seller).”

The agent thinks about that “best friend recommendation” for a minute or two, maybe reflects over all the girls in his little black book, then says to himself, “What the heck?  I’ll take her out for a date.”  Some agents choose to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee (the partial request), and others select a nice restaurant (the full request).

The agent knows pretty quickly whether he likes this date.  She’s either exactly what he expected and hoped for, or she’s just missing…something.  Maybe her chest isn’t as large as he’d imagined, or her teeth are too big.  Perhaps she’s a really high-maintenance girl and he prefers something more fresh and easy.  Whatever the case, he knows immediately that this isn’t going to end in marriage and now he has to find the words to let her down easily.

He really hates this part, which is why he accepts so few blind dates.  He’s learned over the years, though, not to say too much.  If he gives any specific reasons, the girl will counter those reasons and he doesn’t want to get into a long discussion.  His answer is thanks, but no thanks; so finding the right words is essential.

Blind Date:  “I had a really great time.  Thanks for the date, but let’s just be friends.  It’s not you, really.  It’s me.  I just don’t feel that spark, but hey — you’re a beautiful girl.  I know the right guy is out there waiting for you!”

Agent Rejection:  “Thanks for giving me a look.  I enjoyed the premise, but I’m just not able to connect with the characters.  But never fear:  I’m only one agent and I know there’s one out there who will snatch this up!”

As an aspiring author, I have mixed feelings.  First, I appreciate the kind rejection.  I’m sure there are many times  the agent really wants to write, “This completely sucks!  That’s an hour of my time I’ll never get back!”  But no.  For the most part he always sends a polite rejection, even if that rejection is a form letter.

Second, my first instinct is to wish for details on how and why that character didn’t connect with him.  If I’m not sure what’s wrong with it, how do I fix it.  But do I really want that kind of feedback?  What would I do with it?  If it’s helpful feedback (i.e. you’re the master of the passive writing style), I can fix it.  But what if the agent’s real issue is that he’d hoped his date would have red hair and green eyes, when she showed up with brown hair and brown eyes.

I think the end result is this:  while every rejection hurts just a weensie bit, I appreciate the care that most agents take in those rejections.  After all, I’m just one little goldfish out there swimming in a vast ocean of clown fish, sting rays, blue tang, and other varieties.  The goldfish has its place, she just has to figure out where and with whom that place is.

In the meantime, I’m still out there on the market and (surprisingly) enjoying the dating scene.  I’ve learned a lot and grown, and that can only help me grow as an author and a person.

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