I do my research and read the tweets and bios of the agents who specifically request speculative fiction. And I make my pitch. “No” is all I hear.
The biggest clunker came from an agent asking exactly for what I am writing – a generational ship off to a distant planet – and I got this form-letter response.
My Cx Trilogy pitch must be more of a scream. They need to know that the book is the future of the speculative genre. It is real. It is direct and clear. It has the voice of terror as we go straight off the cliff. In other words, it’s now or never. Now. Or never.
Please allow me apologize for this form letter. Due to the great volume of literary agents wishing to represent authors today, I am unable to respond to any request personally.
I want to thank you for the opportunity of representing my work. I know that you have put a lot of passion into your professional practice and respect your efforts. However I am sorry to inform you that I will not be seeking your representation. It is vital for me to wholly believe in my agent before knowing anything about him or her.
This rejection is not a reflection on you in any way. I realize that you probably will find great success in representing others and encourage you in that enterprise.
Wishing you the best in your future pursuits, McPhedran
I recently attended a writers workshop on crafting the query letter and was amazed at the amount of feedback on what seemed to me a straightforward thing.
my bad side is the story of a woman defined by a moment she can’t remember. Deirdre,orphaned in her infancy, feels haunted by the death of her mother, she and her toddler sister Crystal trapped with the body for days. She fights against the image as she matures, struggling to find her direction and independence.
“Paint a picture,” one instructor insisted. “It’s just like a movie trailer.”
“So it’s a good idea to include character quotes?” A small voice replied (not me).
“No! Don’t do that! That’s bad.”
Now in her 20s, Deirdre studies to be a veterinarian and works at the Pittsburgh Zoo when she comes to own an abandoned exotic cat, Apollo. Deirdre starts a pilot school program, with Apollo as the main attraction, which, although initially successful, leads to a child being bitten and Deirdre having to flee to New York. She moves in with her sister and attempts to reconnect, but finds her immured in alcoholism with her boyfriend, Derek, a fire fighter who lost his company in 9/11, and thus bonds violently with her around their shared traumas. Deirdre becomes isolated and makes a sudden turn from working with abandoned animals to the escort industry and then performance sex. A shooting forces her to leave the city and embark on a journey with Apollo to the barren landscape of Newfoundland where she is forced to confront her fears and loneliness.
Requirements include: word count, genre, tone and ‘comps’ or comparable works, preferably films.
This 100,000-word work of literary fiction, a cross between Thelma & Louise and Taxi Driver, begins at the moment of the shooting and follows Deirdre in her journey to the north, using flashbacks as a primary structural element. Deirdre’s beauty and eroticism are central themes as well as her realization that, like her sister, she is not in search of understanding so much as is building barriers against what might be next, believing that she has nowhere to turn except within herself.
I was confused by the comparative aspect, thinking that using film titles wasn’t appropriate in the literary world. I was wrong. “It’s the story. Tell us the story!”
My writing focuses on thought process – akin to James Jones or Cormac McCarthy – capturing moments in a character’s mind while also giving the reader the latitude to bring their own perceptions to the work.
“Who do you think you are comparing yourself to Cormac McCarthy?” The instructor demanded. “That’s a pretty big name, you know.”
After completing my degree in Literature and Film, I moved to Paris to write my first novel and have traveled extensively to enable my development as a novelist. Most recently, I have taken part in several Unterberg Writing Workshops (2005-09) in New York.
I’ve worked through 30 drafts of this thing now. Another 5 and I might be there.
I had a glimmer of light on my screenplay, The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg, in 1996, when I piqued an agent’s interest by making reference in my cover letter to the assumed “teetering piles” of submissions on her desk. She liked the image and called. “Before you come down to chat, I would like you to address the title. The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg doesn’t work, does it? You need something that will catch the audience’s attention.” I was most pliant; I arrived the next day with my newly christened Manitou island. “What does that mean?”
“The Manitou are the Ojibwa spirits.”
“Spirits? That’s a start.” She scanned through the first pages. “Okay, and this. I’m not sure about these names. What’s this one? Asawsny?”
“Asawasanay. He’s the spiritual leader.” I pointed out the name to follow. “And Pamequonaishcung is an elder. They’re Ojibwa.”“Pamakon? Oh.” She turned the pages. “I’m not sure that’s going to work.”
“That’s what the story is about. It’s their spiritual return to the land.”
“Oh.” The meeting deteriorated from there, and there was no follow-up. I understood her point about making the story accessible, and changes of course could be made, but her approach was facile, like she expected an explosion of light. I was supposed to amaze and astound, to make the sale, so that she could sell another. I balked. Eleven books later, I’m still struggling with that. (And, yes, I changed the title back to The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg.)
Writing about dreams is a hazard to be avoided. As grand and pure as the moments may seem, they are probably too much that and thus not decipherable for others. And yet…and yet…I really did have an interesting dream last night. I was attending a seminar on how to submit work to agents. I was on my computer, editing my cover letter for my bad side when I received an email titled we will take you. Yes, it was from an agent. I held myself still, not wanting to shatter the moment. Someone ran past and I leaned forward to hide the computer screen. And then I clicked. We are pleased to advise you of our interest in your work. I scrolled down quickly, too quickly, and found an email exchange between two of the agents regarding my work, one extolling the vitality of my prose, the other in complete agreement…and then a note near the bottom about editing out the dream imagery. I didn’t care. I had an agent!