Today’s post piggybacks on yesterday’s about the often-frustrating process of querying agents.
First, though, I’d like to amplify something I tossed off far too casually. I wrote: “Rule No. 1 of this process should be to not take things personally.”
Had the words not been mine, that line would have pissed me right off. Because here’s the deal: It is personal. Creating a novel — finding the discipline to write every day, carefully choosing your words, battling through dead ends and plot turns and then revising, revising, revising — is just about the most personal thing you can do. For me, or for anyone, to blithely suggest that rejection shouldn’t sting is just wrong. Of course it stings. You’re human (aren’t you?).
Acknowledging that, let me propose another way of looking at it:
In business matters — querying agents, talking to publishers, negotiating with printers, interacting with customers — it’s best to think like a business person and not an author. An agent who passes on your query (or even your partial or full manuscript) is saying that he or she doesn’t feel a kinship with your story. That’s it. It’s not about you as a person or an artist or a mother or a son. It’s about selling your story. And you don’t want to do business with someone who doesn’t believe in your work the way you do.
(Also, most any agent will happily acknowledge that a pass generally means “not for me,” not “nobody in their right mind would ever represent this.” All of them can tell stories about the novel they rejected that went on to be a huge success. It is, on some level, a gut-reaction business, and guts aren’t always reliable barometers.)
Ron Franscell, the author of “Angel Fire,” summed up the twin roles of a writer in an e-mail exchange with me some weeks back:
“While you are tap-tap-tapping in your lonely little garret, you are an artist … but when you rise and walk through the door into the outer world, you are a shoe clerk. You must think like a shoe clerk, with an eagerness to serve a shilly-shallying customer who doesn’t care as much about your art as you do, and who only wants a shoe. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with agents, editors, booksellers, publicists, publishers, distributors, printers — put yourself in their minds as you try to bring your book to the mass audience you seek.”