Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of the Palestine Novel


Two weeks ago I shared with you my disappointment that I’d not heard back from the four agents to whom I’d sent an e-query about my polished manuscript on first-century Palestine. I’ve since received two form rejection letters. One put this whole process in perspective with the following words:

Our agency receives over 700 submissions per month and we only take on a few new clients per year. With the publishing industry being extremely competitive we need to feel a strong conviction when representing your work. While it is not for us another agent may well feel differently.

Just think, 700 submissions per month. That’s 8,400 a year. I’m finding agent names in the book 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, which gives “updated and submission information for more than 1,000 literary agents seeking new clients.”
If, and that’s a big if, all these agents receive 8,400 submissions per year—and some must receive more, some less—then that’s 8,400,000 e-mails sent out yearly by writers like myself. I picture millions of e-query sent to all these agents. Sent with hope and expectation, anxiety and eagerness, heartwishes and visualizations. Those e-queries just swirl through the Ethernet to computers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere! Can’t you see the flurry of speed?!?!? It’s a marvel.

And just think of all the writers sitting at their computers typing novels and exposés, memoirs and cookbooks, humor and how-to books! It boggles the mind.
Now for the “late, breaking news.” The historical novelist Judy Koll Healey—who has been a good friend for many years—has offered to read The Reluctant Spy. 
In an earlier posting on this manuscript, I mentioned the help she gave me in 2002. Since then, she herself has had two highly successful historical novels published by HarperCollins Publishers: The Canterbury Papers in 2005 and The Rebel Princess in 2010. Both take place in twelfth century England and Europe.

In return, I’ll read an early draft of the final manuscript of her Canterbury trilogy, which she’s working on now. The truth is that determining the problems with someone else’s manuscript is often much easier than realizing what’s amiss with one’s own. As the weeks pass I’ll share with you Judy’s “take” on what I’ve written.
When someone reads our work, we hope for honest criticism. And we hope also that we will listen to that person’s critique with an open mind while separating the wheat from the chaff. That’s the hard point for any writer—recognizing the suggestions that work while resisting those that don’t.
Sometimes a reader makes suggestions that don’t work because they miss the expectation we have for a scene. But even those suggestions can prove helpful for they bring to light something that’s not working in our story. As given, the suggestion won’t work for our plot, but if we look at it from several different angles we get a new perspective on what might work in the manuscript.
This is what happened for me during the first two weeks of January when another fellow writer and friend read the manuscript and made suggestions as to how I might strengthen the tension and create a less lengthy book. She found whole scenes that could be deleted and others that could be cut considerably. She also suggested a change in emphasis in one chapter. I used her suggestions to delete 9,000 words from the manuscript and to polish much of the prose. Her reading was invaluable to me.
Now Judy is reading and I’m hoping that she, too, will find ways I can improve the story. Meanwhile I’m working on the first book of a Bronze-Age- Greece trilogy. I hope to tell you more about that soon.

PS: Many agencies have more than one agent, so perhaps there are only about 600 agencies, each receiving 700 queries a month. That would skew my math. But that’s still a lot of queries a year—and a lot of writers!

“Autumn Leaves,” attributed to Tina Phillips is from freedigitalphotographs.com

18 comments:

  1. Wow- that is a mind-boggling statistic. I would never have imagined it was that many.

    Don't give up the faith. I just somehow have a good feeling that the right agent will see it and then everything else will fall into place. And that is wonderful news about Judy reading the story.

    I guess thick skin is a necessity when writing, but hopefully going through that process will bring terrific results.

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    1. Dear Shelly, it is mind-boggling. Way back in 1990, when I was trying to find an editor--we needn't need to truly find an agent first--for Dulcy's book, I got so many rejection letters that I could have papered one wall of my office! And now that has only gotten worse for editors and agents and so editors relay on agents and agents are looking for the book that will be the next block-buster! I do so hope that readers will one day get to meet Ephraim (the reluctant spy) and Yeshua. Peace.

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    1. Dear Fishducky, and all I can say is THANK YOU!! Peace.

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  3. I learned about the editing process while I was working, and I found that some people could really benefit from critique, and others already knew what they wanted to say and how to say it. My boss was the only person I was actually capable of editing successfully. We worked together for thirty years, which might be part of the reason.

    Good luck on getting these manuscripts published, Dee. I cannot imagine what it must be like, sending them out and having them come back. I'm crossing my fingers for you. :-)

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    1. Dear DJan, it's so true that some writers can see exactly what needs to be done while others, like myself, are greatly helped by a good editor. It's wonderful that you were able to help your boss with your editing and that he was responsive. I'm both eager to hear from Judy and anxious about what she'll say! Peace.

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  4. Now that writers can produce queries and manuscripts so easily on computers, publishers are overwhelmed. It's not like the old days when people had to tap away at their typewriters, perhaps after writing their manuscripts by hand, and there weren't any copy machines. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway would be amazed.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, what you say is so true. Now that so many people have computers, more and more books are being written. And many of these books are stories that speak to a wide audience. I've never thought of it before but I bet you're right--Fitzgerald and Hemingway would be amazed! Peace.

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  5. I just read Janie's comment and thought of those who wrote with quill pens back in the day. I think so many books that are being published are of such low quality and that is what makes me mad. I have not read your book, but I was blown away by what you shared here. And I for one want to read more and more and more of it. Yesterday, for the letter F, I wrote about our cat Sindbad, who looked so much like one of yours. I hope you will have time to stop by and see his picture. He was one of the great loves of my life. I miss him so. Finally, I really like the new colors here on your blog. Easy to read.

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    1. Dear Inger, I'm glad you're finding the blog easy to read. I haven't changed the color but I did change the type size and font and that does make a difference I think. Peace.

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  6. So many agents, publishers, writers and queries. And you've already made it into the big time, Dee! "A Cat's Life" was (and still is) such a success. If you can do it once, you can do it again ;)

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    1. Dear Elisa, thank you for your belief in my writing. Peace.

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  7. So many hopes, wishes and dreams entrusted to the agents. I wonder whether they realise? I suppose they must.

    EC Stilson is right - you have done it before and your talent and our good wishes mean that it WILL happen again.

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    1. Dear Sue, I wonder also if agents realize the effect they have on the lives of writers. I'm working at keeping hopeful about being published again.Peace.

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  8. Gosh, I never imagined quite how many would-be writers there are, Dee! I'm glad you're lucky enough to have the help of a published novelist, which could prove invaluable. It's so hard to get yourself noticed among such a crowd, but I'm still willing you to succeed.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, Judy's help could well be invaluable. She plans to read 50 pages and then let me know and then do another 50 and so on. I'm all at sea about all this. Peace.

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  9. Wow! Makes it really difficult to stand out from the crowd. And, just like the movies and TV these days, they are looking initially at the bottom line dollar figures they imagine rolling in. All kinds of series are popular--so I have heard you really need a trilogy going or finished, too. There never were writing degrees before, either, so they are pumping out new authors right and left. Still surprised that they get that many submissions a month, though. I can honestly say that, if my years in all the writing classes in college are any indication, there's much less actual competition than the numbers indicate because the majority don't have an individual voice, a different way of telling the story, or that something that draws you in. Good luck! A good collaborating editor is a treasure! :)

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  10. Dear Rita, I so agree that "a good collaborating editor is a treasure." Jane Meara was the editor who first read a few chapters from Dulcy's book "A Cat's Life," and she was the one who recognized that if I cut it in half and concentrated just on relationship, I'd have a book. She was essential to getting Dulcy's first book published. Peace.

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