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