Life After Being Rejected by Literary Agents
Gut Check Time!
Work ethic? Check.
Unwilling to accept the answer “no”? Check.
Will to succeed? How could I not?
These are all personality attributes that I’ve developed, nurtured, and harnessed in my leadership style as an Army officer. I figured that the publishing world was no different than the Army when it comes to how to become successful.
Talent is the other piece of the puzzle. As much as I loathe using this word to describe myself…..Check.
I may have lost the first battle, but I determined to come back stronger, smarter and with all guns firing. Down but not defeated—I went back to work.
I called independent editor Patrick Lobrutto the very same day agent XXXX recommended him to me. Pat is an independent editor but also a scout for Trident Media.
I described in great detail the journey of my manuscripts. Pat was confident we could fix the manuscript and get it right back in the hands of agent XXXX who would love it. He was oozing with confidence and got me pumped about editing the novel. I knew if I gave my book to him he could fix it. My two reservations with Pat were his set fee without looking at the manuscript and his list of past successes. He has many past successes, but they were mainly category fiction—crime, science fiction, and thriller. Though I wasn’t sure then how to categorize Paws on the Ground, I knew it wasn’t one of those.
As I was talking with editors, I began to edit the 126,000 world novel every morning before work. This was a bad call. I still had this idea that if I condensed the first half of the book to fix the pacing and threw in a prologue, it would be ready for re-submission quickly.
What I thought I learned at the James River Writers Conference was that saying something in fewer words is always a good thing. So I went through the first 250 pages of the book and hacked away. I was trimming with reckless abandon, though, and what I ended up cutting was in many cases the richness of the novel. That would come back to haunt me.
I next called Ed Stackler, another agent XXXX recommendation. I left a message on his answering machine.
Here is something I learned through this whole process: getting an audience with this level of editor is in itself a big deal. They don’t just take any Joe Schmoe with a book idea. Guys like this can pretty much pick and choose whom they want to work with.
I decided I wasn’t just going to put all my eggs in two baskets. It was then that I had an epiphany. If agent XXXX had guys he worked with, then other agents might as well. So I went to work scouring agency sites looking for recommended editors. Sorry, I can’t remember where I found my final two considerations for an editor, but it was from an agency site.
I sent an email to independent editors John Paine and Jennifer Fisher . John called me within a day to discuss the project. He was oozing with confidence, but he was more reserved, descriptive of his editing process, and his pricing was phased. He told me his job wasn’t to babysit or to do the work for me. He was there to guide me. When I hung up the phone with John I had the feeling he would make me a better writer. I instantly felt a connection to him.
I received an email from Jennifer. I liked what she had to say and she was well qualified, but I pushed her down the list because I already felt a more personal connection to Pat and John after our phone conversations.
Ed Stackler reviewed my novel and replied back that the book wasn’t for him. He was more of a plot-driven crime/thriller guy and by then I knew my novel is a character-driven book. He gave me some great advice though:
“……you can’t hold a reader by telling the characters’ life stories, starting in their teens, and moving forward slowly and chronologically. You can get away with it in a prologue, a conventional means of showing readers what came before the main story; but you lose the more commercially-minded readers (a/k/a many, if not most, lit. agents) by taking the tell-it-all approach. So – if my opinion counts for anything – more trimming and cutting won’t do the trick. Readers are going to want what you’re selling – the Afghanistan/military/dog story – almost from the beginning of the book.”
I knew Ed was right. I just needed to hear it from a guy with his expertise and experience. I began to come to terms with the fact that simple trimming wasn’t going to work. The idea that I needed to cut and then re-write the first part of the book began to become acceptable in my mind.
Another thing I learned about this level of editor is that they have connections with agents. This level of editor can get your novel in the hands of an agent. Of course there is no guarantee this will happen.
I continued to labor, but I felt relief instantly when I made the final decision. I was going with John Paine.
So I placed my John Hancock on a contract, sent it back to John along with the novel, and anxiously awaited his editorial report. I occupied my time with working on my new venture—this website.
What steps have you taken after being rejected by an agent?
What were the results?
Even though he had no connection to agent XXXX , do you think John was the right editor for me?
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