The Agent Game – Part Two

Ouch

I didn’t think I would care. Having made the decision to self-publish, by April of 2012 getting an agent for my historical novel Embracing the Elephant was no longer an imperative.

Still, I had submitted to those three agents (see The Agent Game – Part One). So, on April 16 I heard from one – Agent #2.

The response came a little earlier than the anticipated 6-to-8 weeks, so I was surprised. I took a couple of deep breaths before opening the email to read this:

“Thank you for sending us the first chapter of Embracing the Elephant. Although we like the premise, I’m afraid [Agent #2’s name here] and I weren’t connecting wholeheartedly with the writing. So we’ve decided not to pursue this project. But other agents are bound to feel differently, and we wish you all the best in your search for the right advocate.”

I had decided not to go the agent route, so this was no big deal, right?

I wasn’t as devastated as I thought I would be. Well, not for the first two or three minutes anyway.

The more I thought about it, however, the more depressed I became. What did this mean? Was this a euphemism for “You suck and should have hired a ghostwriter?” They thought the writing didn’t fit with the piece? It was just a personal preference for one author versus another? They weren’t taking chances on unknowns at the moment? Did Agent #2 read the chapter at all or was I stopped at the gatekeeper? Did the gatekeeper love it, but the agent demurred? WHAT DID THIS MEAN?

One of the drawbacks of being a novice is lack of validation. My husband, relatives, teachers, and friends can tell me they loved the book until I’m sick of hearing it (which will never happen, by the way). However, until a disinterested third party gives feedback, I have no real validation for myself as a writer.

A vague response like the one from Agent #2 did not help. I don’t know what to think. And, unfortunately, that’s what I do – I think. I worry the statement like a dog with a bone and send myself into a funk.

It was the same when I was performing. Like every actor/singer, I auditioned then waited to hear if I’d been cast. If you aren’t cast, by the way, you seldom get to know why. At least in theater I could rationalize being passed over: I’m tall and hard to cast in an ensemble piece, especially if I must play opposite a spouse or significant other. Or there are a lot of more-talented actors out there. Or, most addictive of all, okay, next time.

However, for those parts where I thought I was perfect , the person reading opposite me was good (and tall), I was age appropriate according to the script, and no one else at the audition did better, it was hard to be passed over and not know why. It’s subjective, I know. And there is only one part to cast among all of those who audition. Fortunately, despite the number of auditions I used to go through, I only felt “perfect-but-passed-over” on three occasions. In one instance, I found out that the director was sleeping with the woman he did cast, so I felt a little better about the snub.

In the case of writing, however, it may be worse. Not just one book gets printed each year – there are thousands.

So how could Agent #2 (or the agent’s assistant) not see that my masterpiece was perfect?

As it turns out, (per my in-the-know-goddess friend, Megan) the response I received probably was a euphemism. With all of the submissions received and the level of subsequent negotiation that must occur with publishers and publishing-house editors, if the first chapter of any “masterpiece” doesn’t grab and hold the agent’s attention, they see no reason to jump into the fray with your book. My first chapter didn’t cut it. Painful but true.

In the meantime, I continued my investigation of self-publishing, building my Platform, searching for an editor (thus improving that critical first chapter and more), finding a book designer, and compiling lists of people to contact about my book. I wasn’t going to let the lack of an agent discourage me.

In the throes of my self-assigned tasks, I remembered the following riddle: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time.

That seems appropriate, doesn’t it?

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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