Hope you’ve enjoyed the past eighteen days of no posts more than I have. It hasn’t been horrible, mind you, but much of it has been taken up with one of my favorite activities, hunting up possible agents and shipping out chunks of manuscript. Right there is one of the reasons this process is so painful. A huge number of agents don’t want to see your manuscript. They want you to write a query letter, in which you explain to them why they should want to let you send them a manuscript.
While I do think I have something on the ball as a novelist, I’m quite sure that I write a lousy query letter.
So, so far I’m sending stuff out to agents who will take a look at the work itself, usually ten to thirty pages, sometimes fifty, which seems like a reasonable sample. Sometimes they want a synopsis as well. Sometimes they specify a one-page synopsis, whereas the shortest I can shrink it to is a page and a half. One of them wants a resume; she and God alone know why.
The whole query letter thing fries my ass. It’s a symptom of the one of the most basic problems with literature, which is too many writers and not enough readers. The poor agents know how few new novels the world can absorb, yet each day another mailbag full of prose is emptied onto their already overflowing desks. Like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. So they’ve fought back with this query thing. Baby with the bathwater, if you ask me.
When I started sending out Great American Desert, the first thing I noticed is that agents who would look at nothing but the query were the most prompt in stuffing rejection slips into my enclosed SASE.
Sending Desert out again, too, as the agent I thought I had for that one seems to have abandoned me, so all in all I’ve been going through an awful lot of manila envelopes.
To take my mind off it, I’ve been reading about World War 1. Personal narratives, mostly, starting with the Siegfried Sassoon Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, whose existence I was unaware of until it was mentioned in one of the Susana Kaysen books (see 10/9). Then there was Cecil Lewis’ Sagittarius Rising, one romantic adolescent’s account of the air war. After reading Sassoon though, I had to go back to Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That, one of the finest autobiographical books I know, and from there it was quite easy to look up a few bits of spare Graves, essays and lectures, that I hadn’t as yet read.
Robert Graves is an inspiration. Absolutely devoted to the craft of poetry, he writes so matter-of-factly about the seriousness of purpose and the refusal to compromise that a writer has to bring to his work that I look back on the various plaints I’ve aired in the course of this blog and am ashamed. Of course, he wrote back in those halcyon days when you could send a manuscript to a publisher, instead of a query letter to an agent.