All About Kirby – part 3

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The good news is that the process of finding a literary agent is pretty well understood.  One emails a query to the agency, being careful to follow the rules laid out in the submissions policy, which usually includes an introduction, a plot synopsis, and some number of pages (I’ve seen everything from the first five to the first fifty).  One attempts to be businesslike, respectful, and charming.  Then, one waits for a response.

In general, when they come, the replies happen very quickly and the agents are very polite.  I have no complaints about any of the responses I’ve received, except, of course, that none of them has been positive.  So far, I’ve contacted twenty-two agents, received replies from about two-thirds, and requests to see additional material from four.  As already stated, all of them have passed.

I have no idea where my results stand on the continuum of expected behavior.  Two questions plague me:

1.) Am I doing the submission process wrong?

2.) Is the book wrong?

I’m pretty sure the answer to question #1 is “No.”  There are lots of guides online that explain what agents do and do not wish to see and I am nothing if not good at following directions.  I’m pretty sure my query letters are fine.  The replies I’ve received have indicated I’m not hitting any sour notes or misrepresenting myself.

Which leads to the in-every-way-more-disturbing second question.   Please note I did not say “Is the book not good?”  I’m pretty sure it’s technically sound as well and has some literary value, which is not to say I don’t think it is inviolate.  I would welcome the eye of a good editor, but you can only get one of those if you have an agent.  And the loop continues to whip around…

Having discussed this with a couple friends who’ve read Kirby, I’ve decided that the main issue is that the book is its in-betweenness.  It’s not either completely a young adult story or an adult story.  It’s neither a straight-up fantasy nor a horror novel.  While it’s about being young, it may not be a story for young people (or perhaps only a certain spectrum of young people… or young people trapped in old bodies).   I really don’t know and, frustratingly, have no way to figure it out.

Of course, it is possible that the work is fundamentally flawed.  I accept that as an option, but no one has made a strong case for that yet, so I’m going to just let that idea hang off to the side (Yeah, right — sure.).

Way back when, a long time ago, I thought the hard part was going to be writing the book.  I never expected this part, finding someone to help me sell it, would be so frustrating.

One of the odder aspects about this whole situation is that I’ve been an editor, even a submissions editor, and I know something about what it’s like to slog through the slush pile.  There are scores, probably hundreds, of letters out there somewhere in someone’s files with my signature on them saying, one way or another, “Sorry, but this doesn’t fit our needs.”  I get that.  I really do.  Intellectual property is product.  In most instances, it has to fit into a specific kind of box or the audience won’t know what to make of it.  Therefore, producers — publishers, in this case — want to deal with something they recognize.  A book about a kitten and a cat and a dog and a fox and some hornets and a bear and some bees and this strange woman who lives in a cottage… It’s an odd fit.

Do I persevere?  Well, yes, of course I do.  For now, at least. One of my friends has made a compelling argument for going on to the next book and not worrying so much about this one.   The next book, she says, might be less awkward and be more appealing to a publisher.  Sell it. Get it out there and then you can say, “Oh, hey, I have this other book…”  It’s an appealing idea.  It might even work.

The other option, naturally, is to change the book.  Give it a less awkward shape.  It may be possible, but, honestly, I’m not sure I would even know where to begin. Kirby has settled into whatever it is and I would require some compelling evidence to alter it very much.

In his most recent book, “That Is All,” John Hodgman presents a fascinating story (I have to assume it’s semi-biographical) about a literary agent at a conference meeting prospective clients.  He makes it sound horrible.  The agent is exhausted by the drudgery and listening to every writer explain why their book is both a unique literary vision while also being the answer to every publisher’s dream.  Every book is the first part of a seven-book cycle backed up by a dense mythology and unexpected twists. Everyone sounds the same and, horrifyingly, everyone sounds like me.

I don’t know what else to say about this at this juncture.  This post was not particularly funny or revelatory.  I acknowledge I’m being a little bit whiny and self-indulgent, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Any thoughts or commentary would be welcome.

And now, because you’ve been so patient, a picture of a cat filled with bees:

Thanks, Tris!

Why do cats purr?

Content, content, content!

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From here, light and sacred draughts

From here, light and sacred draughts

I apologize for beginning another post with an apology, but such is my nature.  I apologize for the delay between the last post and this one.  I had every intention of assembling another item while I was traveling, but good intentions are usually the first thing to be jettisoned when the luggage begins to get heavy.

Thanks for the feedback on the Data posts.  Hopefully, I’ll be posting the cover in the near future.  Pocket’s art department and I went back and forth a few times last week trying to find something that was both doable and aesthetically pleasing.  I don’t think I’ll be shocking many people when I say that I’ve found a lot of the Star Trek book covers fairly unimaginative, though I appreciate the complexities the artists and licensors face.  I approve of the recent trend toward featuring the ships on the covers (the new Seekers series’ covers are particularly attractive) for the simple reason that the “floating head” school of cover composition is hard to take.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but maybe we need to have a Top Ten Trek covers discussion sometime in the future (especially since a couple of mine will be contenders).  As I recall, Boris Vallejo did a bunch of covers back in the 1980s.  Some of those were keen…

ITEM! For those of you who are attending Shore Leave this coming August, David Mack and I were tossing around the idea of doing a Trek and Wine pairing session.  Does Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir go better with TNG?  Is it better to sip a subtle Pinot Gris while watching Voyager or pound an oaky Chardonnay?  Should one even consider wine for DS9 or go just break out the bourbon?  These are questions we may want to consider.  Any interest out there?  Hands?  Drinking and nerdiness – Do they go together?  Personally, I’ve always found they do, but I’m a writer…

ITEM!  A couple folks asked me about the traveling.  Most of it is for the Day Job (which I like very much, thank kew), thought the Significant Other and I do try to get out once in a while.  Most of the business travel is to the UK and points around the US, which suits me well since I speak no languages beside English (and I’m a little shaky there a lot of the time).  The highlight of the recent trip was a two-day stay at the University of Cambridge (that’s what they call it) and the opportunity to wander around and see how the Upper Crust live.  Also as part of the Day Job, I’ve been to quite a few universities and colleges, but, my goodness, this Cambridge place lives up to its reputation.  I only took a couple of pictures (I’m not much of a photographer, honestly) and I’ll see about posting them, but I don’t know if photos would even capture the twin impressions of History and Privilege.

I like History — I was a graduate student in History — especially the History of Science, so it was a treat for me to walk around with a colleague who graduated from Cambridge and have his say, “That was Issac Newton’s office.”  and “Here’s the corner outside the pub where Watson and Crick realized that DNA must be a double-stranded molecule.”  I mean, that’s super-cool.

HOWEVER, that leads to the question about whether the kinds of minds that Cambridge has produced can only emerge when also carefully tended and coddled by a veritable army of gardeners, cooks, cleaners, and groundskeepers?  Or are these things even related?  Frankly, I’m not sure how much coddling the average undergrad receives — probably not much more than your US student — and much of the love and attention is lavished on the Institution, not the institutionalized… Still, my lower middle class soul was both shaken and stirred, gripped by both envy and an emotion I can only call pique.  “How dare so few consume so much?” or something to that effect.  It makes a boy want to get out the torches and pitchforks, except, of course, Cambridge is already equipped to handle that sort of response from the masses.

On the other hand, there’s actually a tea shop called “Auntie’s Tea Shop.”  Who could be mad at that?

Auntie's Tea Shop

Auntie’s Tea Shop

ITEM! Does anyone know where I get this ITEM! nonsense? No? Am I the only one who read Stan’s Soapbox back in the 1960s and 1970s (which is another way of saying “Am I the only one old enough to have read Stan’s Soapbox back the 1960s and 1970s?”)?  This is by way of saying that maybe next time I’ll post a few lines about my love of comics, especially Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics.  We’ll see what else comes up.

Next post: The Origin of Kirby (the cat, not the comic book artist) ,and the frequently asked question, “How hard is it to get a literary agent?” (The answer, kids, is, “It’s hard.”)

Kirby and the Queen Bee - original art by Chris McLoughlin, circa 2004

Kirby and the Queen Bee – original art by Chris McLoughlin, circa 2004