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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why Literary Agents Hate Kittens

So, I received another rejection from a literary agent last night. It was a form rejection, spammed out in reply to the hundreds of hopeful souls who sent a query attempting to publish a novel. Because I am a writer, and want to follow what all trendy writers do, I must devote at least one blog post every so often to literary agents and the entire 'how to get a novel rejection' process, even though the only ones who should really be writing about the process like they know something are already published, and instead of writing genuinely useful blogs about how they got there, are busy counting their money. But the process is incredibly important to those of us who haven't won the publishing lottery yet, so for us (the bulk of regular blog readers these days), I will go through the process best as I can, one more time...
It all begins with the creation of your novel. This is the amazing part where you give birth to a story and ideas, and in the case of my latest work, a group of seventy to eighty year old men (no trouble at all, they slid right out because most older men use grease-like products on their hair).
When the novel is finished, you dance around it like a wild native of Borneo (not really sure where Borneo is, or anything about the natives there, but I assume they must have, at some point, danced around fires). You show it to a select few fans of yours (hi mom), and they read the title. If it's a humorous book, they laugh at the title. If it's a drama, they cry. Then they smother you in accolades and say it is the best thing ever written, probably since the Bible.
Then, you start trying to find a literary agent, because the major publishing houses won't even consider anything that doesn't come from an agent. You spend the next six to eight months perfecting your query letter, and reading about query letters, and revising query letters, and tailoring your query letters to the very specific requirements laid out by each individual firm, and then each individual agent. It's very much like trying to get a date with the most popular, snobby girl in your high school, if she was obtuse and anal and lived in New York and had 'people' and had never even heard of you before and couldn't locate a place like Iowa (the potato state?) on a map, because their maps only include New York and L.A., and everything is between is an unexplored, vast expanse of nothingness, and The Bridges of Madison County is so yesterday anyway, so what's the point?
Then you have to be like, "Hey Summer, I wrote this novel and it's really awesome, and I have some pretty major skills." And you have to do it in 300 words or so, and in a really impressive way, because she (the agent who we'll call Summer Wheatley) is the class president and she's used to getting all of her letters covered in glitter and little smiley faces from famous people, and who the hell do you think you are?
And, as it turns out, these agents are really busy so they usually hand off their shit work (like reading queries from new authors) to assistants, and never even read the 300 word query letters that they've had you make special, as per their very strict and anal requirements. And who cares if you had to trek through a chain of mountains in the Himalayas to find the ancient Tibetan font required by the agency, because they are the popular girl, and you're just some loser who she would never give the time of day to even if you did fold your query letter into the shape of a swan as per her specific agency instructions.
And even if they do read their own queries, they always send automated reply rejections, even though they usually are very specific about not ever wanting to get a "Dear Agent" letter from you, or else, by gosh, they'll never read it. And also if it doesn't mention the words YOUNG ADULT, VAMPIRE, and PLATONIC TEENAGE LOVE, all in the first ten words, it is automatically rejected.
As it turns out, the only thing that a lot of agents will read is manuscripts that have been recommended by other established authors. So, it is the authors who are actually the gatekeepers for the gatekeepers for the publishing world.
But that's cool, because I wrote a novel, damn it, so how hard could it really be to form a relationship with an anti-social, reclusive writer type, like myself? I'm sure instead of being busy writing their next gazillion dollar best seller, they are out surfing the web and social networking. They're probably waiting for me on Google+ right now in an empty community group entitled, NYT Best Selling Authors, Bored & Wanting to Read Shit by Iowa Nobodies.
So, you really just need to network more and devise a plan to get close to a successful writer. Once you've found an established author who is willing to read your manuscript, you're in!
They call their agent and say, "Hey, I discovered this awesome new author. He is the next big thing." Then the agent is like, "Well, holy shit, man, send the manuscript right over. We've been looking everywhere for the next big thing! I've been telling my people all week that we need to find the next big thing, and they haven't done crap about it. Thank you, Steven. You're the best."
And then you're like, "oh yeah. It's all swimming pools and movie stars for me from here on out."
And you get to tell your mom that she was right all along, because you really are a superstar, and the agent said that it really was the best book since the Bible, and if I add a vampire to the story, it is probably going to be THE next big thing!.
And you can finally turn your attention to some of the stuff you've been putting off while you were busy querying literary agents.
And then people go crazy for your new book when it comes out, and they are beating their chests and clamoring in their cages, hungry for more, and you become an international sensation and write a trilogy, careful not to actually have anything resembling a plot in the first one, but adding a vampire in for good measure, no matter what the book is about.
And then the literary agents who rejected you will probably search your name in their email rejections, and find out they missed their chance at the next big thing, causing them to kill one of their 'people' at random.
And then they'll be thinking to themselves, "I've got to get me some new people, and we have just got to find the next big thing. If only this whole self-publishing thing wasn't ruining this industry. Holy shit. Why didn't we discover Buzz Malone? Damn it. Maybe I should just drop him a line. I wonder what font he prefers, and if my margins are just the right size for him? That's just stupid. I have terrible margins. They're way too big for him. I read somewhere that he only likes very small margins. Damn it."
And then, I'm going to respond by saying something like, "Oh, I'm sorry. Due to the high volume of laundry I've been doing, I only have the time to respond to agent queries that are referred by other authors. You should know that I never even looked at your fonts before hitting the rejection button even though I said they were oh, so very important to me on my website. Ha ha. Sucker! P.S. you should really do something about your margins. They look horrible."
And that...is how to publish your book and become the next big thing...in a nut shell.
Of course, if any literary agent should happen to read this blog post, I'd just like to say that any inference made about literary agents (who are really awesome people) being evil agents of the Empire do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the author. Also, I'd like to add...that every time you request specific formatting for your queries and then respond with a spammed out, form rejection...that God kills a kitten (it's true. I read it on the internet so it has to be).

Also, I'd like to thank Hally Willmott, whose new blog, Beginnings, inspired me to steal monkey pictures off the world wide picture web today. If anyone is upset about my usage of the "borrowed" monkeys, please have your legal representatives refer all inquiries to Ms. Willmott. It was all her idea. I just borrowed it.

Thanks for Reading!

-Buzz Malone-


  1. I'm on a campaign to rid New Zealand of kittens. Thus my spammed out form rejections.


  2. HAH! That is awesome! The comment above is from none other than Literary Agent, Janet Reid, ladies and gentlemen. If you're like me and struggling over the construction of a query letter, Janet's QUERY SHARK site is the 100% best thing out there...


  3. The biggest problem with agents, Buzz, is they want the damn manuscript to be perfect and publishable when they get it, if not, they will have their editors do it for about 20cents a word. This, of course, is an outrageous amount of money to put out there for something that may, or may not, get published and then may, or may not, sell. If you want to get an agent, I believe it is the Knight Agency in NYC (of course) that does take new talent. I was accepted by them about four years ago but I still have not gotten my second manuscript done which is what they wanted. Oh, writer's block on the important stuff and blogs and FB posts come so bloody easy. :) Good luck, my friend.

  4. Jay,

    I've never heard of the whole twenty cents per word thing. But if it's manuscripts that's held you back, then you can always have some of mine! No shortage of those little buggers here! I use mine to collect dust, and for small children to sit on at the dinner table!

  5. Followed your link from Google+, and I'm still giggling. I'm getting a m/s ready for querying, and maybe also going bald, though I'm sure there's no correlation.

    Thanks for this, and congrats on your rejection, because even if a rejection isn't an acceptance? You're out there working it for your book, and that takes guts.

  6. Aw, it's not as bad as all that. (Okay, it is.) While it's hilarious that Janet Reid responded, I still think it unlikely that they're ALL kitten haters.

  7. Wow, that was Awesome...I laughed out a loud a few times:) Monkeys are now the trending thing....I, like most do not like form letters - especially when they refer to you as a him when you are a her or - the best - when they cut and paste your name into the intro and spell check corrects Hally to HARRY - been done a few times. I do have a friend in New York that is an author who told me once - you may get 1000 rejections but it only takes one yes:) - I totally believe that. Keep writing Buzz, I like others who have visited your blog believe in you. * I will now find new and interesting clip art for you to use for the trending pic of the day*

    1. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Hold on just a second there, Hally. Did you say that you had a FRIEND...in NEW YORK?!?! That means that my 'five degrees of separation' plan for finding a literary agent is closing in on success!

      Now, if only your friend in New York knew someone who ran a deli around the corner from an agency, I think we would really be on to something.

      Thanks Hally! Sorry I had to throw you under the monkey bus, but someone had to take the fall. I knew you'd understand! :)

  8. Hilarious! And the reason I self pubbed. I figured that if it was going to be that much agony just to have someone even look at my book, it might as well be agony of my own devising. I knew my non-vampire, non-zombie, non-YA skewing fantasy was not the flavor of the day. If you would like, I'd be happy to read your manuscript since we anti-social writer types should watch out for each other. Good luck with your agony :)

  9. Thank you Cairn! I'm sorry that you have also chosen to handicap your future by not writing YA novels about thousand year old vampires who are infatuated by platonic romantic relationships with teenagers.

    I'll have to take a look see at what you've written!

    Thanks for reading!

  10. Thank you, Moi! I appreciate the comment. And remember, it's all for the kittens.

  11. Counting my money. LOLOLOL. I found a small publisher who liked my work and got lucky. But my self-published mother, in a month, makes three times what I do quarterly. Soooo. Yeah.

    But no literary agent ever accepted me.

    I still think they have no souls.

    1. You'll always find acceptance here, Alyssa. Maybe you should start using your mom's name as your pseudonym or something. I'm pretty sure that might even be legal...and besides, what;s she gonna do? Sue you?

      Thanks for reading...again!


  12. I don't know where my post went to but I'll try again. I, too, am still laughing. I don't speak French worth a dam but I can read it fairly well. I like to collect French slang some of which may apply to your wonderful post. SO here they are: Haut les coeurs, Croire, A personal fav: Eh bieh, Tant Pis! and finally: Bien redige. Not to insult any of your followers who may know French but for those who don't, the translations: Be brave, To believe, Well, never mind (spoken aggressively) and finally one that applies here: Well written.

    1. I don't know any French, Betsy, but I do love what they did with their fries though! Thank you for stopping by and reading some, and thanks for taking the time to reply! Hopefully you'll stick around and find some other stuff that you'll enjoy!

      Thanks for reading!


  13. Here it is in a nutshell: Literary agents are no more than the real estate agents of the writing world.

    Some of them are lawyers (and even when not, they are far, far too like lawyers). They are just as often failed writers who have gravitated to this relative position of authority whereupon they can put their bitterness to its truest and best use. They are former editors who couldn't make the grade at a publishing house and were fired. Some are copy editors who've risen as far as they can go in their profession.

    To each of their delight, they have now become kings of their own particular hill. They've hung out their shingle along with tens of thousands of others just like them, each hoping to rake in a little piece of as many of us writers as possible—to take part in the Las Vegas of Manhattan, this lucrative racket—and like any other racket, it's a numbers game. They wheel and deal. They make canny arrangements that serve themselves above all (naturally). They are frequently pompous and arrogant. They claim to be harried and overworked yet still seem to find time for cocktail parties and lavish editor lunches. They make promises that are never kept. They ignore queries. They neglect to read requested submissions. They don't return e-mails. They stall. They make excuses. They use meaningless euphemisms in their rejections like "it just didn't draw me in as much as I'd hoped" or "it really didn't jump off the page" or "I wanted to fall in love with your characters, but alas, it didn't happen" or "I couldn't get on board with the voice…" I could go on and on.

    But paramount to any of those things is this: they have become jaded and desensitized to good writing. They have long since forgotten the difference between tripe and tenderloin.

    It is not quality and creativity that motivates literary agents to take action, to request pages, to offer representation. No, it is instead one magic ingredient (over which you have tremendous control). And that is where my methods come in.

    Read my book I HATE LITERARY AGENTS by U.B. Red, available on Amazon.

    1. Wow. Here and I just thought they hated kittens. That's a very large nutshell, U.B. (if that is your real name). Best wishes and tons of success with the book. Thanks for stopping by and reading!


  14. Would you add the vampire, Buzz? I guess adding the vampire is the final reason I decided to self-publish. The thought of adding something for completely materialistic reasons, or taking away what might be (to me) an essential part of the book, is what terrifies me about agents and traditional publishing in general.
    If the vampire belongs in the book, he will arrive all by himself and with his shoes polished. If not, then would you add him to please the mainstream?

    1. Amanda,

      Now that, is an interesting question, and one not easily answered. I am, quite honestly, torn. I am assuming that "add the vampire" is a quaint way of saying "change the story" because if it meant adding an actual vampire...then it is an easy NO.

      However, like so many ethical questions, it's almost impossible to answer until the situation presented itself. Obviously, I'd like to believe that I would not compromise my art in any way in exchange for the lure of fame and fortune. However, with writing it becomes more complex because it is more a matter of how much you are willing to trade for a shot at posterity and a wider audience.

      I think it would come down to the level of respect I had for the individual who was guiding me to make the changes, and does he or she have the genuine best interest of the thing in mind? But also, at the end of the day, I'm probably too lazy to rewrite an entire work to please almost anyone besides myself.

      But my favorite works, the ones I have created where the characters are real to me, and the story is sacred to me. Screw it. No. I couldn't change them much at all. It is what it is, and they yam what they yam. Damn it.