Question: "What is the most common reason you decline to represent an author?"
Answer: "They can't write."
The interview above with a literary agent, detailed further in The Making of a Bestseller, is mostly included to point out that some agents can be rather crotchety. But it goes along with and kind of ties together all of the various scary stories I've heard and read about writing. The world is, after all, full of tales of unappreciated authors sending manuscripts out to dozens, or even hundreds, of agencies, only to receive dozens, or even hundreds, of, as we used to call them when I wrote them for the business incubator way back when, TBNTs (short for Thanks, But No Thanks letters). On the other side of the same topic, I've read several accounts of agents and publishers complaining about massive stacks of garbage that they have to wade through in the hopes of finding the next Stephen King or JK Rowling.
Now, though, having made the journey to this point, I think I finally get it. From the novelist's point of view, the creation of a story is a major life commitment. Even a short novel takes a month or two to write--even longer if you have a day job and a family. Once you're done, once you write The End on the last page, it's really tempting...trust me...to print it out, bundle it up, and ship it off to dozens, or even hundreds, of industry people according to the lists in the tome called the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market.
I'm glad I resisted the temptation. I'm also glad I have over a decade of experience teaching. The teaching experience isn't in liguistics or any similar topic, but one of the core competencies you hone in any teaching position is the ability to identify/develop appropriate rubrics for assessing work, and then use those rubrics to critically assess the work at hand. Removing the teaching jargon from that, teaching teaches us how to look closely at something that has been done and say not just "that sucks" but to also describe why it sucks, and how to fix it. It also, I think, gives teachers a certain amount of intestinal fortitude required to do it even when it's difficult, such as when it's our own work.
The fact is, as I go through and read the wonderful prose I created a month or so ago, I'm struck by how bad it really is. I'm quite certain that, had I sent it out to any agents, I would have been turned down by any of the ones I'd like to be represented by. But that's OK. It's still a good story, with characters I've come to adore, and fixing it up isn't proving that hard with a trusty pen in my hands and a clever Heide beside me. I'll get to the point here soon that I will be able to say "I can write," and be able to back that statement up with exemplary work.
Word count: Oh, bite me
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