Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How to open a slammed door: Anatomy of a literary rejection reversal

Realizing how I used to dream I’d one day become a great writer reveals what a young fool I used to be. Today, many people who enjoy my books or blog tell me I am, indeed, a great writer.

I should have dreamed I’d become a successful writer.

Then I wouldn’t have had to spend an afternoon finessing an agent into considering representing me and my books.

2017 marks the first big push I’ve made in seeking a literary agent in, gee, about five years. I wouldn’t say there’s been a sea change in interest, but agents who used to just blow me off are now granting thoughtful consideration.

With two credible books, a robust blog readership and a verifiable ability to engage live audiences, I guess I’m more marketable.

But I still encounter blunt resistance like the verbatim exchange that follows.

I’ve sold 4,000 copies of “Use All The Crayons!” either by myself or through supportive retailers. Industry people say that’s the kind of number that ought to attract the attention of a mainstream publisher. 

Makes sense to me.

But not to this agent. She ridicules my apparent naivete.

Read on to see how it resolves. This is her response to my initial pitch, which touts sales numbers and how supportive Barnes & Noble nationwide’s been of my book.

• Chris, A publisher isn’t going to be interested in a self-published book that’s still available for sale on Amazon AND Barnes & Noble.  Where would this new publisher sell copies—really, what’s left? This makes no sense to me.”

Rather brusque, if not downright rude. It’s contrary to most of what I’ve heard, but she’s well-respected and I blog about things like the toilet bowl night lite from above a bar so what do I know? My first instinct is to respond with reciprocal rudeness. But I’ve outgrown that. Instead I seek insight.

• Now I'm confused. I've been told publishers are eager to snap up self-published books that have a proven track record of sales to a mass audience. Have I been mislead? Should I stop trying to sell my books? I'd really appreciate any insights you could share. The book is beloved, I have a platform, am a dynamic public speaker and have a four-year backlog of material that would lend itself to obvious follow ups.

I sent this noting to myself how surprised I’ll be if she even bothers to respond. But respond she does.

• Yes, I think you were grossly mislead. The popularity of a self-published book sometimes causes publishers to want to do a commercial release, but popularity is not 4,000 copies. It’s really good for a self-published effort, so congratulations on that. But you have a huge problem here: you are proposing to “sell against yourself” unless you can remove every single copy, used and new, from circulation and get the book removed from inventory everywhere. Do you have that kind of money? Publishers are not interested in something that is currently available through the biggest channels. What’s the point? Sorry, I can’t see any way out of this.

Now, she’s probably sitting in Manhattan thinking after this shut-down it’ll be a surprise if I respond. But respond I do.

• It'd all be very disheartening, Ginger, if the very essence of the book is to never be disheartened. Any wiggle room on the fact I could from my humor blog put together a complete follow-up in days? I've been invited to do humorous talks based on the book and been paid $2,500 for the keynote on top of the pre-paid purchase of 250 books. There’s such an appetite for the humor with heart message I've crafted. And I'll pester you no more after this unless you see a mutually beneficial reason. You've already been more than generous with your time.

I think the key here was the first line vow about how I cannot be discouraged. Who doesn’t want to work with a guy like that? Plus, I’m starting to sense she’s intrigued. I do a nifty bit of boasting and then give her an opportunity to bail. She declines and responds with her first positive offer. She wants to represent me.

• Chris, you have great leverage with your history of sales with the first book. Here’s what I propose: Since you own the rights to your material and you have a lot of new material, why not do a fresh follow-up? Maybe something like “Use Even More Crayons!” I would need a complete proposal, though, since you are starting from scratch with commercial publishers.

Hers is a very welcome and forward-thinking suggestion, one I’ve already been mulling. We’ve achieved a virtual handshake agreement. My response seals the deal and becomes suddenly audacious. I want a fellow agent of hers to take “Last Baby Boomer,” too. 

• That's a capital idea, Ginger, something I've been mulling. With your encouragement, I believe I can have something worthy of your consideration by probably April 1. Can I send you a copy of the current book so you'll have a better understanding of its appeals? Also, while I have your attention, perhaps you'll affirm if it'd be a good idea to send the first 50 pages of my satiric novel to your Ohio confederate. It's "The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool." Here's the premise:

In the year 2076, the sprawling Baby Boom generation will be down to one sole survivor, 112-year-old Martin J. McCrae. The distinction earns the chatty McCrae a luxury suite at a NYC museum where contestants pay $25 each to spend 15 minutes with him as part of the ultimate ghoul pool. If they're in the room when he expires, they win the $1.2 billion jackpot. 

Everyone is praying McCrae will die for them, but the ghoul pool is the answer to his prayers. It’s given the old man what he’s always craved. It’s given him an audience, one he’s unwilling to relinquish.

It's a ‘round-the-clock global reality show where no one wins until death does.

Because everyone has to die.

But only one of us gets to die last.

This was self-published last year. Sold about 250 copies on my own. Reactions to it leave me euphoric. Readers say it's hilarious. That was my intention.

Either way, I'll begin compiling a new "Use Even More Crayons!" and thank you for your thoughtful bursts of attention these last two days.

Her response: 

• Jim wouldn’t like this, I don’t think. I like the premise, though, so I’ll take a look. I’m personally expanding my fiction list and I like quirkier things than Jim. Please make sure before I’d take it to anyone that every copy has been removed from every possible sales venue. You can send the books to …

Does any of this portend I’ll soon be a successful writer?

Hell, no.

All it means is I’m getting better at getting rejected.

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