Can BRP’s resident optimist still find a positive spin on the situation (see my Ten Affirmations to Bolster Optimism, from 2009)? Of course she can! This is why.
• The agent—the one who believed in Natalie—no longer believes in the industry. This makes her, hands down, the wrong agent for Natalie. An agent's job is to sell. By leaving the industry, she has freed Natalie to move on.
• By her own admission, this agent couldn't sell a thing. Perhaps her personality wasn't well-suited to agenting, or her ability to identify a salable manuscript was off. Unfortunately this makes her a questionable gatekeeper as concerns her enthusiasm for Natalie’s manuscript. Young adult readers are particularly fickle, and it takes a good agent to stay on top of the trends—a fact that raises the question of whether the project, well targeted just a year ago, might already have outlived its relevance. That may or may not signal the tabling of this one project—but it doesn't signal the death of publishing.
• Agents and editors leave the industry all the time. It is always aggravating for an author, but nothing new. I've heard many such stories over the past decade. It is the very reason for the term "orphaned" manuscript.
• This "not answering" is not so new. I have a friend who got a rejection back after six years. Another did get a request to resubmit, but only a full year after an enthusiastic request for the full—an assistant found the manuscript wedged between the radiator and the wall when they rearranged the office furniture (guess that’s the hard copy version of getting caught in a spam filter). Stuff like that happens. Who’s ultimately responsible? You are the one seeking an agent to help conduct your business. When in doubt, follow up.
• Computers have made it way too easy to fill white paper with little black marks; now low-cost electronic methods have thrown wide the door for submissions. No more hard copies slipped “over the transom”—now queries arrive in agents’ offices in a constant digital stream. Anyone can submit, and they do. So much of it is drivel. If agents responded to each and every submission they would never get any useful work accomplished. And why hire an assistant to answer drivel? In a sustainable business model, one hires an assistant to do work that can make you money!
Q: Kathryn, did you really use the word “drivel”? That doesn't sound optimistic! And as a developmental editor, don’t you believe that each project has a sacred core of creativity you hope to nurture into fruition?
A: Yes, I do! Join us tomorrow for part two, in which I substantiate my use of "drivel," and show how it should lead the diligent writer toward optimism.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, has been published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.