There’s only one thing better than being single and childless at 39: having your novel rejected by one of the biggest agents in New York (AGAIN. AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN).
My joke these days, although it’s not a joke, is I’m being rejected by the best. Three of the biggest agents with the biggest and most famous clients, who are so famous I can’t even name them here, asked to read my full manuscript. One of them even asked for an EXCLUSIVE. Which means she wanted me to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t send my novel to any other agents while she was reading it. Which I couldn’t do because two other agents were already reading it.
You’d think I’d be excited. Instead, I was overcome by panic. I was convinced I’d somehow tricked these important people into wasting their time reading a bad novel (or not reading — one agent was kind enough to tell me, “I’ve read about 40 pages, and I’m afraid I’m going to stop there”) by writing a really good cover letter that made my novel sound really good.
Last week, one of the initial two agents got back to me with a rejection. Did he give me feedback? No. Instead, he (or someone) sent the single-most condescending cut-and-paste rejection letter I’ve read in 15 years of being rejected by agents, literary journals, residencies, panels, fellowships, jobs, MFA programs, men, and sometimes women.
“Thank you for sending us your novel with a view toward representation. We’ve had a chance to read, and while we saw much to admire in these pages ([insert 18 vaguely complimentary words that prove someone read long enough to be able to name a main character]), we didn’t find ourselves falling into it with the kind of all-in, no-reservations enthusiasm that we would need in order to serve as the novel’s best champions. This isn’t to say that it’s not succeeding on its own terms, but rather that we’re likely not the novel’s best readers, and as such won’t presume to offer specific editorial suggestions—to do so would be irresponsible.”
No, friend. To do so would be HELPFUL.
When I was in graduate school, in one of my fiction workshops, I sat next to a guy whose name was Graham or Grant or probably something that doesn’t even start with G. He came in every evening with a plastic 20-ounce bottle of soda and a candy bar. Nothing, and I mean nothing, grosses me out more than watching someone drink soda out of a plastic bottle. I have no idea why. Cans don’t bother me. But I literally experienced a gag reflex just sitting next to this guy eating sugar out of plastic and drinking sugar out of plastic.
After a workshop when one of my stories was discussed, I looked at his notes. He hadn’t written a single thing on the story, but on the blank last page he’d written the following. I’m paraphrasing, but not by much:
“I didn’t respond to your work, because I felt I couldn’t respond to it, because you have a female narrator. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, so I don’t know how to respond to a female narrator. It would be like if you asked my opinion on how to make sweet potato pie, but I don’t know how to make sweet potato pie, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to try to tell you how to do it.”
Besides the fact that he was such a misogynist he couldn’t imagine himself into a female character, and he didn’t spend any time writing a single comment on my story, he DID take the time to write a rambling metaphor about SWEET POTATO PIE. And you know he thought it was CLEVER.
Back to the agent.
Agents hold the keys to the kingdom. They will tell you differently, but the difference between a writer with an agent and a writer without an agent is all the possibilities that come with having an agent. Such as getting your work published with a major house. Or a minor house. Or a literary journal. Or AT ALL.
A rambling email rejection, taking the time not to give the feedback that might help me get an agent (which many, if not most, agents WILL do after rejecting a full manuscript — see example above, which I actually really appreciated), but taking the time to explain why no feedback was given, but then having that be a big fucking lie, is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Here is what an honest response would have looked like:
Graham (or whatever): “I didn’t respond to your story because I DIDN’T WANT TO.”
Agent: “I didn’t respond to your story because I DIDN’T WANT TO.”
I could take a response like that. Because, like most people, I respect the excruciating truth.
For roast chicken, you will need:
- 4-lb. chicken
- 2 TB butter
- 2 TB olive oil, plus more to toss vegetables
- Fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage, chives, and/or rosemary
- Salt and pepper
- Meyer lemons
- Veggies to roast, such as carrots, potatoes, and/or parsnips (although don’t forget parsnips are a pain to chop, as I did)
Pull the chicken out of its packaging and remove any parts. Do not rinse, as science has proven that is MORE likely to lead to salmonella poisoning. Melt the butter in a saucepan and combine with the oil. Rub under and over the skin. Chop some of the herbs and also put under the skin. Douse the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the rest of the herbs in the cavity with a squeezed-out Meyer lemon. No need to tie up the legs.
Chop the vegetables into bite-ish-size pieces. Toss them with salt and olive oil and put in a roasting pan with the rest of the halved Meyer lemons (unsqueezed). Put the herby chicken on top on a roasting rack.
Now this is straight from Saveur:
“Roast the chicken in the oven for 10–15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375° and roast for a further 30–45 minutes with further occasional basting. The bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and have buttery, lemony juices of a nut-brown color in the bottom of the pan.”
If you’re me and you have friends over, check the chicken OVER AND OVER AND OVER for an hour and a half, find that it’s still half cooked, and cook it some more. Then, during one basting session, pull the chicken out in such a way that the entire chicken and all the vegetables dump out INSIDE THE OVEN. Fix situation with tongs, drink more wine and eat more cheese, and have a great — and I mean great — time with writer friends who can commiserate about being rejected by the best.