Saturday, May 12, 2007

Does Anybody Out There Know a Good Literary Agent?

This post is not about psychiatry. At all, in any way, shape, or form. If you want interesting, intellectually stimulating conversation about psychiatric topics today, find another blog. Maybe one of my co-bloggers will be back later with our regularly scheduled program.

I've lost count, not just of the rejections (oh my gosh, I lost count of those years ago), but maybe even of how many novels I've written. Maybe it's time to throw in the metaphoric towel, to devote myself to other pursuits, become a relentless blogger, see more patients, spend more time cooking for my kids, do their laundry even. Gee, when did those kids last have their sheets changed? Travel the world, exercise more, go to all those meetings I tell people I don't have time for ( Roy, you can skip that sentence). Longer walks for Max, perhaps.

It started with Monday at The Charm (see the sidebar). Maybe I queried a million agents? I finally found one, the agent submitted the novel to some publishers, no luck, and I later learned this agent is on every list of evil, avoid-like-the-plague agents. It's okay, no one else was jumping. So then I surrendered on the commercial route and started sending direct queries to small independent publishers--- one called Erica House, fairly local, was interested and offered a contract. I was thrilled-- at least my book could be shared with my friends and family, and this has been a good thing. I went to the bookstore and found some diet book by the same publisher, it looked legit. Somehow, in the course of the year (or was it two?) it took to get published, Erica House vanished and was replaced by an imprint called AmErica House, then PublishAmerica, which has since published a zillion books in something called Print On Demand which somehow likens it to vanity or self-publishing, even though I didn't pay them to publish the book. In literary terms, the book isn't taken seriously. PublishAmerica does no direct marketing, I hired a publicist, there was a little press on the book which came out in August of 2001, not the best timing for a novel, and on the day America invaded Afghanistan, the Baltimore Sun ran a pretty nice review and I was thrilled to be called "a gifted writer" in print. It doesn't get any better than that, though mostly I was beside myself about the state of the world, even I didn't care about some novel.

Next there was Home Inspection. A handful of the many queried agents looked at it, all rejected it. It's about two patients who see the same psychiatrist and their love story plays out in their sessions, perhaps the one who changes the most is the shrink. Okay, so this time I found an agent right away, she had at least one author I'd heard of, a long list of successes, and 50 years in the business (literally) and didn't know how to use a computer ("the machine is broken"). No online mentions at all, and 13 publishers rejected Home Inspection. It's a tough market for fiction I'm told. I tried the small publisher route, found someone local, but whose books had won some awards, and he said, "I'll meet you for coffee and tell you what's wrong with your book." I met him and his assistant for lunch and they gave me a blow-by-blow of what needed to be done. Make it first person, not third person, increase the emphasis on the psychiatrist. I did this, his company went on a publishing freeze. I found all sorts of garbage about him on the internet, lost count of how many lawsuits he'd been involved with, and stayed away. I renamed the characters, changed the title to Patient Pursuits, tried again to find an agent, no one seemed to notice they'd seen the book before, and they all sent the same "sorry this isn't right for us" rejection slip. Even the few I had some more personal contact with didn't notice they'd read the book before. I gave up, figured if something else made me famous, then Patient Pursuits or Home Inspection would gain a life.

Then there was Mitch & Wendy, a children's book written for my kids. One reputable publisher sat on it for months, said maybe, then no. One agent lost it in a pile, when I called over the summer I was told "they're in the Hamptons." I want to be in the Hamptons. Finally, feeling apologetic about the lost manuscript, she sent a 3 page critique (in a cascade of "dear author f* off" slips, this is noteworthy). Mitch & Wendy have now aged and entered a nursing home. Oh, and the book ends with the Red Sox miraculously winning the World Series, long before it actually happened, so if that one gets dusted off, I'll need to rethink this.

Then, there was By Reason of Insanity, 290 pages of odd dribble about a woman who kills her sister's psychiatrist. Even I can't read it. It took a year and a half to write, and I've dismissed it as a project that got me through a hard time. My husband and sweet cousin were subjected to reading it, but I passed on the whole find-an-agent routine, and probably just as well.

In there, I've searched in funny ways-- I organized a symposium for APA called Telling Stories: The Psychiatrist as Novelist and I met some pretty neat guys, and yes, I've contacted their agents. I could only find one other female psychiatrist novelist, with the same iffy publisher that I have, and she couldn't make the symposium. I went to Robert McKee's Story course-- this was the 3 day screen writing course featured in the Nicholas Cage movie Adaptation-- it was an amazing experience. Robert McKee stands in front of an audience of hundreds and lectures, single-handedly for 10 hours a day for 3 days. I learned a lot about plot construction, movies, all sorts of stuff, and met a couple of interesting people, including a high school teacher who had written a screen play once over a weekend that became a mainstream film, and yes, I went home and rented it. Last year, I took became a grad student and now I know more about constructing fiction, I got some great feedback on my novel of the moment, life goes on.

So the novel of the moment is called Double Billing, named by ClinkShrink after she and Roy were given a one sentence synopsis. Psychiatrist walks into NYC diner to bump into her unknown identical twin. Lots of twists and turns. Several agents have agreed to look at the novel, they've all said "not for me." What is for them? I've read all the books, taken all the advice, wished someone would just tell me "You have no talent, give this up." The blog has helped, it's diverted some of my writing energies and I've been happier being an unpublished novelist since. Yesterday's mail brought a rejection from the agent who represents my favorite book, The Kite Runner, who had agreed to look at a synopsis and three chapters.

I guess it's all part of the journey. Thanks for listening. I'll be back as a Shrink Rapper soon.


Anonymous said...

Rejection teaches us one thing. Rejection! As a wanna-be author, I have struggled for over a year with my book. My agent tells me I need more of this and less of that. Ghost writer's are starting to look like a great way to go. My book is fiction, based on so much truth that I find it hard to write at times. My synopsis was even hard to write. I still am working on it. So far, this is all I have come up with:
"The secrets and addictions of a City and the people who live there. A journey of lost hope and innocence, betrayal of love and the struggle to find the truth and healing in the most intimate relationship. A World of music, glamour, heroin and betrayal.
The willful betrayal of fidelity between a City and the relationships that exist under it’s glamour and secrets.

I don't even want to think about trying to get it published. In the end, it may just be my therapy.

.... said...

Get thee to a writers conference. I went to the Pikes Peak conference in April. My wife was invited to the Algonkian in NYC as well.

Learn how to do a proper query and start querying agents again. Go to to find them. I have had 29 rejections since last month and am awaiting 51 replies.

Check out and my blog. Check the other links in my blog.


Sarebear said...

You've got talent. I read alot of books, and I enjoyed Monday at the Charm.

I echo the DON'T give up thing.

Keep plugging away.

If you ever want someone to read and give you feedback like "Hey, you transition too abruptly in this portion from this scene to that scene (and it's obviously not meant to be done in a jarring way)", or "I was confused at this part, maybe add something in here or change where this paragraph goes", or other things, I'd be happy to help.

I used to proofread stuff alot in a job (not novels, though).

Gerbil said...

Dinah, my sympathies. I have heard the fiction market is really, really intense (by which I mean "impossible").

I've only tried the non-fiction market, with no success... unless you count the weird agent who said I had the "guts and bones of a great story" (huh?) and for a price he would help make it publishable. Uh, yeah.

.... said...

Fiction is not easy. If you are not having your work read at least by peers, preferably by experienced coaches, and taking their advice, fiction will be impossible for you. If you do not attend writer's conferences and belong to a group who can provide you critiques and support, you ain't gonna make it baby. One of my biggest supporters, my mentor for crying out loud, is a 29 year old literary agent who has turned down my manuscript. She is half my age but has taught me more about getting an agent and marketing my book before it is published than anybody. I met her at a writers conference. Don't get discouraged.

Roy said...

Dinah, one way of getting published is to show that you have command of a large vocabulary. In other words, you must be megagaltastic.

ClinkShrink said...

It never hurts to be sesquipedalian, although granted it helps more in Scrabble.

Dinah said...

Parked: I feel your pain.

Jeff: Thanks for the links and suggestions and good luck with your book.

Sarebear: Thank you, thank you! A very kind offer. It's more than I can inflict on anyone.

Gerbil: Thanks for the empathy. I'll take all the support I can get.

Dinah said...

Oh, and Clink and Roy:
Big words?? You are both too smart to be my friends.

ClinkShrink said...

I'm keeping you as a friend. You feed me chocolate and introduce me to nice people.

NeoNurseChic said...


Can't help much in terms of having an agent to recommend or anything like that, but I'd be happy to also volunteer to read for you!! I am a really good grammar editor, if nothing else....not that you need that, but I've always been rather obsessive with editing! I never correct people's grammar when they are speaking or in any other setting really, but I have done so a number of times when someone asks me to edit something they've written! Never something so lengthy as a novel, however! And most of all, I just really love reading! Haven't read your first book yet because I have a lengthy list of books I'm reading at the moment - including one Sara recommended to me here! haha (The Deborah Lott book - so far, it's very interesting...I've only read the introduction and part of the first chapter, however....had a few other things on my mind lately!)

I've always wanted to write a book, and I really do love writing - but I can never think of a good topic to write about. When I was a kid, every time I had to write a story for school, mine were always like 20 page novellas. I had a ton of ideas back then! These days, the only topics I have in mind are nonfiction autobiographical type things that I'm sure would not interest the majority of people!

Carrie :)

jcat said...

Dinah, can't say you just got local interest with 'Monday...' - you have a fan all the way down here in South Africa! Bought it, read it, really enjoyed it.
Keep writing,

Anonymous said...

I agree with this completely, thanks for the post.