Monday, February 7, 2011

No Good Reason

We're sad today at Chez Promantica.

My husband, who for 25 years was prominent in the small, insular world of British cryptic crosswords, has been asked by Will Shortz (who is prominent in a much larger way here in the US) to give a brief 5-10 minute talk at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament next month.  Ross's subject would be the differences between cryptic puzzles constructed by and for Americans, and the British style.

I immediately saw some wonderful possibilities:  Craft a clue that yields a valid answer if solved by a Briton, and a completely different answer if solved by an American.  Deconstruct one of Ross's classic British clues.  Make a joke about how the way you know British cryptic crossword puzzles are hard: the pseudonyms used by puzzle constructors were, for decades, names of Spanish Inquisitors.  Frankly, it wouldn't be hard to stand up and talk for 20 minutes.

But that's me.  For Ross, it would be hard even to stand up.  Speaking in front of 500 fellow puzzlers would be excruciating -- the actual Spanish Inquisition might be easier to endure.

I love my husband with all my heart, and it breaks that heart to see him sad with this lose-lose decision.  If he tells Will Shortz no, Ross will probably have trouble letting that missed opportunity go by.  If he says yes, he's got 5+ long weeks of anxiety to get through.

Coincidentally, the Saturday of the ACPT is the date of a writers' conference in Iselin, NJ.  It's not specific to romance novels, but the workshops look good and there will be editors & agents accepting pitches.  I don't participate in the ACPT, so it would actually be convenient for me to nip across from Brooklyn and go to this conference.

But I have not done well in my efforts to pitch at conferences.  My pitch at RWA National last summer was to an agent who seemed interested, but never responded to the query.  (I'm told that "silence" is the new rejection.  Forgive me for a moment if I express a tiny bit of contempt for that.  A form email,
Thank you for your interest in our agency.  We do not believe we can represent your work.  We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

would do the trick.  Isn't that a more professional and more courteous way of dealing with the situation?  At the very least, have a cut-off on the website:
Due to the volume of queries we receive, we may not be able to respond to each one.  If we have not responded within 6 months, we regret that we are not interested in pursuing a business relationship with you.  We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

That's just polite.)

I pitched to two agents in New Jersey in the autumn and never followed up with queries.  I know: it's the one thing they tell you *never* to do.  But by that time, I was reasonably convinced that my completed manuscript, "Love in Reality," was disadvantaged by some aspects I couldn't, or wouldn't, change.  I knew, and still know, that I should have queried them anyway, but I also know there was a slim chance they'd be interested in "Love in Reality" in its old, clunky format.  I did a complete rewrite and it's now much better, but by the time I'd finished that, it was December.  Agents don't accept queries in December, and after the holidays, I rather felt too much time had passed.

Plus, I was on to the next thing.

My current work-in-progress, "Blackjack & Moonlight" does not have any of those disadvantages.  I actually think it's pretty good.  Strong characters, a unique set-up, valid conflict, and satisfying story arcs for both protagonists.  I love it, and I think it has a much better chance for success than "Love in Reality" has.

But is it good enough?  I have no idea.  And that makes me very sad.  I'm now like Ross.  I don't want to take the risk that I'll pitch it, be told, "Yeah, sure, go ahead and send me the first three chapters," and then not hear anything.  Or worse, get explicitly rejected.  (Because the discourtesy of not hearing anything isn't that it's crueler, it's that it allows hope to linger, like the ghost of a scent unique to a long-gone guest.)

Which should tell you that I lack a vital ingredient for success as a writer: courage.  And you'd be right.  I'm a coward.  There's no good reason for that, just as there's no good reason for Ross's reluctance to give a very short talk at the ACPT.  We both have something unique and valuable to share with the world.  It's stupid and wimpy to be afraid of the steps necessary to get noticed.

And we know this.  Which is why we're sad.


  1. Agents don't accept queries in December,


    *heads desk*

    Look on the bright side: at least you didn't send out your first round of queries in December.

  2. Is it an article in the Agents' Charter that queries in December are verboten? No. But check individual agents' websites to see what their policy is. One agent just says, "I don't accept queries in December, and if you send one it will be deleted unread."

    I did contact the agent who'd never gotten back to me after RWA National. It was after I'd done the huge rewrite on "Love in Reality." Unfortunately, I'd sent the email (essentially a combo follow-up and new query) on December 4, and she'd just left for six weeks out of the country. I, uh, do *not* expect to hear from her this time either.

    But your experience may be very different. And even if their websites say no queries, just query again. What's the harm?

  3. If you knew how many agents have rejected me after reading fulls of my one project, you wouldn't feel so bad about yourself.

    Don't give up. I'm not :)

  4. I'm sorry to hear about the sadness and anguish. It's exciting to be recognized for hard work and accomplishments, so it is heartbreaking when that recognition causes anxiety rather than joyfulness. I hope your husband can find a way to enjoy this moment rather than dreading it. :)

    Querying can be hard on the soul. I did it for two years, so I know about the dashed hopes and doubts. The only thing that makes it easier is the repetition. After a few rejections, it's just another email, and you move on.

    I understand not wanting to take the risk of getting rejected. But I didn't want to take the risk of never getting accepted. :) That's what kept me going.

  5. Heck, anybody who can set cryptics has nothing to fear in addressing setters of the standard American puzzles.

  6. Katiebabs & Donna -- I know that stories of other peoples' experience of what my grandfather called "the ordeal by market" are supposed to reassure me, and they do, a little.

    But they also make me sad, only now I'm sad for a lot more people than just me!

    Then I tell myself how silly I'm being. It's a series of if/thens: If I want to write, then I have to get my butt in the chair, etc. If I like what I write and I want others to read it, then I have to choose between self-publication and commercial publication. If I want to be published by a commercial publisher, then I have to do my homework, figure out who to query, write a kick-ass query (which may fail to kick ass, but should at least not fall on its face) and send it out. To a lot of people. Plus enter contests, have an online presence, etc. And, of course, all while working hard to improve my writing.

    And I am neither alone nor unique.

    But just as writing is solitary work, getting published is solitary suffering. Sure, a bunch of would-be authors can get together to share rejection letters and cheer for each others' success, but at the end of the day, the rejections you get are yours and not easily dissolved or diminished by fellowship and empathy.

    The best encouragement is to have people say, "I love your work." Which gets me back to the butt-in-the-chair and working hard to improve my writing!

    To Anonymous: Ah, if only reality worked to improve our self-esteem and decrease our anxieties! Ross not only can set cryptics, he racked up a very impressive record in the UK for setting, editing, and solving what's considered the most difficult crossword in the English language.

    But the sort of anxiety and cowardice that Ross and I share co-exists quite happily with all kinds of accomplishments and sself-affirmations of our worth!

    That said, Ross has said yes to Will Shortz, and we'll muddle through the process of getting him ready for his tiny, little, cough-and-you-missed-it presentation. (See what I did there? I've got to keep this very casual -- oh, it's nothing, dear, you can do it in your sleep...)

  7. I can talk before that large audience quite happily but have trouble summoning courage to dive into the next chapter of my novel--even though it's not the first draft, and I've made changes that improve the plot quite a bit. That makes me less sad than frustrated. Perhaps I need to try a tiny, little, cough-and-you-missed-it chapter. In fact, I like that idea. Thank you.

    Best wishes to your husband in his talk and to you in your querying.


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