The Hard Part (III)


One sweet day I’m going to have a lot of friends who are literary agents and I’m going to make them send me specifically formatted letters every time they want to speak to me or ask to borrow my bundt pan. Of course I will then reply to said letters with an across the board answer of “Sorry, I’m almost in love with this idea but can’t quite commit. I’m sure someone else will adore it.”

Can I just say that this weekend has been a perfect reinforcement of the title of this post?

As I said I would in the last post, I tweaked a few things in my query letter until I was happy with it. Then I spent the last week or so doing another complete edit of the manuscript and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s much stronger for it.So today I sat down and started sending out some queries.You might venture to think this is easy. You’d be wrong.Every agent has their own foibles, each wanting things done just a little differently.The result is that each submission winds up being a long process of putting together a list of specific materials and arranging them just so in order not to be rejected outright by getting the format wrong.Some people want just the query, some want the query and the first ten pages, some want me to add a two-page synopsis to that, some a one page synopsis and a description of how I intend to promote the book, the list of possible combinations is endless.

One even required me to submit my favorite sentence from the manuscript. Say what? I kid you not. Out of a hundred thousand words, each and every one of which is near and dear to my heart, this person requires me to choose my very favorites. Talk about an agonizing decision. Ugh. I hope I get to meet that particular agent one day. I will throttle her (unless of course she sells my book).

By the time my mind was completely frazzled, I had sent out a whopping nine submissions. The first and third had already been rejected by the time the ninth was submitted. On the plus side, neither rejection was a form letter, though one did leave me with the distinct impression that she hadn’t read past the first sentence, so bizarre was her reply.

For me the worst part of being rejected is looking at an agent’s list of sales. While they certainly have one or two that are good (or I wouldn’t be considering them), they also seem to have sold a glut of worthless dreck, often things as revolting as vampire romance novels or some tired old fantasy retread. I know this sort of stuff sells (though I do wonder to whom) and agents rely on hack writers to pay the bills but it’s just really painful to know that somewhere out there is a book about an angst-ridden urban vampire and his emo girlfriend that got picked over mine. I imagine it’s the exact same feeling the musicians here at the Rabbit Room get every time they hear a Britney Spears song.

Oh joy, just got another rejection as I was writing that last paragraph. I intend to do at least a few submissions every day this week. We’ll see how it goes.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


  1. Eliza

    it’s just really painful to know that somewhere out there is a book about an angst-ridden urban vampire and his emo girlfriend that got picked over mine.

    If you’re talking about the book I think you’re talking about, the book wasn’t that great. The sequel to that book really surprised me. The author really did some plot/character gymnastics. And more than a half-million copies were sold of the third in the series, so the demographic it’s targeting is apparently connecting with the story. That says a lot for the book.

    Trust me, it gets harder than this, even. Read: agent-requested full revision. This past week I just kept thinking, will this process ever end?

  2. Pete Peterson


    Well, since I pulled that ridiculous plot off the top of my head, I’d say the point is valid. I don’t think it says a lot about the book though, I think it says a lot about the audience. Part of me wishes I was capable of churning out that kind of stuff, the rest of me is glad I don’t try.

  3. Pete Peterson

    The agent in question had a lot of YA and children’s sales and said she was actively looking for more (as well as other stuff) but gave the rejection based on mine being ‘too young’ for her tastes.

    I don’t even know what to make of that. Too young for someone that deals with books about sad wagons, happy mice, and adventurous tractors.

    (not real books, just making my point)

  4. Nathan Bubna

    Ooh. “sad wagon.” i like that. those words fit and flow unexpectedly. then again, i’ve always been partial to the word “wagon”. 🙂

    the process sounds infuriating. may you find reasons to smirk and smile amidst it!

  5. Eliza

    Pete’s right:

    Only, I wish I was clever enough to have written that post on a spec book. 🙂

    I still put forth that 97% of this book publishing thing is right time-right place. One not so overtly spiritual as I might call it “dumb luck”. *achem* I had an agent read my full overnight. She said she was pulled through and finished it because of the writing, but in the end wasn’t invested enough in my character’s story.

    Dude. Can’t it just be “good enough”? Puh-lease? Ah, well. At least I’ve learned a lot in the past three years.

    I think “AUTOREJECT” would be an excellent band name. A little too much like All-American Rejects, maybe, but still.

  6. Pete Peterson

    I’ll probably be skewered for saying this, but I’m highly suspect of people that are able to read so fast as to consider a full manuscript overnight. I’m a slow reader, I actually pronounce every syllable of a book ‘outloud’ in my head, and tend to re-read sentences and often even entire passages multiple times just to enjoy the way they sound and feel. Reading at the speed of a book a night(or multiple books per day as some agents do) is so utterly foreign that it’s a stretch for me to imagine that they have the same grasp and appreciation of the material that I do.

    When I meet these sorts of folks I like to quiz them and poke at their brains to find out if they might be lying, but thus far they do seem to have genuinely digested the book(s). Yet I still eye them warily and remain unconvinced. They are mysterious and not to be trusted. I secretly believe they were hatched out of pods somewhere in Wisconsin and have yet to be proven wrong on that count.

  7. eliza

    I read exactly the same way. It’s a feat for me to read a book a week. The few people I’ve talked to who can read that fast don’t even remember if they’re rereading a book until thay’re halfway done. Come on, what’s the point of reading at all? To say you read a lot?

    This agent in particular has said she hires assistants because they can keep up with her. And the agent I’m working with now read my full in two days and sent me a very detailed report on what she wanted in revision. So I guess some people can do it, but me? Never! The better the book is, the more I pace myself.

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