Writerly Wednesdays–PitMad

I know that not many out there are interested in my literary travails. But, what the heck. I have a platform with this blog (a little one, in amongst a sea of similar little soapboxes), and I plan to use it.

As I mentioned last week, I took part in the insanity that is called Pitch Madness, or #pitmad over on Twitter. Basically, writers hoping to snag a literary agent were encouraged to tweet a 140-character pitch with the hashtag #pitmad included. Theoretically, agents and publishers would be trolling the #pitmad waters, looking for anything interesting. The result was thousands and thousands of pitches and, it seems, only a few useful responses from agents.

My own experience of PitMad was mixed. I actually enjoyed the short-pitch format. I tend towards short and snappy. Queries, which are what writers normally send to agents in hopes of getting representation, are about a page long and have to pack in a ton of information while still being gripping. The Twitter pitches, per force, had to be short and couldn’t convey much information. So I was free to let it rip, so to speak. It didn’t take me too long to come up with a pitch for my most recent project, Channing:

“The Old South, a Quaker, a duelist, a homicidal lepidopterist, and the woman in the middle. Channing begins and ends with a bang.”

I’m not sure if “lepidopterist” was too obscure and might have thrown off potential interest (it means a person who studies moths/butterflies, in this case Harry Daniels). But that’s neither here nor there. It was used ironically, as the whole pitch is a bit tongue-in-cheek.

While I was at it, I figured it couldn’t hurt to pitch my previous project, Grove of Venus, since it’s a complete and fully publishable novel that only wants an agent and a publisher. It didn’t take too long to come up with that pitch, either:

“Nicole, a prostitute, pretends to be Marie-Antoinette, steals a diamond necklace worth a fortune, and gets away with it. #truestory”

On September 12th, I went to work and forgot about PitMad until about noon. I cursed myself for lost time (it began at 8:00 a.m.) and hurriedly sent out my tweets. I continued tweeting them hourly. I got a few re-tweets and “follows” from fellow writers. I got a few spammy followersand messages, which I deleted. And I got a favorite from PandaMoon, a thinly-veiled vanity publisher (i.e., you pay for shit that no reputable publisher would make you pay for; essentially, you pay them to publish your book instead of the other way around). I ignored that.

At about 2:00, my Grove of Venus pitch was favorited by an honest-to-God agent. I was naturally delighted. This PitMad thing was alright after all! I had hoped to get some reaction for my Channing pitch, as that’s the project I’m focused on right now, but I wasn’t surprised that Grove of Venus got more traction. It’s much flashier and sexier. In any case, the agent requested a synopsis and the first ten pages. The problem was that I didn’t have a synopsis worth mentioning. Curses. It had slipped my mind that I didn’t have a serviceable synopsis. So I whipped one up while I was still at work. I figured it wouldn’t do me much damage to let it sit, edit it when I got home, and then respond to the agent (I couldn’t send it without copy-editing it). In the meantime, I continued tweeting my pitches in hopes of getting more attention (I didn’t get any).

Once I got home, I sent out the requested material. And I waited. I wasn’t too worried about not hearing on Friday. After all, I’d sent my materials after business hours on Thursday. And if you know the publishing world, you know it works at the pace of a slug crawling through molasses. I got the rejection yesterday (Tuesday). For other reasons, I was already in a fairly unhappy mood–not angry, just dispirited. The rejection–which appears to be a form rejection–didn’t help, naturally.

But, you know what? One day later, I’m feeling more positive. This wasn’t a formal query process. It was kind of a shot in the dark. I’m not soured on PitMad.

The really discouraging part is that none of my efforts have yielded much fruit (so to speak). I am not entirely impartial, obviously, but I’m pretty objective in assessing the quality of my own work. I work in publishing. I’ve been writing and querying for years. I’m no more forgiving to myself than I am to anyone else, and that ain’t very forgiving. I’m pretty well aware of the quality of my completed novels. They’re lawed, perhaps (Grove of Venus more so than Channing), but still of high enough quality that they merit publication. I’m standing over here, waving my hands, trying to get attention, and I get nothing but silence and chilly form rejections.

Trying to break into publishing is very difficult, and very lonely. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and rejection is isolating. Many people are deluded into believing they wrote “the next great American novel” or what have you. It’s aggravating when you have no such delusions–when you approach the publishing world with a solid product and a clear perception of that product’s worth–when you present yourself professionally and competently–when you have something worth showing–but no one will give you a second glance.

Now, I should note: several agents looked at the full manuscript of Grove of Venus and passed for various reasons. They were mostly gentle rejections. But the lack of enthusiasm pushed me to set aside Grove of Venus for now. So I have garnered a bit of attention. Yet the overwhelming response is . . . silence.

I came home yesterday feeling pretty low. (Don’t worry: the thought of giving up entirely has yet to enter my mind.) But I’m in the middle of a new project, and I’d had a great new idea that I’d been wanting to write about for days. I sat down, wrote out a whole chapter, and felt immeasurably better about myself, my writing, and the possibilities of finally breaking through the literary-agent barrier. Take that, agents who rejected me! I wrote a damn awesome chapter in a damn awesome novella to complement my other two damn awesome completed novels! Take that.

The moral of the story: The best antidote to the sting of rejection is writing something that you love.

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