Reflection: On Booze, Pickle Jars, Old Books, Typewriters, and Me

A couple of weekends ago I ran some errands. I bought Ball jars for a weekend pickle project I had planned. I replenished our booze (vodka! bourbon! red wine! white wine! rosé, too!). Near the discount liquor store is an antique/tag sale warehouse that gets new things in every week. I like to go and just… browse. I walked out of there with a new typewriter for my collection. I have quite a few typewriters. This one’s a black Corona, circa 1930-something, in nice shape. I also nabbed a Harcourt, Brace, and World first edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  The Little Prince (which is not the one that’s worth beaucoup bucks, sad to say). And I got an illustrated copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Let’s talk about Little Women, shall we?

I wasn’t an Anne of Green Gables girl. I don’t know why. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time until I was an adult. I know I read Judy Blume, but for whatever reason, her books didn’t resonate with me. I was a mother myself by the time the Harry Potter books came out. But Little Women? That book spoke to me. I read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys multiple times as a kid.

About 15 years ago I was in Concord, Massachusetts, and visited Louisa May Alcott’s grave. I shed some tears and left a rose. Then about ten years ago I was in a book group and I suggested we all re-read Little Women. I was shocked, when I started to read it again. I actually put it down and didn’t continue. It was so religious. It was so didactic and preachy and fusty. I thought, “Why did I love this book so much?!” I thought, “What was my Little Women love affair actually based on?” And then the other week I bought this new, old copy of the book.

My life has recently been a bit overwhelming. I’m not going to go into it here, but suffice to say I needed something soothing to my soul. Something familiar. Something that would provide solace. And there, on my kitchen countertop, next to my beautiful black Corona, were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. I picked up the book and dipped in. And stayed with it. When I got to page 90 I remembered exactly why this book spoke to me.

For those of you who know Little Women, I’m sure it’s no surprise that Jo was the sister I strongly identified with. Probably many of you reading this blog did. For those who haven’t read the book, she’s the one who’s the writer. She’s the one who’s sort of queer. She’s the one with the big mouth and the temper. I sure saw myself in Jo March.

 

Alas, 40 years later I’m Mrs. March’s age and still wrestle with my demons. It’s not specifically having a temper, like Jo speaks of. Louisa May Alcott’s Jo and family instilled something in me when I was a young girl though. It was hope. It was the idea that one could spend a lifetime endeavoring to be a better human being, and that is a worthy endeavor. It was that it is ok to keep trying—to aspire—to be good. That it’s a process. That it’s a journey. Can you tell I’m really enjoying reading this book again?

Sometimes a book can come into one’s life at a particular time when it makes a difference. And then later it doesn’t. And then it can again. Little Women is one of those books for me.

So keep writing, my friends. We writers can impact people’s lives. Children’s literature writers can make a huge difference for a young person—a difference that can last a lifetime—that can give hope and comfort, even when all grown up.

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Just how important are those dang query letters? What do I really want to see in them?

Those dang query letters are important. They are my introduction to you and your work (unless I already know you). If I’m struggling through reading your query letter, I’m probably not going to keep scrolling down to read your manuscript. I’ll just cut my losses and reply with a pass. I know you don’t want to hear that. But it’s true.

A good query letter will do its job and pique my interest. It will invite and entice me to read your manuscript. It will put your work in a context. It will intrigue me and perhaps even make me want to Google you.

This is what I want to see in your query letter:

  • that you take your writing seriously and professionally
  • that you’ve done your homework and know what should be included in a query letter… and what should not.
  • that you’re following my submission guidelines, which you can find many places, including on my agency website and here on the blog
  • that you’re not being weird or cute in the query (except normal weirdness or cuteness) because a query is a business letter
  • that you understand what an agent does and does not do (i.e. I don’t publish your book. You don’t hire me.)

The above are general things I want to see. I’m not getting specific, because I feel like I’ve talked about query letters a whole bunch here on the blog. Like here. Here. Here. And here (I got a lot of pushback on this one. People didn’t like my tone.)

Do you have questions about queries? I’m happy to answer questions!

And now, because I always put pictures in my posts, here’s a post of my new typewriter. I bought it this past weekend for no reason whatsoever at all except that one can’t have too many typewriters. Right?

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Why Did You Pass On My Query?

no-thank-you.jpgI finally finally made a dent in the queries that hit my inbox in January, when I was open to submissions for a short window of time. It is intense. There are a lot. I’m still getting through them, and reading some full manuscript requests as well. And I still have to get through many of the Open Call to Muslim Writers queries. I don’t have the time, sadly, to go into specifics of why I’m passing on individual manuscripts. It would take so much time to do that. My first priority is taking care of the clients I already have. After that I have room in my brain and my day for looking for new clients.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about near misses… about manuscripts that I almost want to represent. Sometimes I pass on a project that seems like it would be perfect for me. Maybe it’s poignant and odd and funny and smart. Maybe it’s super queer. Maybe it’s beautiful. Maybe it’s ridiculous in just the right way. And it must must must be well written. But then I pass anyway.

I can hear you, right now.  You’re saying, “Oh my God! Why?! Why would you do that?! Is it my manuscript you’re talking about? I want an agent!!!!” Just sit down. You’ll be ok. Listen to me. Take a breath.

Here’s how it is: I already have clients. I love my clients. I work really hard for my clients. I have a small client list because I know that’s what I can handle. My clients are at many different stages of their writing careers. Some of them have been with me for years and we haven’t sold anything yet. I say yet because I’m pretty sure we will. They are talented writers. I’ll stick by them if they stick by me.

But I do take on new clients. What makes me do it? What has me make room for them, squeeze another writer in? Well, when I read a manuscript that feels essential, like I must have this. Must! When I feel like I’d fight other agents (I hate fighting other agents). When I’ll put everything aside for it (at least for a moment). When reading it sets up a humming in my body. When I start thinking about editors I’d like to send it to. That’s when I make an offer of representation.

So to answer the question, “Why did you pass on my query?” That’s why. Because that’s what I’m looking for and it’s not easy to find. It’s why I pass on most things, and why I don’t often ask to see full manuscripts. Because if I don’t feel like there’s a magical imperative to me having it? Then I’m not the right agent for you. And I know that’s disappointing, but that’s the truth.

 

 

 

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