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Out From Under My Rock

November 2, 2015

Under a rock

Faint noises filter in from outside, the roar of a crowd pierced by cries of glee. They’re out there under the sun, watching their sportsball game. Marching with linked arms. Or partying down, dancing, singing out of tune. The extroverts.

The noises are faint because I’m under my rock, in my cave. It’s neither dank nor buggy, and I sit in a very comfortable chair. Best of all, I’m alone. I’m happy here. I’m an introvert.

Carl Jung popularized the theory that humanity exists on a spectrum between introversion and extraversion. Extroverts thrive on the company of others, the more the merrier. Large gatherings fill them with energy. The introverts abhors crowds. Crowds sap his energy. He’s nourished by contemplation and solitary work.

Western culture biases against the introvert. From the youngest age we wish our children to play well with others. Quiet ones are suspected of affliction or worse. Everyone assumes introverts are in the minority. But the Myers Briggs personality test shows that introverts outnumber extroverts by 51 to 49 percent. Because extroverts naturally talk louder, they dominate the conversation. They remember times they were alone. It felt bad. So they assume we must be suffering under our rocks. They shout – Come out man, into the sun! Join the party! No thanks. We assume they’re…crazy. Crazy to hang out with all those people. How could that possibly be fun? Because their fundamental energy dynamics operate in an opposite manner, it’s no wonder that extroverts and introverts have little understanding of each other.

Because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean I’m actually shy. My father was shy, which made his fame extraordinarily painful. Like many introverts I have a deep need for a partner, which Ms. Muse fulfills. I enjoy small numbers of friends and family in limited doses. I still prefer to be alone.

Composing and writing are by necessity solitary endeavors, so I have chosen my fields well. I’ve been lucky to have spent most of my days toiling away under my rock.

Except that periodically I’ve been forced to emerge. You may be writing your tenth symphony or the Great American Novel. But nobody’s going to buy it, or read it unless you come out from under that rock and sell it.

It’s time to sell my book to an agent. I have depicted that process using the metaphor of an assault on the castle of the publishing business, in which my only weapon is a one page query letter. And I imagine myself crawling out, blinking, into the sun, to the squalid camp in the fens below the fearsome keep. I’m surrounded by other cave dwellers, writers who pace around muttering, half crazed by the prospect of the coming assault.

But medieval metaphors can’t do justice to these uncanny times we live in. Because while in some parallel reality I am waging a battle, at the same time I still sit in my cave behind this wizardly device. But my comfortable life has been wrecked. And will remain so for some time.

Here are the rules of query engagement: You send out you query and get back a). A form rejection. (More on that below.) b.) A “request for a partial” – fifty pages of your book. Yay! c.) A “Request for a full” –the whole manuscript. Hot damn!

Some time after b. or c., you get your answer: 1. Nothing. (What’s known in the music biz as “If you haven’t heard you’ve heard.) 2. A personalized rejection. Bummer! 3. A request for “R and R” – rewrite and resubmit. (We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.) And….4. the magic words, “Offer of Representation.” Hallelujah!!!

I type in the email address of the first agent. I make sure her name is spelled correctly – blow that and she’ll never get to the first sentence. A deep breath, and I hit send. The second one is a little easier. As is the third. Within a couple of hours I already have my first form rejection. And then another.

I have lunch and take a little nap. Wake up and check my email. A ‘request for a partial.” Yay! An agent wants to read fifty pages of my book! I send it off. Two more rejections come in the next hour.

The next day, a “request for full.” Hot Damn! Over the next week a couple more.

I’m seeing a pattern in the rejections. While a few are perfunctory, many agents seem to be attempting to outdo each other in graciousness. Maybe knowing the terrible odds of our letter snagging an agent (as bad as 1 in 20,000), they take pity on us writers. Don’t want to be the one to drive us to drink or worse. Most agents are in New York City. They could be like the music biz people I used to hustle there. Publishing and music are small worlds, and nobody wants to give reason for a grudge to someone who they may have to deal with.

Except these rejection letters are killing me with kindness. It takes real skill to make a “no” sound like “yes.” We writers are constantly exhorted to “show don’t tell”, so here’s one that came last night, from the Query Shark herself, Janet Reid:

Right now my list is very full, and I’m fortunate that business
is very good so I have to pass on projects that are not only
good and publishable but ones I really like. That’s a good
problem for me, but it just stinks from the writer’s
viewpoint, yes indeed it does.

I strongly encourage you to query widely. Other agents have more wiggle room
on their lists and are able to take on more than I can.

Please think of this as redirection to another agent, not rejection.

Very best wishes to you!

But as I said, a no is a no. So I’m on a roller coaster. A lot of downs and some ups and it’s hell on my nerves. I’m about to go to sleep when I foolishly check me email. The first rejection of a full manuscript. Ouch. I’m up half the night parsing the lines of the honeyed rejection.

I really need to chill, because it’s likely to be months before this thing is resolved. Some agents won’t even look at the query until next year. Serial Martinis would do the trick, until they caused other problems. So it’s back to writing. This blog, and the next book, which is actually about half done. But it’s tough. Because the very device I’m typing on is a can on a string with New York City on the other end.

I can dream. Once a single Offer of Representation comes you email other agents saying you’ve got one. And suddenly the game is reversed. They’re all chasing you, desperate not to let another agent get the jump on a good thing.

I’ve been good all the way down this page. But now I’m going to check my email…Rejection? Request for Partial? OFFER OF REPRESENTATION?

No. It’s CVS telling me to fill my prescriptions.

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