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Well, that was fast. I’ve already received rejections from three of the six agents who offered to review my work following the Pitch Slam. Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. (It’s not great, mind you, but also not too awful.)

First of all, if I was forced to rank those six agents, I would say that two were my favorites, two were in the middle, and two were at the bottom (one because I just wasn’t excited about her and the other because the work she typically represents didn’t align with mine — as you’ll see below).  The first rejection came from one of those bottom two. Following the conference, when I would think through the agents I had met, I would consistently forget her.  Like, “Wait,…weren’t there six?  Now who was that sixth?” Her rejection came quickly, within a few days of my submission, and was completely generic.  The most generic rejection I’ve ever gotten.  It addressed me by my full name (Krissy Dietrich Gallagher) as if it had simply been cut and pasted from the submission form.  She then went on to say she was not the best agent for “the memoir” (I’ve never not had an agent mention the title of my work) in part because she doesn’t have the time to take on any new clients right now. Really? Then why did she go to a pitch slam where she’d meet some 400 eager new writers? My mom got the exact same rejection from her on the exact same day (except her’s referred to “the young adult fiction”).  Huh, oh well on that one.

The next rejection came from one of my middle ground agents, a very friendly woman who I enjoyed speaking to quite a bit.  Her’s was at least nice (and she mentioned the actual title of my book!), saying that she read my pages “with great interest and enjoyed my honest admissions and engaging narrative style.” But ultimately, she didn’t “fall in love” with the project as much as she had hoped. So that one was definitely a disappointment.

And the third, … oh now this one is classic. First, let me give you some background of how this industry works. Memoir falls into a category somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. It is, of course, non-fiction because it is actually true (at least it’s supposed to be true — just ask James Frey!). But agents want it submitted like fiction. Not submitted as if it were fiction, but submitted in the same manner that one submits fiction. Here’s the deal: If you’re a fiction writer, you need to complete your entire work before submitting it. An agency and publishing house will represent you if the story and the writing are good, so they need to actually read the manuscript. Non-fiction adheres to a completely different set of rules. If I wanted to write a book on how women should invest their money, I would write a non-fiction proposal before writing an actual book, and that proposal would describe my outline, my credentials (I better know something about investing … and women!), my platform (hopefully I have some articles printed in boring money magazines or I’ve been interviewed on this topic for the news), etc etc. Same thing if I want to write a book on the history of wine production in France. I need to present to an agent and publisher why I’m the best person to write that book (and it can’t just be because I like wine … and France!), especially if I expect them to pay me to go there and “research” for a year.

So, anyway, even though memoir is technically non-fiction, most agents want it submitted like fiction: Write the book first, make sure it’s really good and then send out sample pages. The idea is that it’s the writing and the story that will sell that book, not the credentials or platform of the author. So, this one agent I pitched to in New York, who mostly reps non-fiction, asked me send in a non-fiction book proposal. Of course, I’ve never written a book proposal before. So, after putting it off as long as I could, I finally pounded one out, including market data on cancer memoirs versus mommy memoirs (“momoirs”), hunting down website statistics for St. Baldrick’s and Carepages, listing the speeches I’ve given over the years to various organizations about Austin’s cancer. I finally sent it in yesterday only to find this message in my inbox this morning: “Krissy (my name again)…It was lovely to meet you and I appreciate the chance to read this. I have, however, decided to stop representing memoirs as I just couldn’t land them. I wish you all the best …”

Oy vey.

But, hey, I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal, so at least I have three agents left. And my top two among them. Plus, now I have a non-fiction proposal in case anyone ever wants one!

The other thing I got out of my bike trip was renewed desire to work on my book.  I, of course, had many opportunities share Austin’s story,  which I, of course, took full advantage of. Which (of course) led to conversations about the book. I got lots of positive feedback and encouragement from a bunch of people who’d never read a word I’ve written (perhaps I should tell an agent that),. And now I want to get out there and do something about it.

For as long as I’ve been saying that I’m “working on getting my book published,” the truth is I’ve only queried about fifteen or twenty agents in all these years. Most authors, even bestsellers, query five times as many. I recently read that The Help, which I loved, was rejected 60 times before Kathryn Stockett landed an agent (and then a movie deal). Nobody is simply going to find me, as I sit here in my home office and blog away.

I’m still awaiting word from one agent from last year’s Pitch Slam, but I have to amdit that it has indeed been almost a year and I may  never hear from her. And even if I eventually do, it can’t hurt to query others in the meantime.

But pulling that manuscript out of its dusty spot in my hard drive can be a bit overwhelming.  I guess I need to think of it like just another mountain. One step at a time, one word at a time. If I tackle this book word by word, I’ll eventually finish (82,000 words later!). And then the query letter (which is always being revised) word by word and then the literary agents, one by one down my long list.

And sooner or later, I’ll reach that summit. Step by step, word by word. I’ll get there.

I received a completely unexpected rejection yesterday from an agent. Not that I had expected her to request my full manuscript, but I hadn’t expected to hear from her at all.  She’s the one I wrote about many months ago who I’d met at the Pitch Slam in January and then queried, and then followed up with in March (after the requisite two month wait) and then never ever heard from. So I assumed I never would.

Suddenly yesterday an email from her appears in my inbox. I was so surprised I thought maybe I’d pushed some funny button on my phone and pulled up old email files form the dark recesses of digital storage. But no, it was dated August 24 and she began by saying what a pleasure it was to meet me at the conference (although I’m certain she has little recollection of me at all). She then apologized for how long it’s taken her to get to all these submissions and acknowledged that I’d probably written her off, but “for what it’s worth, I think you have a very interesting project and an important story to tell. I also found that your prose conveys true emotion and that you handle a difficult subject with a deft hand.”

Okay, okay, this sounds good. Tell me more. And then the word: “Unfortunately …” It’s like those moments on The Bachelor when they say to some puppy-eyed prospect, “You’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner: funny and smart and good-looking. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that I might fall in love … BUT ….”

So, my “unfortunately” was that the narrative did not pick up quickly enough for her to have the necessary enthusiasm to represent my book.

Well, I have to say, this is a really good rejection for a few reasons: One, I didn’t expect to hear from her at all so it’s not like I was holding out some last great hope. And two, this is the very first time I’ve received any constructive criticism. I’ve had agents reject me in completely generic terms or I’ve had them praise me and my writing only to blame the market or their own inexperience for not being able to sell my work (a twist on the classic, “It’s not you, it’s me” line). But now, finally, I have an actual reason, something I can do to make it better.

And it’s the very reason I’ve been wondering about lately.  In fact, just last week, I dragged my book out of those dark recesses of digital storage and added a brand new first page, something I’d been loathe to do before. I knew the beginning didn’t fully capture my best writing but I’d been so stuck on how to change it. I still don’t have the perfect answer for how to do it but at least I have an impetus to do so and a clear goal — move the narrative along faster.

Now I just have to hope the one other agent I’m still holding out hope for doesn’t think the same thing!

There are a lot of ways to get rejected. Some of those ways feel a bit better than others (say I, tentatively embracing my emerging role as something of an expert on rejection).

I got another rejection last week. Yes, the third of five.

But let me tell you, compared to the generic form letter rejections I’ve received thus far, this one felt pretty darn good.

Lines like, “I read this with great interest and your talent is obvious.” Oh my, thank you. “I thought the writing was truly engaging, and the pacing and structure were excellent.” This is good to hear because the structure of the first part of the book is made up of a combination of blog posts and private journal-like entries, peppered with select responses from readers. I’m comfortable with the format and can’t quite imagine changing it (at least not at this point) but have been aware that someone might ask me to. So the fact that she liked it is a good sign.

And then, “This was a very compelling read for me, but (but, but, big ol BUT) ultimately, I worry that there is no place for this memoir in trade publishing.” Ohhhh . . . . ouch. The words “too medical” found their way in there too. (Well, to her credit — and mine –, she said she was afraid a publisher would think it was too medical, not that she thought so.)

She admitted that this was more about her (in)ability to move my manuscript through the stages of publication due to her inexperience, which was actually a concern of mine about her from the very beginning. She happens to be all of about 25 years old and obviously hasn’t established herself in the industry yet. A new agent like that can push another young adult vampire novel through the process because there’s a template for that — it gets done every day. But a medical memoir, which nobody seems to want these days (due in part to the fact that every single person who’s had cancer or whose parent, spouse, child, friend or pet has had cancer is told they should “write a book about it”), requires someone with enough connections that they can pick up the phone and call their friend, who happens to be a respected editor at a respectable publishing house, and say, “Listen, I  know nobody wants another medical memoir but trust me, this one’s good.” She admitted that she doesn’t have the ability to do that but reassured me that someone else out there does and that she’s “sure they’ll scoop it right up.”

Well, I hope so.

After five excruciating weeks of waiting, I have received two rejections from the five literary agents who requested my work at the Pitch Slam. They were both completely generic rejection emails, clearly the form letter variety they send to everyone: “After careful consideration, I’ve decided this is not something I would like to pursue. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Blah blah blah.”

I’m actually not devastated by either one (something that has been a bit surprising to me).  Neither one of them was my top choice. In fact, the first rejection came from an agent who was added at the last minute (she hadn’t preregistered for the Pitch Slam) and I had therefore done no prior research on her, like I had for all the others I pitched to. I simply stood in her line because those precious two hours were coming to a close and there were only two people in front of me. She seemed interested enough in my story, but did mention how last year when her parents both had cancer, she “learned about all these kids with cancer. That’s really something people should know!” It struck me as odd, like did she really not know that children got cancer? That would be rather difficult unless you were living under a rock somewhere.

But the real kicker for her (or the real kick against me) was that when I returned home and did finally research her agency, I read that she does not want any books dealing with dogs, cats, blogs or journals. Well, I am not an animal person, but the first (and longest) section of my book does follow a blog-like format. It is a series of updates, drawn from the original Carepage, interspersed with more personal journal-like entries and select responses from readers. So, had I known that ahead of time, I never would have pitched to her anyway.

I did like the other agent I was rejected by, but she wasn’t one of the ones who I walked away from that fateful Saturday feeling the most hopeful. Two of the remaining three I feel very hopeful about, while the other would shock me if she requested a full. I had really liked what I’d read about her ahead of time, especially this: “Understanding why characters make the hard choices is also integral to building them into a truthful entity—and if your protagonist isn’t worrying over any difficult choices, that’s a problem.” We obviously had some difficult choices to worry over! But she also said she doesn’t want “misery-driven” memoir and even though I would argue that my story is driven by joy and hope and love, I think it still falls into the dreaded misery-driven category.

None of this is very surprising. A lot of agents request partial reads at events like Pitch Slams simply because they’re nice and feel bad rejecting people face to face (that is made so much easier by email!). I read somewhere that after last year’s event, four writers out of more than 300 attendees actually found representation from the Pitch Slam. Plus I keep reading article after article and blog post after blog post about how no publishing houses want memoirs that aren’t written by someone famous (i.e., Sarah Palin) or at least with an established writing career (i.e., Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love who was already a professional writer). It’s very frustrating of course, but I seem to have written my little book at the wrong time in the publishing industry.

So now I wait and wait and wait some more. And hope for at least one measly agent who wants to read my full manuscript. Just one! One, one, one (okay, maybe two . . .).

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