The Longest Reply

Writer waiting for an e-mail reply, biblical painting by William Blake

In My Inbox

Today, in my e-mail inbox I received another form rejection. That in itself is nothing out of the ordinary, for I get these things all the time. But what set this particular reply apart from all the other replies is that it took the agent, two years and three months to return the e-mail. I’m sure in the overall scheme of things this is no record, but for my particular literary endeavors it is definitely a major milestone, for I have never had to wait so long for a rejection.

A Glimmer of Hope

And then from all the information conveyed to me by this agent, who I will allow to remain anonymous, there was this little glimmer of hope.

“Regarding your submission, while there’s much to like, I’m afraid I’m not connecting enough emotionally to your characters, which ultimately means I’m not connecting enough with the content of your story. “

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that it was obviously part of a form letter. A few original words would have been greatly appreciated, but I guess it just wasn’t going to happen on this day. Maybe this agent would have been better off, if he had sent no reply at all. After all that seems to be the current form of saying no.

 

Do E-query Services Work?

Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia
Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia

All writing is discipline, but screenwriting is a drill sergeant.”  ― Robert McKee,

My Experiment

Last year, I used two different e-query services to seek representation for two different screenplays. Here’s what happened. Over the course of several years, I had written two, feature length screenplays. Each one came in at about 120 pages, a tad long for a feature film, but still workable if I could find the right party. One adventuresome tale took place in Central America during a period of political unrest, while the other story was set on a dairy farm in the northeastern U.S. Both plays had strong comedic elements, so I thought I had a chance at optioning one of the stories, though it was definitely a long shot.

My Plan

Besides, if I could not find a buyer for the scripts, then I could always (1) enter them in screenplay contests, (2) put them up on Black List or (3) use them as an outline for a novel or novella. Since I had already invested 20,000 words in each script, I thought that I already had a pretty good draft for a short novella. Nonetheless, the idea of selling a script to Hollywood (or elsewhere) was tempting and possibly lucrative, so I chose to go down that road first.

The E-query Services

Conventional advice says not to use an e-query service for seeking representation for a screenplay or anything else literary. According to popular opinion a writer is much better off, submitting query letters to individual professionals, whose field of interest most closely matches your story. But I had tried that method with no significant results, so I decided spend a little money on an e-query service. The dairy farm script went out through Scriptblaster and for the Central American story, I chose E-query Direct. The price was 39.99 for E-query Direct (300 recipients) and 89.00 for Scriptblaster (650 recipients). Each service produced one contact worthy of mention, which is more interest than I had received from sending out queries one at a time and personalizing each query to the appropriate party. Following are my results.

An Ongoing Relationship

One development company, located in Los Angeles, requested a PDF (standard fare for screenplays) for the Central American story, then over a year later, they requested the other script, even though I had not promoted these screenplays at any other time. The readers gave very favorable comments about each story, but at this point in time, I have not received any offers on either story. However, when I do complete my next script, I will definitely be contacting this group about my latest effort.

The Phone Call The biggest surprise of all came when a successful Hollywood producer called and asked for a paper copy of the dairy farm script. I sent the script by U.S. mail and when I returned the call, I was shocked to find out that I gotten his first name wrong. This upset the man immensely and I have not heard from him since. It is likely that he didn’t like the story, but the other the side of the coin is also possible…….that is he blew me off for unprofessional behavior.         Moral of the story: Don’t screw up the small stuff.

Quality Still Counts

Don’t be fooled by the high number of movie professionals that are on the mailing lists of these online  services, for you still have to have your writing skills down pat, if you want to connect with the film industry. These skills include writing a good query letter, as well as a good movie script. Surprisingly, writing a good query letter might be the most difficult and the most important of these two tasks. Though only a page long, these letters have to be right on. Good karma and Zen enlightenment are a must if you are to succeed with this task.

One More Thing

And then there are those minute, little things called Loglines and Taglines. Consider these the Haiku of screenwriting, for a good one  can go a long way in selling the story.

“Dear Lucky Agent” Writing Contest

For anyone who has an unpublished manuscript for a novel lying around the house, Chuck Sambuchino & Co. over at “Guide To Literary Agents” are currently running a contest. Writers have until January 23rd to submit the first 150-200 words of the manuscript, which should fall under the category of  “literary fiction”. At least three entries will be selected by the judge,  Lindsey Clemons of the Larsen-Pomada Agency in San Francisco. These entrants will be requested to send the first ten pages of their completed manuscript. The contest opens today and runs until the 23rd of January. Announcements will be made within three weeks of the last day of the contest.

Guide To Literary Agents

Four-Red-Chairs

is a fun site primarily geared to prospective novelists. They provide numerous interesting articles and interviews with both writers and agent, plus they run frequent “Dear Lucky Agent”  Contests. A lucky agent contest involves the submission of short writing sample that is judged by a prominent literary agent. Each contest is usually centered around a particular genre of writing and winning writers usually receive a partial reading or critique. Other sites that often run similar contests are QueryTracker and Nathan Bransford’s blog.  Though with Nathan, it remains to be seen if he will still sponsor such contests now that he is no longer a literary agent.

And for all of those entering the contest, best of luck.

Night Lights in Montreal

Can Self-publishing Get You A Book Contract?

Cat's Eye Nebula:  Credit; J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCSU) HST, NASA
Cat's Eye Nebula: Credit; J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCSU) HST, NASA

Walt Whitman self published his first book of poetry. So did Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. And you can add Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau to this list of self-published authors also.

And the 20th century saw many self-published writers turnout successful titles. Some of the more noteworthy are Ulysses by James Joyce, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust,  The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Peter Beatrix Potter, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Robert’s Rules of Order and the  Joy of Cooking.

So how do things shape up for the 21st century. Ten years into the new century and it appears that self-published authors are doing well with obtaining book contracts.

“A successfully self-published book can propel you down the road to a book contract at a commercial publishing house.” At least that’s how Alan Rinzler, a consulting editor, describes the situation over at his blog, the Book Deal. On his most recent post he goes on to list two self-published authors, who have recently received book deals and then goes to list some reasons why self-publishing is a good prelude to a book contract. Reasons include proof that a writer can market the title and a signal that the author has the confidence and courage that is needed in today’s literary market.

So for all those writers who feel obligated to finding a literary agent(that includes yours truly), maybe there are other ways to go.

Adding To The Slushpile

Roadside in Halifax, England

In snowed yesterday here in northern New England, then turned to a heavy rain and left a real big mess. One big slush pile is what I would call the deposit that Mother Nature made on our fair city. Further inland, the ski resorts and mountain residents received a good hefty amount of snow, while further to the south, our good New England neighbors got nothing but rain. However, this pile of slush that we received yesterday is now frozen solid, but at least the rain followed in ample amounts to wash the streets and side walks clean.

Strange that this real-life, slush dumping would arrive almost exactly at the same time that I had finished my six month contribution to another proverbial slush pile. That is the one accumulated by editors and especially literary agents, as they wade through the weighty stacks of paper and endless lists of e-mail submissions that eager and ambitious novelists and writers, like myself, have so graciously sent their way in hopeful anticipation of that ever-so-elusive intangible object, known as the book contract.

Fortunately, by time this latest snow event had come our way, I had called it quits on my contribution to the literary slush pile. Nearly 100 queries and only two real requests for written material have left me in the same boat as sports fans everywhere, who can be heard around the country uttering the famous words, “Wait until next year!”.

pile of paper
A pile of paper

I think I have given my fair share to the ideas of literary quest during this year, but have I learned anything from my unsuccessful endeavors. The answer to that timely question is a definite yes. And here’s what I have gathered in from events.

Some writers do succeed in becoming authors via sending large numbers queries to one of the many literary agents, located around the country, but they are few and far between. I think it is fair to say that submitting unsolicited queries is a long shot, but there might be better ways to achieve the impossible. Here are a few of my suggestions.

1 – Getting to know agents at conferences and other similar gatherings will greatly improve your chance of finding an agent.

2 – Finding a referral from an established writer or other important literary person will also open doors for you.

3 – Getting an MFA in Creative Writing will not get you a book contract, but it may get you a teaching job or some other kind of similar employment.

4 – Bitching to an agent about a rejection slip is a complete waste of time and energy.

5 – Publishing short stories in well read and admired literary journals can be of great benefit.

Skiers in slush
Skiers attempting to navigate the slushpile

And for those of you who are so inclined to undertake such an endeavor, here are two links that list literary agents and provide some basic info about each one. You can find Query tracker at this address and there is also Agent Query, which can be located here. They both are very good and inclusive, and also free, but I have a slight preference for Query Tracker. This is partly due to their blog and partly due to the way they organize their site.

And finally for those of you who like to keep tabs on what literary agents are up to and how they operate, here is a partial and incomplete list of some of the more popular blogs put out by agents. Probably the post popular blog is that published by Nathan Bransford, who is an agent for Curtis and Brown in San Francisco. You can check out the blog here and find out why for yourself why he is so popular. Another interesting blog is Call My Agent, which is put out by an Australian literary agent, who goes by the name of Agent Sydney. I have also mentioned the blog put out by Query Tracker. This daily (weekdays only) posting actually involves four bloggers, who post on a rotating basis. And then there is Guide To Literary Agents put out by Chuck Sambuchino, which is always a good read. And of course, last but not least is the fabulous rant once published by a fictitious Miss Snark. She hasn’t posted since May 2007, but her fabulous and humorous comments are still worth the time and effort. Be sure to check them out as the whole blog can still be read online.

Good day and I hope you find this post helpful, Everett Autumn