Head Games

Attribution: Penny Mayes

Attribution: Penny Mayes

If you’re a writer, more than likely you’ve sent out a few slew of query letters to literary agents, perhaps even to a few publishers.

And after sending forth those queries, crossing various appendages, and looking at the clock–then, the calendar–chances are you’ve opened your email one fine morning/afternoon/evening, and there it was: the thing you’d been hoping–and dreading–to see.

Sometimes, in equal measure.

A writer sends queries and sometimes–if she’s lucky–agents respond. Her novel’s title in the subject line. Sent from Agent X, Y, or Z.

Does our writer first look at the time stamp and try to figure the significance thereof? If the email was sent at 5:05 p.m., that can’t bode well, can it? The agent has completed her ‘real’ work. Now her assistant is tackling the stack of rejections. Or the email came in at 11:08 p.m., far too late to be anything but a form rejection, right? The agent is propped up in bed with her lappie and a well-deserved snifter of scotch, zipping through a hundred emails, her mind numbed by the same stupid mistakes, the same unimaginative queries, the same vapid YA vampire story she read yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. . .

Switch POV now. Back to our writer, who is staring at her own computer screen. Agent X responded. Okay. So, does our writer open the email right away, or does she do the query dance, a well-choreographed series of steps to refresh her memory, answer the burning question: What did I send that agent, exactly? That’s what she tells herself, but deep down in her heart, she knows it’s a stalling tactic. Our writer is dragging her feet, prolonging the inevitable.

Regardless, she sets to sifting: what was Agent X’s #MSWL wish list? What were agency guidelines–query only, query and first chapter, query and first three chapters? Synopsis? She recalls jotting little notes relative to her personalized query to Agent X and combs through those, looking for a nugget of brilliance. Surely, there’s something

The dance continues. She opens P&E to review the agency, what they were looking for, genre-wise. She skips over to QueryTracker, find her beloved Agent X tucked in between the Ws and Ys. She reads fellow writers’ comments, submission response times. On average, of course. No guarantees.

Suppose our writer does all that. Even after the backtracking, double-checking, calculating, does our writer hesitate before clicking open the email from Agent X?

For what purpose?

I can think of but one: she’s steeling herself for heavy disappointment, because that is what this email surely must be: the dreaded form rejection, beginning with those two words that shatter fragile hearts and crush tenuous dreams:

Dear Author.

And yet. . .

And yet, even knowing the odds against her are so long, the promise of disappointment so sharp and the cut, so potentially deep. . . even considering all that, coupled with suffered disappointment stacked upon disappointment, is it possible our beleaguered writer harbors a tattered shred of hope that this time, if she dares believe. . .

I imagine the scene. To calm her nerves, she draws a breath and sighs it out with a whispered okay, tosses her fate to the wind and

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4 thoughts on “Head Games

  1. I just did something like that with my latest Agni email. Hopes still hinged on it, yes, but not novel sized ones. I read the other new emails in my inbox first, and called up my submissions on The Grinder to check what day I was at. It had been a LONG time, that could only mean they were REALLY considering it, right?

    Nooope.

      • I also really dislike “Dear Author”. I mean, they want us to be as precise and professional as possible, and they can’t even use our real names? Just seems like a basic cut ‘n’ paste courtesy, y’know?

        I’ll just dust the story off and send it out again. It’s about 4500 words and I aim to trim it to 4k, as apparently that’s a lot of litmags’ word limits. I imagine it’ll be better for it!

        • Jen, good for you. Good for you. If we don’t keep at it, keep putting our stuff out there, who’s going to see it? Who will find us? We need to have faith in our own work, champion our own work. Otherwise, it will languish. And so might we.

          As for your story, yeah Jen, trim da fat off that bad boy. Lean and mean, baby. Best of luck with it.

          xo kk

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