Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Letter In The Mail

Today I got a letter in the mail.

It came in an envelope with my handwriting on the front. An SASE. No return address.

I stared at it for a minute, trying to figure out whom I had sent a letter to that required an SASE. I figured it was a query, but goodness! The last queries I sent out to agents were in February!

I'd actually thought I'd gotten them all back. After all, there weren't very many I'd sent snail mail. And even though I have a publishing contract now, I still got that little flip in my stomach when I realized what it was. Without opening it I knew. It had to be a rejection. Does anyone - even an agent that requires you to snail mail a query - reply positively via SASE?

But even as I held it, it seemed a bit thick for a single sheet of form rejection. It was like college applications all over: if the envelope comes back thin, it's a rejection; if it doesn't, it's an acceptance with a wad of financial papers.

And when I opened it, I still expected a form rejection. Even though it was three pages. I expected, with every line I read, for it to be a form rejection. We loved it but...

I have gotten so many of those I can recite it by heart.

But this one...

It was most definitely personal. There was nothing at all form about it. They apologized for taking so long. They explained they've had an exceptionally busy season. They said I did an amazing job with my sample writing.

I looked at the agency name. Oh. My. Gosh. It was one of the big guys. A major player I'd thought I'd never have a shot with. Someone I'd obviously written off as soon as the envelope was in the mail, and never wondered why I didn't hear back.

I went back to the letter. They want the whole manuscript.

Yada yada... it ends with this: We get so many proposals each month it is overwhelming, but once in a while we find one that is refreshing and engaging. And yours is one of them.

Me. My book. I'm one of them. I'm one of the ones they want.

I have to be honest. It isn't until I write this right now - a full six hours after the mail came - that I finally realize this could be something big.

But you know what? I didn't - and don't - feel like I made a mistake signing with a small press. I've been down that road before. I've had agents say glowing things, then reject me with so much as a I love this but I have no idea who to sell this to.

And you know what? I do. I know who will buy this. And I think I can sell it. I believe in my book, and the story, and I believe there is an audience for it. And I don't wish I hadn't signed a contract so I could go through one more round of printing and mailing and pinning my hopes on someone else. Because in a month, or two, or six, the SASE in the mailbox might say something not so nice to hear. Because I don't want to wait around waiting for something that may never come and overlook the opportunity staring me in the face.

I could spend all my time waiting around for something better to come along, when the perfect thing is right in front of me.

Still, at the end of the day... it is nice to be wanted. And to be the one that gets to say, Thanks for thinking of me, but I've gone with someone else.


  1. That's wonderful affirmation.

  2. Everyone loves praise and compliments, so enjoy it!

    And remember that you can sign with an agent even if you already have a publishing contract. Good agents stay with you throughout your career, not just for the first book

  3. That's awesome. Sound like the days before I was married when I'd have a long time with nobody interested in me then as soon as one girl would like me, along comes another. It's like they knew I was "wanted".

    Anyhow, I'm going to try to use this post to inspire me to actually finish something and get it out there, so I can get nice rejections like this!

  4. That has to make you feel good. Are you still going to explore it. Like Megan said you can still sign with an agent.

  5. Kerri - well, it wasn't as if they offered representation. Isn't it sad that at this point, I see asking for my full just prolonging the inevitable?? But it was really nice to have them say nice things about my writing. That never gets old! :)

    MeganRebekah and Patti - I considered this before I signed a contract. I actually contacted one of the agents that had said she loved the book but didn't know who to submit to, and she did offer to represent me for this book, but not necessarily for my career. I had a contract lawyer look over the contract and we agreed there really wasn't anything I needed an agent for on this opportunity.

    Hopefully the book will sell respectably and will give me a leg up if I decide I want an agent on the next book.

    Paul - I thought about the girlfriend/boyfriend analogy too!

    I wrote this agent back telling them I have a contract already and they wrote right back wanting to know who with. I'm wondering if they want to offer rep. if it's a big company, which it isn't.

  6. I think you have the *best* attitude toward this. You can always second guess everything, even if you have an agent and a big publisher...there are so many variables to question every single day. You have to just have faith that the decisions you've made (or that have been made for you) were the right ones, and that you are on the right path.

    Good for you, Heidi! I'm so excited to see where your path takes you!!!

  7. Thank you Kim and Brit... I'm excited too.

    I could constantly second guess myself - I did actually for about three seconds while writing this.

    Then realized I didn't make this decision rashly. I really, really thought it out and researched it.

    There are so many paths to take. So many agents and publishers... any choice is just that: a choice. Who's to know what the right one is unless you just dive and and trust it?

  8. That's a great position to be in!

    I wandered in from Nathan's blog. Hey, you left the door open.

  9. Welcome Charlie! the door is always open here! :)

  10. even though you signed with small press? you can't follow up to see "what if?" is it the same manuscript? can you tell us who????? :) congrads - that must make you feel so great!

  11. Shelli - I did write the agency (who I won't name, just because it didn't feel right to do so) and tell them I had a contract. I think they might actually still be somewhat interested, except there just isn't that much money in small presses for them.

    Mostly though, I went through all that when NorLights offered the contract. I had agents who might have taken me on. But after a lot of consideration, it didn't seem like that was a great decision.

    I consulted a lot of people, including one of my top agents, and they all said I didn't really need one.

    it is nice to have agents want to read more, but it isn't the same as them offering to be my agent. That step still hadn't been made, and as I've experienced, an agent loving my writing and wanting to read more does not mean long term commitment!

  12. congratulations!!
    hope it all works out perfect for you...

  13. Wow, I'd have mixed feelings about a letter like that. It's like a "soft rejection". But you never know... It's so good to cultivate relationships and BE NICE; you never know where your next step-up is going to come from.

    Example: I e-mailed Aaron Shepard (of Aiming at Amazon fame) a few months ago telling him that I loved his books. He e-mailed me back; I wasn't even expecting a response. I sent him a PDF of my latest book about self-publishing and he agreed to provide a quote for the back cover!

    KEEP the letter, and keep your name out there. Maybe your next book will be represented by XXXX Agency. And don't be afraid to drop names, Ms. Lady! BRAG as much as you can-- marketing is a big part of your job as a writer, and the most successful writers know how to market themselves at every turn.

  14. Catching up on blog posts, I see everybody has added their thoughts, so of course I will add mine.

    I say it can't hurt to contact this agency and let them know you've signed. Let them know you've got more than one book in you. Offer the full with a representation sweep if they are interested.

    If not, who cares? You've already got that contract! :-)

  15. Hi Heidi- I'm Hugh's wife. I am seeing your replies and wondering (I'm not an author and have no clue) why anyone would want an agent if you already have a publisher? Isn't that just one more mouth to feed (and taking from your own no less)?

  16. Hi Amber! Your question is a good one, but probably has a long and complicated answer.

    One of the main reasons people will seek out an agent after they already have a publisher is to have an experienced eye look at the contract and make sure it's fair and competitive, and not sneaky or a rip-off.

    For me it was more a long term thing to consider. Right now I have a book deal. That's attractive to an agent because they basically have very little work to do. If an agent would want me now because I have a book, that's someone on my side for the next book if I want to submit to the larger houses on a new book. The larger publishing houses could offer greater marketing and exposure, advances, stocking in bookstores, and more likelihood of foreign rights.

    If I don't use this publishing contract to get an agent, and if my book doesn't have some significant sales, it will be much, much harder to get an agent in the future than if I hadn't published at all. It's a huge risk: to go with a small press unagented is to risk never breaking into a bigger market.

    I decided before I signed with NorLights and looking at the options, that I'd take that risk. Not everyone will agree with my decision. Traditional publishing is entrenched in the agent system, so it's hard for many to imagine traversing it without an agent.

    My big question is why an agent would want to take on a writer with a small press contract. There is basically no money in it for them, very little marketing money to help their client, and if the book doesn't sell widely, they will have a much harder time selling a new book to a larger publisher.

    There really isn't a right or wrong way. There are different ways. Each author has to evaluate the pros and cons, and what they want out of the agent relationship and out of their own career, and make the decision that's best for them.