Friday, January 14, 2005

Form Letters

My husband recently finished writing a book about his experiences as an international volunteer (aka "mercenary" for you liberal panty-wadders) in Bosnia during the civil war. In my not-so-impartial opinion, it's a great book that ought to be published, so we've been trying to get a contract with an agent who will help him find a publisher. Mr. Stapers is a respected and published writer in Finland, with two books to his credit, but the market there is incredibly small. Since Mr. Stapers has no experience with the vast American market, he was disappointed when all of his inquiries were met with either rejection or no response. However, one of the rejection emails was very polite and seemed personalized, implying that the agent thought he had a real winner but she wasn't the appropriate agent for that kind of subject material yadda yadda yadda. I said to Mr. Stapers that even though this sounded personalized, these agents always say the same thing when they reject an idea for a manuscript no matter how good or how dumb the idea is. He didn't believe me. So I wrote to the same agent with my idea for a book to test my hypothesis:

This is fascinating project but we are not the right agency for you/it. We are confident you will FIND the RIGHT agency so hang in there. Thank you for thinking of us and we wish you every success.

From: "Maggie Houlihan"
Subject: Looking for an Agent

Dear Madam,

I have a manuscript which might be of interest to you. I have written a book about garden gnomes: their history, their manufacture, their worldwide appeal. It will be a coffee table book, with glossy full-color photos (which I have taken, myself). It could even come with a miniature key-chain garden gnome!

I am a garden gnome enthusiast. I have owned over 15,000 garden gnomes in my lifetime. I have traveled the world in search of rare and unusual gnomes -- I even had one from Switzerland made entirely of cheese! That one didn't last long.

Please let me know if this book is of interest to you. I shall be waiting for your reply.

M. Houlihan
International Garden Gnome Specialist
Ayup. Verbatim what she wrote to Mr. Stapers.

Maybe this contravenes some mysterious rule in the agency business, but most people I know would actually prefer an honest opinion rather than a polite, but generic, rejection. A letter stating "This stinks. Get bent." at least shows that some thought probably went into the rejection.

On the other hand, maybe she really was being sincere and my idea for a book is a fascinating project.


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