September 9, 2013

Literary Agents–The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Every now and then I do a post to give thanks to the huge number of wonderful people I’ve met since I started on this publishing journey. These are people who go out of their way to help others, usually strangers, and they do it out of the goodness of their heart. Literary agents are often spoken of accompanied by a curse, but like any profession, there are two sides to the story.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Back when I was shopping my first book around, I queried about a gazillion agents. (I’m not actually sure how many a gazillion is, so let’s just say it was close to that.)

  • The Ugly never responded. (I’m sure they did this out of the goodness of their heart, not wanting me to lose hope.)
  • The Bad responded almost immediately with a form rejection. It wasn’t just a big “NO” in the subject line of the email, but it sometimes felt like that.
  • The Good responded with much nicer form rejections, so nice that for a brief, shining moment I almost thought they meant it. And then I realized it was just another form rejection. A clever one, a nicer one, one that took them a few minutes longer to write the first time they made it, but when it came down to it, it was still a form rejection.

Over the course of months I received requests from agents to look at the manuscript, sending my heart soaring into the clouds. When those rejections returned they were even more disappointing. None of the rejections bothered me, I said, but the real person inside of me shouted, Liar!

Okay, perhaps I should say I learned to deal professionally with rejection. I got to the point of being able to spot a form rejection a mile away. Some of the agents got clever, like saying, “I’m sorry. Your writing intrigued me, but the project does not seem like one we could successfully represent at this time.”

Or how about, “I’m sorry, but although your project sounds interesting, I don’t feel I could give it my enthusiastic representation at this time.”

Then There Were The Real Rejections

Once in a blue moon. (Just how often is that anyway?) I got a real response, a response from an agent who really cared. An agent who was in the business because they loved it, breathed it, lived by it. Such an agent is Barbara Poelle. She works for Irene Goodman Literary Agency and she represents some fine authors.

You might think that she is also my agent the way I sing her praises. Alas, no. She isn’t. Not for lack of trying, mind you. I sent her a query. She asked for the full manuscript within hours. A remarkable five days later she got back to me. When I saw the email I felt certain it was an acceptance, an offer of representation. How could she not want this masterpiece of literature? Well, maybe not that, but certainly a masterpiece of storytelling. Well… let’s move on.

Her response was music to my ears. Unfortunately it was all drums, and I hate drums. She said no. She said she wanted to like it. Really wanted to like it…but…well, I screwed up. She didn’t say it in such an unkind way though. Not Barbara. She pointed out where I had gone wrong and she wished me luck and good fortune, and…you get the point.

Her sincerity came through in the email. I wrote her back, thanking her for her quick response and most importantly for her politeness and help. I said I didn’t relish the task ahead of me, as this would represent tearing my book apart and reworking some of the plot, polishing off a few characters, and fixing dialogue issues on others. But I was ecstatic that she gave me such good feedback.

She immediately responded with an abundance of notes she had made while reading. Unfortunately, those notes represented more work for me. More problems with my masterpiece. After I swallowed my pride, then washed that down with a bottle of Chianti and a plate of pasta—and after I quit questioning her parentage and even their ancestry, and other things about her I won’t mention here—I realized she was right. Damn her!

So for the next three months—yes, three months—longer than it took me to write the novel to begin with, I slaved over the revisions. I took the book apart, changed plot, cursed Barbara Poelle, changed characters’ names and styles, deleted characters I loved, cursed Barbara, put in new characters, deleted chapters, fixed plots, cursed Barbara. Did I mention that I cursed Barbara? Well, I did. But when it was all said and done, I had a novel that was far better than what I started with. That masterpiece was no longer a masterpiece, because now I could see flaws, but it was a hell of a lot better than what I sent her.

Another Chance

So…I sent her a second book of mine. I know what you’re thinking. This is where he reveals that he signed on as an author with her. Unfortunately no. She liked my second book also, but…yes, there is always a butt but, she still didn’t feel as if she would be the right agent for my work. She even used the old George Costanza line from Seinfeld—the “it’s me, not you,” line.

Once again though, she offered sage advice. She told me that my plotting was…well, I won’t go into the praises she sung. Not enough room on this blog, but she said that it appeared as if I liked writing my villains and secondary characters more than my main character. She felt my female lead was one dimensional. How dare she? Once again though, after more consideration, and pasta, and Chianti (I think I’m going to have to try that combination before I write next time) I realized she was right.

So I tore apart another novel, ripped the clothes and skin off a character that I thought was beautiful and wonderful—until Barbara came along. And once again, I had a far better novel.

I continued querying agents, and I ran across a few more good ones. Some bad ones, too. Several of the agents showed interest, but unlike Barbara, they wanted me to do things to the storyline that, to me, didn’t make sense. Things that would have ruined it.

I eventually opted to publish myself, not because I gave up on the agent route, or even the traditionally published route. The decision had more to do with me doing the book the way I wanted to do it. Telling the story my way. Having the cover I wanted. The price I wanted.

Bottom Line

Am I happy that I self published? Absolutely, and I have Barbara Poelle and others, to thank for helping me produce the best books I can.

Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,




Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of:
No Mistakes Resumes
Murder Takes Time
Murder Has Consequences
A Bullet For Carlos
Finding Family
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”


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