Friday, December 2, 2011

“…it’s undergoing review!”

Those three little words from a literary agent carry such weight, such hope. I’m buoyed for days, even weeks. And there’s that perky little exclamation point at the end. What secret message of encouragement is it meant to convey?

As a child, whenever I complained about too much silence from my older siblings away at college or I worried because Dad was late from work, Mom’s comment was always the same: No news is good news. And so, as I enter the agent search for a second time in hopes of landing a home for my new memoir, I keep my mother’s words in the back of my head.

The first time around, when I sought publication for The Thirty-Ninth Victim, it was a largely USPS process – expensive and cumbersome. Not only did you have to print and mail the materials, but also include that awful Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for the return of rejected materials. I learned to dread getting the mail. But at least I knew when my work was rejected. I had physical evidence.

With electronic submissions I have learned that one must read agent submission guidelines more carefully than ever before. No news is good news no longer holds weight in a world where on-line guidelines include some version of the statement: If you haven’t heard from us within 3 weeks, assume that we are not interested. You’d think they could simply send an It’s not for me email. And some agents do. But many do not. So even if the writer maintains a neat little Excel spreadsheet to track submissions, in the absence of careful reading, said writer may find herself waiting longer than any reasonable person would wait in hopes of a positive response. On the other hand, if a writer reads each and every detail (more than once) – as I have now learned to do – she still waits. But then, after the appropriate time has elapsed, she scratches that agent’s name and submits to another to keep her active submissions list at a nice even dozen.

Given this world of electronic silence, any response – even a rejection – I welcome. (Is it just me, or are there others who feel that an email, like a letter or a phone message, deserves a response?) So when an agent requests the full manuscript, my heart swells. And when I open my email to the words “…it’s undergoing review!” I still use my mother’s words of comfort as I wait and wait and wait with fingers crossed. No news is good news, I tell myself as I imagine my manuscript moving from computer to computer, hand to hand (does anyone print hardcopies anymore?), meeting to meeting, slowly climbing that humble path to publication.

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