WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Life’s an endless journey

Time for an update on my search for an agent.

Bummer: Amy Berkower of Writer’s House turned me down after reading a hundred pages. Why? Although she thinks I’m an “extremely talented writer,” “We didn’t find the characters of the constituent events to be emotionally engaging or distinctive enough to stand out in today’s literary fiction market.”

I don’t know about you, but I hear a passel of BS in that statement. Who talks about “constituent events” anyway?

All she’s really saying is that she doesn’t think she, or a publisher, can make any money on this book.

Because her assistant sort of led me down the primrose path on this one, I fired off a reply, which I almost never do; generally only if we’ve established a little bit of a rapport in our correspondence. Here’s what I said:

Ouch, Genevieve! This one really hurts.

I really thought I detected in your earlier notes the kind of enthusiasm that usually leads to representation (I’ve had a number of agents over the years …). Of course I respect your decision, but – also of course – I have to disagree with some vigor.

Thinking of a book like Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett, which I read recently, I’ll defend my characters as much more emotionally engaging and distinctive. And though you don’t know how the plot plays out, I think We Were Together packs the same dramatic punch as Haslett’s book but in a more surprising and, frankly, poignant way.

Nonetheless, thanks for taking the time to read the sample so carefully and for feeling a little bit bad in passing on it.

Best,

Kevin Brennan

More to come, I’m sure …

 

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31 comments on “Life’s an endless journey

  1. islandeditions
    August 3, 2017

    In other words, you are not producing the same tried and true pap that they know they already have a market for and can sell to. “Unique” and “interestingly innovative” are not words in their vocabulary, and they’re not willing to do the leg-work of trying to find you an audience – in encouraging readers to try something new, simply because it IS well-written by an “extremely talented writer”.

    Just keep writing, Kevin. You know that I, and a handful of other readers, will always enjoy whatever you write, and will promote your books as best as we can. In the meantime, I feel your frustration. But, please, just keep writing …

    • islandeditions
      August 3, 2017

      Actually, make that “legions” of other readers … not just a handful. 😉

    • kingmidget
      August 3, 2017

      Exactly. What I got from the quote Kevin provided is that it’s their standard drivel when they reject a piece. A bunch of big words that sound important but really mean virtually nothing.

      • islandeditions
        August 3, 2017

        This is the “CYA” method of dealing with submissions. It’s the author’s fault for not conforming, never the publisher’s fault for not wanting to take a risk at developing new talent.

      • kingmidget
        August 3, 2017

        What I find fascinating is that they make these “judgments” with only a small portion of the story to read. If I had gone with how I felt about the first 30 pages of The Kite Runner I would have stopped reading and not discovered one of my favorite books. Earlier this year, I read a book that I absolutely could not stand for 150 pages but I kept on because a friend recommended it. And I’m glad I did. The rest of the story was stunning. There are plenty of other books I’ve read like this. Start slow but build to something incredible. The way agents and publishers do this requires a Big Bang up front.

      • islandeditions
        August 3, 2017

        The most bizarre reason for rejection I ever received (and why I stopped submitting to publishers and went the self-publishing route) was that, while they liked the story and my writing, “We wouldn’t know how to market a book like this.”

        But, but, but! I wanted to say … I’ve been a bookseller and a publisher’s sales rep all my working life! And I won a national sales awaard from the Canadian Booksellers’ Association. Let ME help you with the marketing as I know this novel intimately and I know the possible markets for it! They had obviously never bothered to check into my writing credentials or my employment background to see that I was actually quite well connected and could have helped them in not only promoting my own book, but other books they had published. Their loss. But they would never see it that way.

      • kingmidget
        August 3, 2017

        So they rejected a book they liked because of their own limitations. Beautiful.

      • Kevin Brennan
        August 3, 2017

        I’ve heard that one a lot. As if they’re complete doofuses who don’t have a creative or innovative bone in their bodies and who never heard of a unique novel that actually did well. Infuriating!

      • Kevin Brennan
        August 3, 2017

        Believe me, a lot of surprising things happen in this book, so it’s especially annoying that they didn’t want to see more. In the end, Nixon resigns!!!

      • Kevin Brennan
        August 3, 2017

        Yep. They try to obfuscate the fact that they read the sample with a shallow eye, looking for signs of the usual crapola that sells.

      • kingmidget
        August 3, 2017

        Who are the agents who actually want to see something new and figure out how to market it? Are there any?

      • Kevin Brennan
        August 3, 2017

        God, I hope so … 😐

    • curtisbausse
      August 3, 2017

      I second that!

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Susan! It helps. God knows I’ve heard every rejection line in the cosmos over the years, but this one tells me that not much has changed since my last round of submissions a few years back. They phone it in. They want quick sales. They want more of the same until they don’t, and then they want what’s already hot.

      Alas.

      • islandeditions
        August 3, 2017

        My new battle cry – Innovate and Evolve …
        Don’t Conform!!

      • Kevin Brennan
        August 3, 2017

        I love it!

  2. Phillip McCollum
    August 3, 2017

    If your widget doesn’t have the whiz-bang of all the other widgets out there, we’re not interested. Oh, by the way, we’re tired of the same old schluff…so if you have something new and different, send it to us!

    Sorry, man. What a tough business. At least you know you have people out there who *do* appreciate your work. I’m hoping you find a way to reach more like us.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      You got it, man. They’re sort of on autopilot, even though they pretend to be on the lookout for the next great thing.

      You’re right: I have built a nice base of loyal fans, and that’s fantastic. 😉

  3. pinklightsabre
    August 3, 2017

    Very very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      Not to scare you off submitting to agents. Just steel yourself for the baloney. 😉

      • pinklightsabre
        August 4, 2017

        No, I get that. I mean, I will. Lot of the reason I’m wanting to work with you, for that perspective.

  4. Audrey Driscoll
    August 3, 2017

    This sounds familiar. I remember reading a rejection letter over and over again, trying to figure out just what it was saying, besides “No, thanks.” I think agents’ and publishers’ default attitude to a submission is to reject. That’s why the wording often sounds disconnected. Thanks for sharing this painful experience.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      I do think you’re right. They’re looking for reasons to reject quickly. They don’t want to invest the time. It boils down to what they’re really trying to say: “It’s not you, it’s me.” 😉

  5. John W. Howell
    August 3, 2017

    Makes fun reading but the point is they don’t want to be bothered with you and you are lucky not to be bothered with them.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      Well, I hope I get to be bothered with one of them out there one of these days!

  6. Ilona Elliott
    August 3, 2017

    I know you are a musician also. Ever heard of Wilco??? They had a similar experience with their music. The label led them on then decided not to commit. They claimed they couldn’t place them neatly into an existing musical genre. Turned out to be better for the band though, because the label that finally did release their album gave em a much better deal. There’s a neat little documentary CD I discovered at the library on this. Keep the faith Kevin. You will find the right fit one of these days.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      I like Wilco! Never heard that story about them, though, but it’s got to be pretty common. Any artist doing anything different and unclassifiable is going to have a hard time breaking through those iron gates.

      • Ilona Elliott
        August 3, 2017

        I know. Great band. Jeff Tweety is awesome. So hang in there Kevin.

  7. Manuela
    August 3, 2017

    All I thought about when I read this was Harry Potter. I believe JK Rowling got some really interesting turn downs as well.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 3, 2017

      I’ve heard that about Rowling. She earned her success, that’s for sure!

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