Author Olivia Boler

writing is fun
October 26th, 2012

Been There Done That: The Agent Search Revisited

I’m starting the quest for an agent again. Why would I do this to myself? Why would I endure this agony? This time, I’m looking for representation for a children’s chapter book I drafted over the summer. I won’t say too much about it (no jinxies, please), except that I think it has a shot, yet I can’t really say why. And that’s why—it’s been said, but I’ll say it again!—authors should not be relied upon to promote their own work!

Someone I know and respect in the biz read my query letter and said I need to point out what makes my book special. What makes it different from all the other children’s chapter books out there? At the same time, how is it similar? Why would kids want to read it, and why would a publisher want to buy it? What’s commercial about it?

This is the stuff that drives me crazy and makes me want to call it quits. I went for a walk/errand-run this afternoon, which is often how I work things out that are bugging me. But my brain is tired. I imagine what it would look like if I got an MRI. There would be this dark, dead zone where creativity and problem solving happen. I’m pretty sure of it.

I should try to end this post on a positive note, so I’ll put this out there: Maybe all I need is a nap.

Go, Giants!

August 6th, 2011

It’s no fiction contest

Since my early twenties, I’ve spent lots of money entering my short stories in contests. These contests are usually sponsored by literary magazines or universities with lit mags, and the entry fee is on average $15 to $20. I keep a little notebook recording my efforts under four columns: Date Sent, Story Sent, Forum Sent To, Answer. The Answer column is mainly filled with one word: NO. Sometimes, there’s a triumphant, YES!

None of the yeses come from contests. The notebooks contain records of submissions to agents or magazines and organizations that have called for stories. I’ve only ever been paid for one story, and that was a few dollars from St. Mary’s College for my short story, Unlit. Please read it!

I gave up on contests for many years (I can only take so much rejection, people!), but recently, inspired by my good friend Siobhan Fallon, who for some reason is one of my biggest cheerleaders and for every good reason is one of my biggest inspirations, tried again. I entered Crab Orchard Review‘s contest, one that Siobhan has won, with a short story my writing group and Siobhan both loved. I would be over the moon if I were a finalist or even in the honorable mentions. Well, guess what happened? Nothing. I recorded another NO in my notebook. A sensitive soul, I always take these disappointments hard in some way, either swooning, muttering bitterly, or with a glass of the house white. I’m thinking of giving up again.

But I am intrigued by Amazon.com‘s Kindle Singles, which are brief pieces (5,000 to 30,000 words) like essays, novellas, and short stories that are pretty inexpensive for Kindle users ($0.99 to $4.99). Yes, in addition to an iPad, I have a Kindle, which I L-O-V-E (so light to hold! no eye strain! built-in dictionary! note taking! stores thousands of books!), but it’s not perfect (can’t read it in the dark, can only read things downloaded from Amazon, can’t access library books with it) Admittedly, I haven’t purchased any Singles yet, but I wonder if this might be a good way to get some of my orphaned stories out there. There’s still a submission process that’s a bit more selective apparently than Amazon’s direct publishing requirements for book-length work. So, in my grand tradition, I’m not completely ruling out the rejection experience.

What do you think, dear bloggers? Is this a good avenue to explore? What’s your experience?

August 3rd, 2011

Once upon an agent

Yes, at one point in my life, I had an agent. It was an amazing feeling when this complete stranger said she would like to represent my first novel. I was about 26 or 27 years old at the time, and it seemed like the work I’d done in grad school, despite my extremely yeasty doubts and insecurities, actually had some merit. I had found her in a heavy tome my thesis adviser had recommended, along with the advice to look for younger, newer agents, because they are “hungry” and more likely to take on an unknown writer. Plus, they will work really hard for you.

My agent was in Colorado. Not the hot bed of publishing, but I wasn’t prejudiced. She also wasn’t a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives), saying she had the qualifications, so why pay the big fees? Fine, fine. I understood about that. She asked for $600 to cover expenses like photocopies and postage. Red flag: all my grad school professors (at the time, these were the only published people I knew personally) said this was a big no-no. NEVER give money to an agent. They should make their money on the commission only. But I had a good job as a paralegal and could spare the bucks. Plus, she was the only agent, out of those I’d so far queried, who had said she wanted to represent me. What can I say? I was in love. Head over heels.

We had lunch once. She was in San Francisco for some reason. And I won’t give any specific personal details, but that meeting planted the seeds of doubt about her commitment to my work. She had not actually read the whole novel, she said. Well, I wondered, how did she know it was any good? But I shook it off. We went dutch on the lunch.

Rejection, rejection, rejection. One big nibble from St. Martin’s Press, but in the end, no thanks, the editor said.

Every day, I waited for my agent to call with news. Sometimes, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I called her for an update. It was like being in a relationship with a boyfriend who ignores you most of the time, and you wait by the phone, can’t eat, can’t sleep…you get the idea.

At the end of our year contract, she gave me a 3-month extension. But about a month in, she called me and said, not at all kindly, “I don’t want to work on this project anymore. No one is interested, and the writing isn’t very good, and I just don’t want to spend any time on it anymore.”

Was I devastated? Hell, yeah! All of my insecurities were totally validated! I let it sink it, numb me, then went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My agent broke up with me!”

I called her a few days later. She was polite. I asked her if I rewrote the book, would she consider representing it? She said she’d take a look if I had something in a few months, but she didn’t have any specific advice for changes, or maybe I was too dumb to ask.

But instead of calling her back, I went into hibernation. After a while, I might have done some editing of the book on my own. Maybe not. But I did decide not to go back to the agents. I went back to the heavy tome and looked for small publishing houses. And  that’s how I found Dry Bones Press.