Cherry-pickers unite!

What is “cherry picking” in the context of examining manuscripts? Is it like when you work at the charity thrift store and those of you who sort the incoming goods skim off the really good stuff and keep it for yourselves as part of your “payment” because you really DESERVE to get paid SOMEthing for touching all this nasty used dirty underwear when you don’t go in for that particular fetish? Or is it like riding in one of those big scoop-handle things up to the top of the telephone pole to make the cable TV start working again?

I queried an agent several months ago about one of my YA urban fantasy
novels. Yesterday they rejected it with the usual “not right for us”
e-mail. I turned around and sent them a query for my other YA urban
fantasy in response, because I have always been told to “try them with the next project.” Reasonable, I thought.

When I used to have a real job with actual authority to hire software engineers and software test engineers, we appreciated it when
someone we had liked but hadn’t chosen for a job applied again when another opening came up, so this made sense to me. We often found a place for an engineer who wanted to work for us, and the decision was usually a good one because the person chose the company to begin with.

You might reason that literary agencies would similarly like to deal with people who are capable of writing several books, and who are persistent. In fact, this is what I read on agents’ blogs, including Janet Reid’s, Jessica Faust’s (BookEnds agency), and Nathan Bransford’s.

But right away I got this response:

As we do not believe in cherry picking, I am afraid we will have to pass again.
Wishing you only the best,

So . . . what the heck does that mean? What’s cherry-picking in this
context? Surely it’s not a snide answer, one to be heard in the voice of Jon Lovitz. I suppose it could mean that they don’t want to say they won’t represent manuscript A from you and only want manuscript B. But, seriously, what’s wrong with that? Because I hear all the time that “my agent wouldn’t rep this book, but only my mysteries,” or “my agent felt this project would torpedo my career, so we threw it into the trunk.” Obviously, if a writer starts out writing something you don’t want and then progresses to something you DO want, the way it ought to work is that you can accept that thing you DO want and just agree to disagree on the old one.

Does that mean you should forget about ever sending an agent another of
your manuscripts if he or she has rejected one of them? The business has changed a lot over the years, so this may now be the case. When I used to read “Writer’s Digest” as a teenager at the Richardson library, they always exhorted you to try to build a relationship with editors and agents you queried, giving as their reasoning something like, “They will see that you are persistent and not a one-book wonder.” Well, this is apparently not the case any more. That was, after all, the 1970s.

Perhaps they mean that they wouldn’t take on a client if they don’t want to represent any ONE of the client’s novels. This seems to set a dangerous precedent for writers who may send out several novels before one hits.

It could be that she just hates me and thinks I suck, but figures that a cryptic response will get rid of me sooner. If that’s all it is, I suppose there isn’t a danger for writers in general here. But if it’s true that once an agency rejects ONE of your books you will NEVER be taken seriously at that agency, then I am already what my uncle used to call S. O. L. And that don’t mean “saved on layaway.”

What it apparently means is that you get ONE chance. If they are in a bad mood and reject you the day of your one chance, you’re out. If you have not written your best book ever the very first time out of the chute, then tough toenails, you’re a loser forever in their book.

It figures. I don’t have spectacular luck with this, despite getting told by professionals that my work is not the dregs of the poolpah-pot. I need a vacation from taking the beatings. What with Mama bleeding somewhere again and being scheduled for a blood transfusion in about a week (and in the meantime having to be carried around on a litter by servants, namely me) and probably a couple of tests to follow up on that, I won’t be able to sneak away to Sacramento and Micky Dolenz’s “Recording Fantasy” where twenty fans can sing backup on his new album and get an autographed guitar. Maybe I could find somewhere to volunteer to teach some (itty-bitty) children as piano students. If I could do that, then perhaps I could actually make a creative contribution to the world, because at least one of them would surely (given an interest in piano to start with) have talent and possibly by-ear talent, and could catch that spark. I had to take a sabbatical from my piano lessons because of the bursitis (from holding my shoulders up in a tense, cramped position from stress, triggered by pulling a bunch of boxes of books down the driveway and up another driveway a few weeks ago) and because I couldn’t pay and still make ends meet, but what I’m talking about is just showing them how to play by ear in a rudimentary sense. Or just teaching them a few things by rote. However, I don’t have any credentials or qualifications for it. That’s what comes of following everyone’s advice to “major in something where you can make lots of money, not something you have a passion for, so you don’t get a useless degree.”

I’m sure somebody can still make lots of money being a software engineer and/or math guru. Ask the many, many people who are out of work or currently searching for a contract position in IT and related fields. . . .

At any rate, this is yet another warning to writers. If they don’t like the first book you send them, it’s probably a waste of everyone’s time to send them anything else.



Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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