Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Take Your Shot

November 7, 2006
I received an e-mail from a woman yesterday in regards to the journal I edit. One of my associate editors sent her my way and made some comment that I had a movie deal for the books.

Um, no, I had to tell her. (Or, Helen's lips to God's ears...) We've had nibbles from 4 or 5. In fact, just a little while ago I heard that Fox said no. That's okay. I wasn't holding my breath. As I told my optometrist this morning, if I keep getting published long enough, we'll probably get an option on a book someday.

I told the woman this and she commented back that it must be like hockey and real estate--shots on goal.

Well, for you folks who aren't into sports or don't quite get the point, let me belabor it a bit, because it's a good one. I'm not exactly a hockey fan, but I do understand that the team that has the most shots on goal typically wins. The reason for that is simple, even the greatest goalie in the world on a hot streak is going to have a problem covering 150 shots into the net over the course of a game, especially if his team's offense only hits the puck toward the net 25 times during the course of the game.

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I had completed my first not-terribly-good-but-I-thought-it-was-wonderful novel manuscript, I sent it off to one agent, whose illiterate high school dropout reader rejected it with an almost nonsensical rejection letter filled with typos and grammar errors.

I was young and stupid (versus today, in which I am older and stupid) and I took that one idiot's comments to suggest the the novel was so bad it was unpublishable.

It probably was so bad it was unpublishable, but that's not the point. The point is I stuffed it in a drawer and went on to write the next novel.

What I needed was more shots on goal, so to speak.

As I'm older and more experienced and frankly, my lifelihood depends on it, I tend to go with confidence that we'll keep peddling things until it either gets picked up or there's no more places to peddle them. That's how it works for my nonfiction, anyway. Since I can't afford to accept no work, if my workload slows down I query until I get work. I don't query and accept the rejection and stew. I keep sending stuff out until I get work.

Granted, it's a little different with novels. There seems to be a fairly finite number of book publishers, and a typical agent has an even more finite (see, I'm a pro-fess-ion-al--I didn't say finiter) number of editors they have a relationship with. Still, I often think that I would send things out to a few more places than my agent does, and I felt that about my previous agent, too. Of course, they may very well have contacted 10 editors and asked them if they were interested in reading such and such, only to have 5 of them say, "No, not for me. What else ya got?"

My point, when I finally get around to it, is that an aspiring novelist has to take a lot of shots on goal. This is particularly true in finding an agent. Don't give up after your first 10 or even your first 100. It may take a while. Janet Evanovich commented on her website that she'd been turned down by every New York agent twice before getting picked up, and I hooked up with my agent somewhere in the 85 to 100 query letter range. Midnight Ink, my current publisher, wasn't the first publisher Pitchfork was shown to. I may ride out my career with them or I may not; my crystal ball is cloudy on this subject.

So keep at it and make sure you take a lot of shots. You know, a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years, or a blind pig finding an acorn... pick your metaphor.

Mark Terry


Blogger Allison Brennan said...

My agent was around the 100 agent range as well, and my fifth manuscript.

Amazing: You ALSO have a "not-terribly-good-but-I-thought-it-was-wonderful novel?" So do I! I have a few, in fact :)

1:13 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Unfortunately, I have more than one, too. I also have a few these-don't-suck-but-they-could-have-been-better-but-still-weren't-published-and/or-publishable novels.

I've had more than a few "it's pretty good but not quite strong enough to break out of the pack" comments from editors over the years.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Movie deals are the biggest crap shoot of all. The lottery is easier to win.

But it IS easier to sell a book to Hollywood than an original screenplay. So maybe there's hope for all of us.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

That's always been my suspicion. A long, long time ago I wrote a rough draft of a screenplay--it was horrible and I felt like the format was killing me--but I have ultimately felt that it was hard enough getting books published, let alone trying to fight the deluge and odds of trying to get a script sold. That isn't to say I won't try it again someday, I might. But I like your point.

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