Friday, September 21, 2012

How literary agents are like cats

Minky: "It wasn't me."
The other night I woke up to howling. Was it the young cat, Opossum, in heat? No. Since having her spayed on Tuesday, her hormones seemed to have taken pity on her. Was it the older cat Minky showing Opossum the pecking order? No. The younger cat didn’t appear to be in the bedroom at all and Minky had already taken her favorite spot, pinning me down on the bed. Was it my husband snoring? No. He was as quiet as an opossum.

The howling was coming from our four-year-old sleeping between us, on his second excruciating leg ache of the night. Under his little body writhing in pain, the sheet was wet; maybe he needed his night diaper changed too. But then why was his pyjama top wet? And my pyjamas? And the top of the blankets?

Even in the darkness, it didn’t take a Sherlock to realize that we’d been peed on. And that the culprit probably wasn’t the sedate, predictable and nearly toothless Minky breathing heavily on top of me, but the spritely young thing who’d just had her ovaries removed against her will. And we hadn’t been merely sprayed on, but thoroughly drenched by a water balloon of ammonia as we lay there dreaming.

It’s hard not to take it personally.

A literary agent too will say not to take their rejection personally. But that’s a bit hard when the letter is personally addressed to you. And yet at the same time, the communication style of a standard rejection letter feels just as indiscriminate and mysterious as getting sprayed at as a bystander in a turf battle.

This triggers a guessing game. If you’re like me, first you blame yourself. Where did I go wrong? Should I have been more assertive? Less assertive? Did I break all cat-rearing/agent-querying rules? I should have done my homework instead of being so impetuous and taking on someone I couldn’t handle. The problem is that it’s not clear what the rejection itself means: was it a form of sincere – though crass – communication – or was it just a random stress response? And how can you even be so sure that it was so-and-so who rejected you and not just her assistant? Were you really judged fairly then?

After your head begins to spin with all the guessing, you simply feel misunderstood. How could the cat not understand how much I love her? How could she not grasp what a cushy set-up she has here in this awesome house with lots of couches and a wild garden? How could the agent not grasp what a winner she had in her hands? Is she totally blind? She will live to regret this!

The disappointment is as leaden as the old cat asleep on your chest. And to think it seemed like the perfect match…

If these thoughts occur to you in the middle of the night, or if the urine has soaked all the way down through the mattress, you may not be able to get back to sleep. The darkness and the silence envelop you and you start to think in absolute terms. I can’t do this anymore. This is just one of many many instances. The aftermath is just too much work, especially with a kid, a part-time job, no dryer. What was I thinking? It’s just too much for me. I give up. First thing in the morning, she’s gone.

But then, despite everything a glimmer of hope creeps back in through the crack in the curtains – or is it the moon? You put on your dressing gown and get onto the internet. And surprise surprise: you find out you’re not alone. There are thousands and thousands of other people out there who have experienced exactly this kind of rejection and have made it through. They haven’t thrown out their manuscripts, their cat or their mattress. They have found solutions and survived. And you will too.

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