Thursday, May 9, 2013

I hate my job by Terry Burns

Actually that's not true, I just said that to get your attention.

But it's not entirely false either.

Most of the time I really like working as a literary agent and have helped a goodly number of authors in getting their writing careers off and running. But I often have to devote big blocks of time to working down the submissions in my inbox and that means turning a lot of people down. I hate that, and it kinda depresses me to have to do it.

Oh, I know in advance it has to be done, I get hundreds of them and I couldn't handle that many if I had a dozen people on staff helping me. Not to mention the fact that that's far too many to submit to publishers, they don't have the capacity to do that many books either. But knowing it has to be done and having to do it are two different things.

I am too aware that what I have to evaluate in a short period of time someone may have taken a year or longer to write. It's their baby, and no parent wants to see their baby get turned down. I'm one of the few agents that came from the writing side rather than the publishing side, I've had my babies turned down . . . turned down a lot actually. Maybe that makes me too sensitive to the feelings of the authors sending to me.

Sometimes it gives me the blues.

The best cure for the blues is getting somebody a contract or seeing a clients' new book come out. Or maybe in a situation where I got to help Carrie Stuart Parks hold her baby out to publishers and saw six of them show immediate interest resulting in an auction situation where she got a nice three book deal. That can cure a lot of the blues.

But today I'm working submission, stepping on dreams, and not feeling good about it. I'm sifting through the pile looking at a lot of good books but looking for that jewel that rises above all the other good books. The one I just HAVE to try and help get to market. I have the blues.

If you are one of the wonderful editors that I get to work with to help get these jewels to market, and you just happen to be reading this, today would be a really good day to let me know you want to make an offer to one of my clients . . . how about it?


Amanda Stephan said...

Well, your title got my attention. Undivided attention, in fact! Thank you for the honesty. I couldn't imagine having to sift through hundreds of submissions, but I can imagine the blues that would come along with it.
And congratulations on landing a three book deal ~ that's the sweet side for both you and the author! I hope many more come about for you.

Davalyn Spencer said...

I can relate. Love teaching writing, hate grading essays -- until I find one that sings.

Carol McClain said...

Terry, I am one of those you turned down, and I have to say, I appreciated it.
Yes, it's hard to hear, "This doesn't work." However, I want to hear something.
I've submitted to many agents--then hear absolutely nothing. I understand the amount of work you have (without actually being in your shoes). To me a quick, "Sorry, not a good fit" would be so much better than nothing.
Thanks for being one who takes the painful step that says you can't take a writer on.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Terry, appreciate your humility as you send out those rejections. The very fact that you're looking at it from the author's POV (it's my BABY!) speaks volumes about your respect for authors. Blessings to all of you as you make those hard calls.

Terry Burns said...

If someone takes the time to write to me I owe them a response, even if it is not something they want to hear. True, I may use a quick response, but these should never be taken as impersonal. I have taken the time to craft a number of responses that say exactly what I want to say and give exactly the information I feel I need to give. If I stopped and typed something in fresh I would probably spend fifteen minutes and end up saying exactly the same thing. I finally figured that out and instead of starting from scratch each time I take a note that says what I want to say and make necessary changes to it. If it ends up with the core message being "sorry it's not a fit" I don't say that unless it is really the reason. Thanks for your understanding.

Jeanette Levellie said...

You are a price. Jesus is proud of you. He does not enjoy stepping on people's feelings, either, and only does it when He has to. So, you're in good company.

Jennifer Major said...

Mr Burns, you wrote the nicest rejection letter I've gotten so far. You managed to make me feel good about my work while reading that letter. That, sir, takes a lot of class.

Linda Glaz said...

I wish I were and that I could, but alas, I'm right there with ya. I just had to turn one down that I had hung onto for three months, visiting and revisiting, hoping it would click, but darn it! Just wasn't ready, so I know how you feel, and yes, wouldn't it be lovely to always say yes and find their books a home!

Nicola Martinez said...

I hear you, Terry. Sending a rejection is the worst. I hate knowing I'm probably ruining someone's day. I much prefer sending out contract offers. Would that we could accept them all.

Sharon Kirk Clifton said...

Thank you, Terry, for this insightful glance into your agent's heart. Were I an agent, I'd feel the same.
Write on!
Because of Christ

Jody said...

Terry, I love your heart attitude on this subject. Thanks for all you do. Jody