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There Are Two Kinds of People In This World

Had lunch with two great friends, also agents. After a lot of industry gossip, commiseration about the business being really slow (July is the new August), comparing and contrasting notes on editors, the conversation finally turned to something I could get my brain around: who we would rather sleep with, Jon Hamm from Madmen or Gabriel Byrne from In Treatment? Just for one night.

If you’ve ever even toyed with the idea of leaving a comment, please weigh in now:

“I’m only interested in stories that are about the crushing of a human heart.”*

A couple of months ago, a writer queried me with his work. I invited him to send it. Six weeks later, he politely asked if I had had a chance to read it. I had no recollection of his letter or receiving the material. I apologized and asked him to send it again, promising to get back to him in a week.

This morning I read his pages, first read of the day which is always my best and freshest. I was immediately taken with his precise prose. A superb adjective and simile in the first two pages knocked me out. Then some aspects didn’t sit well with me, then I grew restless with the story, even though I recognized his abundant skill.

I wrote him a rejection letter. I was apologetic and gave some notes about the work. Usually, I’m much more general. I knew that no matter what I said, it would ring hollow.

He wrote me back, thanking me for my time, polite again. He referenced Roger Angell’s rejection letters to Richard Yates. I looked them up and they are rich. He allowed that he believed in his work and that if the prose is fine, the rest should follow: plot, characters, setting. etc. It wasn’t like the usual letter I receive after I decline a work. It was poised and sincere and pained but not at all indulgent. And I have been haunted by it all day.

*Richard Yates

No You Didn’t

Yesterday,  I had lunch with one of the smartest editors in the business. She allowed how she keeps a file for letters from authors that express their gratitude — and that these letters buoy her on particulary rough days.

I allowed how I keep an “asshole” file. I started it when I first became an agent, and I didn’t quite know how to handle the sting of rejection. After all, as an editor, I had been on the rejecting side for so long.

I didn’t put just any letter in there. No, the rejection had to strike a particular note of condescension, arrogance,  falsehood — you see where I’m going with this.

Eventually, some client letters made it into the file, especially the three page single-spaced letter dipped in acid from the gnome who fired me –who will go unnamed. You know who you are, and that was a fuckin’ brilliant letter, completely raising the bar. I salute you.

The best letter so far, however, is from a distinguised editor who wrote that if the book I was submitting was my idea of art, I should look into a career in real estate. That’s a keeper!