Monday, November 7, 2016

Inside a Literary Agency

I've just finished reading MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff, as part of Bas Bleu's Book Club. It's about the author's stint typing letters and such during the late '90s working for the literary agency that represented J.D. (Jerry) Salinger.

As an author who's repped by a stellar literary agency, I found a couple of passages that really resonated:

Reading manuscripts was the exact opposite of reading for grad school: it was pure instinct, with some emotion and intelligence thrown in. Does this novel work? Or can it be made to work? Does it move me? Does it grip me?


“First rejection,” he explained with a huge grin. “And it's a really great one.” I had worked at the Agency long enough to understand that there were rejections and there were rejections. There was not for me and I just didn't find these characters sympathetic and the story struck me as improbable at best, and also simply I'm afraid this is too similar to a novel we're publishing next fall or too similar to a writer already on our list. And then there was I truly loved the writing but I just didn't feel the story hung together and I'm so torn about this novel and I'd love to see this writer's next novel, which was essentially the gist of the note James held in his hand.
That last one is a heartbreaker. It can make a writer wonder if they know anything at all about storytelling. I've gotten it a few times... one way to get through it is to do exactly what's suggested: WRITE THE NEXT NOVEL.

There's also a little bit about a (rejected) manuscript by Judy Blume in the book! Interesting....

 So, if you're in this book industry, give it a go! I think you'll like it. 

Up next in the Book Club: The Journal of Helene Berr!

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