A new agent story from Edward Necarsulmer IV, the director of the Children's Department of McIntosh & Otis, Inc.
I thank Jonathan for inviting me to post a guest entry on his rather ethereal blog. Given my position as the director of the Children’s Department of McIntosh & Otis, Inc., I do think I have a unique perspective and story to share. This is, for all intents and purposes, a success story; one that I think is not only is encouraging to the aspiring debut novelist, but also an imperative, if harrowing, reminder for agents and editors alike.
If for no other reason than to annoy Jonathan, I will begin like David Foster Wallace does in his short story, Signifying Nothing.... "Here’s a weird one for ya…”
I met a wonderful young woman by the name of Georgia Bragg at a writer’s conference about two and half years ago. According to the author, she had grappled with the notion of whether to approach me after my talk, but decided against it and opted to write me instead. A letter from her describing her book MATISSE ON THE LOOSE appeared one day in our discovery pile (my assistant agent, Cate, and I prefer the term discovery to slush, as we like to keep the negative energy to a minimum). I was immediately drawn to it after reading the first line, “My parents are like the sun; you can not look directly at them.” This quirky opening, along with The Royal Tenenbaums feeling of family in the pages, immediately prompted me to seek the author out. We agreed to work together, and after some significant revisions we decided it was time to shop the novel around town.
As the submission progressed, it seemed that each rejection became more severe than the last. As some of you may know, there are simply fewer submission options in children’s literature than adult – there are fewer imprints and thus fewer editors. So by the time we got to rejection twenty-three, I had no less faith in the book, but was considerably concerned about the options I had left with regard to submission.
I just want to add a bit more on this point. To take a page from Nathan Bransford’s entry, when asked once at a conference when I’d give up on a book I believe in, I answered simply, “Never.” Of course, there are projects that I might think are the greatest thing this side of A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle or THE NIGHT SWIMMERS by Betsy Byars that have not sold, but it certainly was not for lack of trying and I have hopes that one day the market will be ripe enough for a sale.
At any rate, enough with the digression….The endgame of this tale of rejection woe is that I had had lunch with the lovely and extraordinarily talented editor of THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS, Wendy Loggia from Delacorte, an imprint of Random House. Wendy mentioned that she was particularly interested in books for boys with a comedic sensibility and a good strong male voice, so I sent MATISSE ON THE LOOSE along to her. About a month later I came into the office to find my voice mail light blinking, with a message from Wendy thanking me for sending her this “gem” and wondering if the book was still available. We made a deal and the author and editor are hard at work in the editorial phase now. I believe we are looking at a 2009 publication.
The reason I tell this story is not to encourage Hail Mary submissions to as many editors as possible, but rather as a reminder of what an enormous part perseverance and individual editorial subjectivity play in our business today.
It’s easy for us all to become discouraged or question our own judgment about projects we love. My mentor, the legendary children’s agent Marilyn E. Marlow, used to describe her job in some part as, “placing books - you know, you place one at Random House, one at Simon & Schuster, one at FSG.” But the reality is that only a few agents can ever just place books with publishers, even though it’s something we all wish for. So with each and every sale I make comes some type of celebration, be it popping a cork or a big high five to my assistant. Each sale is an enormous victory, and also a reminder of the fact that one editor’s coal is another’s gem.