Several agents ago – 11 to be exact – I contacted a literary agent here in Los Angeles. He was the one who had Lauren Bacall as a client and seemed to appreciate the appeal of old Hollywood. And so I was quite excited to hear back from him a few days later asking me to send him my first 50 pages. It was the first time anyone had done that and I felt like I had finally made an impression on someone. So off I sent those precious “first 5o”.
That was back in mid-February and I finally heard back from him today. He said, “I’ve read the pages you sent me. Good idea but I didn’t feel old Hollywood. I liked it but didn’t love it and to make room for another client I really have to love it. All best to you. Alan” Of all the rejects I’ve received, this is the only one which felt like a kick in the teeth. (And my teeth took four and a half years to straighten so you know that’s gotta hurt.)
I understand that an agent has to react with more than just ‘like’ to a new project and a new author. Their sort of work is fairly labor-intensive and they get so inundated with requests and offers and projects that they can only afford to take on stuff they deeply respond to. To have a guy like this ask for 50 pages was very gratifying and for him to like it was as well. But the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’ is the difference between ‘aspiring author’ and ‘published author’ – there’s a chasm between the two as wide as the Grand Canyon.
But that’s okay; I’ve been close before. What really felt like the boot to the bicuspids was the bit where he said, “…but I didn’t feel old Hollywood.” Ouch. I was a bit surprised because I (thought I’d) made an effort to include details that showed the story was clearly not taking place in 2011. In just the first fifty pages, I mention things like…Sunset Blvd isn’t paved over yet…streetcars… tea dances… bobbed hair… flappers… bootleg booze… Valentino… wandering minstrels playing ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ and ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes Are Blue’… Al Jolson… Greta Garbo… childhood diphtheria… the fact that it took one character a streetcar then two buses then two trains and another streetcar to get from the east coast… and that four thousand dollars was enough money to live on for years. I don’t know where in L.A. this guy lives, but it certainly doesn’t sound like the L.A. I’m living in.
His comment also reminded me of something a friend said. She’s a writer with a pile a books as tall as Mt. Rushmore to her credit and was the first person I asked to read my novel. She more-or-less said much the same thing. Liked it didn’t love it, felt like it was happening now. I wasn’t really too sure what she meant at the time and now that this agent has said it too, it’s given me pause to think. I’m not sure how to fix something like that, assuming I even can. Or perhaps it’s just a case of taste and these two specific people happened to react in the same way. At any rate, it’s forced me to go back to my manuscript and re-read it with fresh eyes. And that’s not a bad thing.
But in the meanwhile, the circus must go on so next up is agent #27. I do seem to have better luck with the California based agents so I’ve decided to approach another one. This one is in Del Mar which is just north of San Diego so we’ll see. I just looked up their address on Google Maps and saw that they’re in a nice looking mini-mall and a few doors up is a sign for the ‘Del Mar Psychic.’ Maybe I should just drive down there myself and just ask her who is going to sign me on as a client. It might well save me a whole lot of time, not to mention a lot less risk to four and a half annoying years of severe orthodontia.