Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
To fine tune the query letter (see this), I posted it in a query critique forum online. I’d used the same method for my previous novel, Obliterating History—a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage back in 2011 and found it to be useful (and a bit painful). The very first comment I got on Obliterating History was from a guy named Pete who informed me that the Martin guitar company doesn’t make an electric guitar (“mansplaining” was selected for the New York Times ’ 2010 word of the year list). I informed Pete that Martin did, at one time, make an electric guitar. I was polite, but firm. I didn’t want to apologize or make it all fluffy—”Oh gee, sorry Pete, but I think they may have, but I could be mistaken”—to avoid any backlash for telling Pete he was wrong. W-R-O-N-G. If Pete wanted to tell me straight out that Martin didn’t make an electric guitar, then I, as a woman and a musician and a Martin guitar owner who has since visited the factory in Nazareth, Pa., was going to simply say, “Martin did, for a few years in the 1960s, make electric hollow-body guitars.” I included a video of the guitar, but I think that set the tone of the thread. Pete was fine with it, but I think I got the rep then-and-there for being an upstart noob unable to bow to the wisdom of the forum regulars.
Later I got some other guy telling me my title was “disagreeable.” He said, “I don’t think it reads right, in fact, I’m not sure if it makes grammatical sense.” I told him I found it most agreeable and thanked him for his comment. A woman (who writes books with large sailing vessels on the cover that get reviewed on sites like Historical Naval Fiction and HeaveHo.com) took up the cause.
“Jean, if something isn’t agreeable to multiple readers, it doesn’t matter if it’s agreeable to the writer. Agents, like us, are your readers.”
Oh dear, thought I. On so many levels, I am not on the same page as these folks (mostly writers of genres I don’t read: thrillers, romance, sci-fi, etc.). I thanked her for her comment (one of her books is actually called The Fortune—can you think of anything more boring and less Googlable?), but as I continued to thank people for their negative observations (mostly about the title), I was just fanning the flames.
Another woman (with a haircut I could none-too-easily take advice from) said, “I’m afraid I agree with the others about your title. It needs to be reworded to make sense, although I’m not sure you could ever connect all three of these things into a coherent whole.”
Who knows? Maybe a publisher will want the title changed, but I think the hubbub was more about the title’s meaning than the actual length of the thing (please insert your own dirty idiom here).
Anyway, that was back in 2011, and in 2014, I was inordinately happy to post the news that I had signed with an agent using that title and basically the query that people said would never work. No one commented on that news, but that post did get me into a secret society, one where agented authors wring their hands, announce their successes and compare notes, but I can’t say as I find it any more comforting or useful than dodging shrapnel out in the public forums.
The book is still “out on submission” (I think that’s the term) to publishers.
“Current Of Agreement” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):