Attention agents: line forms at the LEFT

Scenario A 

I gave my beta readers six weeks, but they all read it so avidly that they return their comments in a week. Although there are a few bumps and rough spots, they all agree that this is the best thing they've read all year. They are uniformly emphatic that this IS going to be the runway favorite for the 2013 Hugo and Nebula awards.

After making the minor tweaks and polishes my beta readers asked for, I announce on Twitter and Facebook that "Goodbye Grammarian" is now finished and ready for publication. In the first six hours, I get three agents sending me their contact info with a request to get a first look. Within a week, I have sent letters to a dozen agents; eight of them want to see the first fifty pages, the other four write nice letters to say they wish they could take me on as a client.

All eight call me back five days later and tell me how fantastic it is. Four of them offer immediate representation and the other four ask for permission to pass it along to other agents. Three of the agents who want to take me on as a client mention the 2013 Hugo, and stress the importance of timing. One of these agents cautions me that while it's a fantastic book, it's not Pulitzer fantastic. This person also suggests that maybe I should keep a space cleared on my mantlepiece for the Pulitzer after I write another book or two.

My agent shops "Goodbye Grammarian" around for a couple of months. After sorting through all the offers from the competing publishers, I go with the one that offered a $100,000 advance for this book and a separate $450,000 advance as part of a three-book deal. The only change asked for is a change of title, from "Goodbye Grammarian" to "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure". The publisher sees this title as more suitable for the first in a series of books featuring the Grammarian. I send a case of good scotch and/or good chocolate to my agent, my editor and to each of my beta readers.

The book is the smash hit of 2013, winning the Hugo and the Nebula. By August of 2013, I've finished the first draft of the sequel. Plushie action figures of the Grammarian are rush-produced in China, just in time to hit the December Christmas rush at Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. By June of 2014, my agent and I are sorting through film adaptation offers.


Scenario B

Although I gave my beta readers six weeks, it takes more than ten weeks (and one or two gentle reminders) before they all respond. Their comments all start off the same way: they remind me that I asked for honest feedback, they offer disclaimers that their comments are "just one person's opinion", and they affirm that there are actually several good bits in the book. None of them agree on which bits are good.

The plot's a jumbled hash, the characters are formulaic and wooden, the dialogue is unnatural sounding, the action is boring, the jokes aren't funny. The book could possibly be saved by a complete rewrite, but it would have to be by someone with more talent and/or experience than me. The general consensus is that, for the sake of my career as a novelist (assuming I insist on still trying to have a career as a novelist), I should bury this book and go write a better one for my debut effort.

None of my beta readers are willing to re-read a future revision of "Goodbye Grammarian". One of them asks that her name not be mentioned in the acknowledgements. Another suggests that maybe he's "not the right person" to beta read for me, and asks that I not only not send him the rewrite, but that I not send him any other book I might decide to write. I send a nice gift to each of my beta readers to thank them for their honesty and efforts on my behalf. They all acknowledge receipt of the gifts, but still don't want to read anything else I've written.

I shelve "Goodbye Grammarian" and begin a new and better book. It is based on this story, and it features vampires as a persecuted minority who rise up to challenge the ruling power structure. I feel confident that it will be a smash hit... once it's finished.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I'd go with Scenario C, myself. That is, if Scenario A isn't available.

    Hang in there, Tony. Things are never as bad as they seem. And, not often as good as we might love them to be.

    And then, sometimes, they exceed our wildest imaginings.

    1. I'm going for a bookending approach here... the truth has GOT to lie somewhere between these two extremes. 8-)

    2. The truth is somewhere out there - or in there between the bookends.

      That said, I'll stake out my place on the sidelines of the red carpet as you and your entourage go by. :-}

      Just in case...

  2. Ok, I wouldn't write off Scenario A... :) But I'm with KjM. Scenario B's very unlikely. In Scenario C, your beta readers respond enthusiastically within your deadline, you edit in a way that makes everyone happy, you find an agent and a publisher who love your good writing and the offbeat concept of the Grammarian and you Get Noticed. Maybe not as well as Scenario A, but Noticed. Chin up, mon ami. Don't let those little "four o' the morning" voices get you down.

    1. The best way to maintain stoicism is to drag your nightmares AND your dreams into the cold light of day.

      And I'm all about the Vulcan stoicism. ;-)

  3. It's so funny you wrote this today. Strange synchronicity re. what the mind does with agents and potential rejection: I dreamed last night that I talked to the agent who's had a full MS of mine since February. She was still deciding whether to take it and interviewing me as though for a job. If she wasn't going to take it, she said she'd refer me to someone else.

    No, I haven't really heard from her. :(


  4. I think scenario c lies somewhere in between, but on to my most important point... I want a action Grammarian action figure!


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