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I never cease to be amazed at some people’s inability to use their imaginations and, for one moment, put themselves in another person’s shoes. It’s not that I expected my previous post on this topic to obliterate the habit, really, I just continue to find it surprising.

A gentleman came into the gallery this afternoon to show me his wildlife photography (he failed to adhere to rules 4 and 6 of the previous post, but did okay with the rest). Besides seeming a bit self-important, he was a friendly enough gent and proceeded to tell me about a particular photo he had taken at a to-remain-nameless national park. He explained that, after he returned from his trip and saw how amazing his photo had turned out, the first thing he did was get on the phone with the folks at the national park, to see if they were interested in it. Then, rather grumpily, he told me that he wasn’t let to speak to the man in charge but could only talk to the man’s personal assistant. “She wanted me to send her the photograph,” he huffed, giving me a knowing look. “I said, I’m not sending you nothing.”

“What did you expect them to do for you without letting them see the photograph?” I asked.

He was afraid of them stealing his image. “And, anyway, if I’m going to do business with them,” he said, “I’m going to do it in person and not over the phone.” He felt that  she wasn’t the one he needed to be talking to. He wants to talk to her superior. The one who makes the decisions.

Not sparing his feelings, I laid it out plain for him.

“Why should they give you their time when they don’t even know if the photo is any good or not?” I asked. “Maybe if Ansel Adams was calling they’d be a little more receptive, but they don’t know you from anyone. And treat that personal assistant with respect. She’s the gatekeeper; it’s her job to work with people like yourself, and if you want your photo to go somewhere with the parks you’re going to have to jump through their hoops. You should send the picture. If you don’t feel comfortable sending a digital file, don’t. Send them a printed 4×6 if you’re really afraid of them reproducing it.”

How can an artist expect to even discuss their unsolicited work with anyone without being prepared to show their work? Even if he had been let to speak with Mr. Man In Charge, did he think he would get anywhere just by saying that he took a great photograph? Is Mr. Man In Charge supposed to take him seriously just because he says so? It would be like if I called up a literary agent to ask if they would represent me, bypassing the querying process, and, oh by the way, Ms. Agent, I won’t send you my manuscript until you sign me, but trust me it’s good.

I don’t think so.

If you want to be treated like a professional, you’d better act like a professional, people! And treat others with respect. What makes this fellow think he is too important to talk to someone’s personal assistant? The fact that Mr. Man In Charge even has an assistant means he’s too busy to talk to you, and if you offend his gatekeeper you may find that she’s too busy to talk to you too.

Since I was a kid I’ve written New Year’s resolutions, and for the last, oh, ten years there has been at least one resolution regarding writing. Sometimes it pertains to setting aside more time to write, a couple times my publishing aspirations surfaced with the resolution to “get novel published!” when it should have read “make novel publishable.” This year I was much more specific.

1. Distribute Reader Copies of Novel By the Second Week of January.

As the holidays approached, I was also nearing the completion of my novel — for REAL this time. The outline had taken me a year, the first draft another year, and for the next five years the story alternated between the shelf and the editing block, moving to the back burner as my focus shifted to The Wizard Rockumentary. But after several consequent drafts and a complete rewrite of the first six chapters, I felt that the story was finally ready to set out into the world. But querying agents is a big deal and I didn’t want to mess it up. So I set deadlines for myself. I resolved to read through the novel twice more and make any necessary changes and then distribute reader copies for outside critique.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to wait… waiting to hear from my friends and family what they thought of my novel (some had read a previous version years ago, others had never read it at all) was, I think, even harder than the waiting I’m doing now: waiting to hear back from agents. But I’ll never forget how much easier my friend Kate made things for me. She sent me an email after reading each chapter to tell me what parts she liked and if there were areas that needed more attention. For about a week, I got a handful of emails a day (and the occasional phone call). It was delightful to get to share in her excitement and hear her theories of what was going to happen next, while chuckling to myself over how surprised she would be.

2. Compile List of Agents and Start Sending Out Query Letters the First Week of February.

I’ve been a longtime fan of several agents’ blogs and they are, obviously, great resources for finding out what agents are looking for in a query. At least as far as what information to include, their prefered format and submission guides, etc. But even if you were to do everything right with your query letter, it still gets down to whether they connect with your story. Scary! No one likes rejection, but luckily I’m a Gryffindor and I don’t scare that easily.

My query letter went through a few rounds of peer review and editing, and I am so glad that I didn’t skip this step. It was incredible the varied feedback I received, and since I had never met any of these folks I would be querying it seemed like I should take all strong reactions into account. When I had thought the letter was polished, I sent it to another member of my writing group for a last look-over, and she asked me out to coffee so she could gently tell me that the letter hadn’t excited her in the slightest. I was so grateful! (Thanks, Sue!) I went back and rewrote it again and was amazed by how much more I liked it too. The greatest challenge in writing the query was that, for me, each detail I included about the story represented a much bigger picture, and it was difficult to remember that all the agent would see was that one detail.

So now I get to wait and see what happens, and as a bonus I’ve actually kept my New Year’s resolutions this year, if you don’t count the resolution to get up early each morning and stretch out before work. That one only lasted about a week.

Mallory Battista’s Blog

Notes from an aspiring author, artist, and occasional gluten-free cook.

Storytelling isn’t just a thing to do, it is a way of seeing the world.

I am a storyteller. I live as though I am a hero on a quest and I strive to treat every person that crosses my path as the main character of an equally complex and exciting story. I find joy when their paths overlap with mine, and though some encounters are fleeting and others last a lifetime, I see the importance of each one to the continuation of Life's plot. I am grateful for the adversity that is set before me, as it makes me a more well-rounded character and adds challenge and excitement to my journey. And I always, ALWAYS have faith in happy endings.

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