Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Very Superstitious...

...the writing's on the wall?

Elizabeth here, pondering the many superstitions us agents have about when we should or should not submit projects to editors.

Have you ever heard an agent say she doesn't submit in August? Or on Fridays? Or during leap year? We all have our strategies about when to send our material in the hope that our projects reach an editor's hands when he/she is most receptive...and ready to buy!

Theories abound on when this optimal moment might be. Some agents are of the opinion that when a project is ready, it should go out immediately. Ex. You finish revisions Friday morning - I'm pitching it Friday afternoon. 4th of July, Schmorth of July, that editor would much rather read my client's book than go to the beach. Christmas morning, I'm sending it! Well, maybe not Christmas morning, but Boxing Day seems acceptable. The list goes on.

Other agents might take a seasonal approach. There are slow seasons and busy seasons in publishing. Slow seasons usually occur during holidays, when the publishing pros take vacations and it's more difficult to assemble the necessary teams to approve acquisitions. This is why fewer deals go through in the summer than during other times of year.

The busiest seasons are just after these holidays. Sometimes September feels as though an imaginary whistle has blown, recess has ended and class is back in session. Editors and agents are in their chairs ready to roar with a flurry of pitching and buying proceeding. If an agent has a big splashy project she might send it right after Labor Day, confident that it will stand out amidst the others. Or, an agent might decide to wait a few weeks to let the madness subside and give editors a chance to breathe and regroup.

Still other agents use mental cunning to inhabit an editor's mind and predict his/her reading rituals. For example, Betty Bookbuyer at Random House is a Wiccan and Tuesday is Solstice. She'll probably take the day off and I don't want to hit her Wednesday morning when she's playing catch-up... Trying to make an educated guess about an editor's reading habits can sometimes feel a little like tracking the mating ritual of an elusive snow leopard.

Ok, I exaggerate, but we all have our special methods. My point is that a lot of thought can go into deciding when to send a particular project, and it's important for a writer to trust his/her agent to determine when a project is ready.

Yesterday, I was informed by an agent friend that, once again, Mercury is in retrograde. Now, is it just me, or does it seem like Mercury is always in retrograde? For those of you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it's an astrological condition that makes our lives just a little bit miserable (you know, for fun) for a few weeks while the planet Mercury screws around and foils all our decent, hard-working attempts at communication and progress. It's a time of miscommunication - the phone goes on the fritz, emails bounce back, your computer crashes. Things go wrong.

Being a salt-of-the-earth Midwestern gal, I was not previously aware of this condition until I moved to California and a client informed me I was not to submit her project until Mercury left retrograde. Mmm, right. Sure. Okay. Huh? The outcome of that conversation is a story for another day, but nevertheless this whole mercury in retrograde seed is now lodged squarely in my head.

I must admit I'm a little unnerved about pitching projects now, while the skies are against me. Should I wait until Sept 29th when Mercury so graciously decides to exit retrograde? Or do I let em rip?

I'm inclined towards the latter. But if you need me after work hours I'll be in the Sheep's Meadow in Central Park, searching for a four-leaf clover. Just in case.


  1. Oh is that what it is.....

    I wonder if that's why Facebook has been acting all WEIRD the last few days. I still think you should let them rip!!

  2. Mercury in Retrograde?

    Wow. That explains so many things. And what a great excuse it can be for me when I'm feeling cranky. Thanks :-)

  3. Mercury is now direct--and I just found the new website. It's gorgeous. I'll alert AgentQuery of the new name.

  4. Soooo then, Mercury being 'direct' is a good thing? Are we trying to date him or something and want clear signals? Then again, it is proven that a full moon makes people act a bit wacky. Or at least teenagers. Then again, they are usually pretty wacky with all those hormones zipping around.

    How about feng shui? I better make sure I don't have a trash can in my career corner.

    Then again, having something to believe in helps us feel like we have a bit of control in this great big crazy world. :)

  5. Ah, the thing about Mercury retrograde is that it also has an upside: You can get a second chance at something that you totally messed up the first time around. So, for instance, it's a great time to revise or edit a manuscript, send out a revised version of a proposal that didn't sell the first time around, OR to reconnect with a lover you once (mistakenly) left behind. I've learned to appreciate Mercury retrograde because, as much as it slows things down, it also gives us an opportunity to fix things that went wrong the first time around.

    The new website looks amazing. Fab job! Mari