At least he was gentle when he kicked my dream to death: Publish or Die! Part 10

August 19, 2009

BG coverGraham Beattie is an important man in the New Zealand publishing world. I know because he told me. He is so important, in fact, that, despite a request from a close personal friend, he was still far, far too busy to offer me more than a few stale crumbs of advice from his table of publishing experience.

Beattie did manage to take five seconds out of his hectic schedule to suggest I contact the New Zealand-based TFS Literary Agency. I did just that, sending a query letter to someone named Chris Else on June 22. Included in that letter was the entire text of the wonderful, magnificent, ego-pumping review Brown Girls received from Working Girl Reviews. Nothing like glowing comments from a neutral source to cause a literary agent to sit up and salivate.

Yeah, right.

Skip ahead 43 days to Aug. 5. Yes, that is more than six weeks later and, oh look, still no contact from Else or anyone, um, else at TFS to a query that takes 129 seconds to read. I know because I timed it.

Aug. 4: I send a short e-mail to Mr. Else asking — ever so politely — if he ever did receive my query and, if so, would he mind sparing 129 seconds to peruse it.

Aug. 5: In what can only be considered a strange coincidence, Mr. Else writes back the very next day after my e-nudge. To his credit, he apologizes for not contacting me earlier. But now he has concerns about the review I included with my query. Does this mean Brown Girls has already been published?

Aug. 6: Not so anybody noticed.

Aug. 6: Another e-mail from Mr. Else: Have I approached any other publishers or agents with Brown Girls?

Aug. 6: No.

Aug. 7: In that case, he asks, can I flick him the first 10,000 words.

Aug. 7: I can’t hit Send fast enough.

Aug. 19: This time, it only takes Mr. Else 12 days to write back:

Hi John

Thanks for the opportunity to look at Brown Girls. It’s good but I fear it isn’t good enough for us to want to take it on. The problem, in brief, is that a number of the characters, including your main character seem a bit cliched. Plus, I think we would have a much better chance of selling it in NZ if the main character were a (sic) NZer and not an American. Sorry.


Funnily enough, Mr. Else’s e-rejection arrived the very same day I received this comment from a member of

Your writing is short, fast, and precise. The vivid imagery is amazing. “yellow fangs. greasy slobber.” “400 pounds of fat and sweat.” This is really, really good writing. (John R. Lindensmith,

Which, strangely enough, came after these comments:

The writing in this is deliciously taut. All the characterisation is good, minor as well as main. The MC (main character) is a bit of a hackneyed photo-journalist meets ’tec, but you infuse him with a back story of his novel and some mystery about his manhood that works to get over that. (Marc Nash,

. . . this is extremely good, very polished, writing. It feels complete to me as a reader. The plot’s good, and it slowly builds up intensity. There’s a real feeling of being there amongst the action. (Charlie Chuck,

You set up the conflict – both social/political and personal very quickly, giving this pace and intrigue. Brilliant. (Elinor Evans,

Five comments from five different people, four of whom are wannabe writers who are also voracious readers. In other words, the kind of people who actually buy books, thus providing agents like Mr. Else with their mortgage payments, courtesy of author commissions.

Five people. Four positive reviews. So who, exactly, has their head up their ass when it comes to assessing Brown Girls? Yeah, I thought so.

I pointed this out to Mr. Else (the difference of opinion; not the head/ass part) when I wrote back to thank him for taking a look at my writing sample.

I really wasn’t expecting a reply but, again to his credit, Mr. Else did reply:

Hi John

It’s not what I think so much as what I think potential publishers would think, which, of course, is certainly not what a potential reader would necessarily think. There’s nothing to stop you trying a few NZ publishers direct. There is not necessity to work through an agent in this marketplace.



What I didn’t bother pointing out to Mr. Else was that it would take very little effort on my behalf to change the main character from an American to a Kiwi. As it is, I’ve already changed Jack once, because he started out as a Canadian.

But Mr. Else has already made up his mind and so I’m letting this one go. Because it will only turn into a pissing contest and no one wins those.

It’s just too bad they’re pissing on me.


4 Responses to “At least he was gentle when he kicked my dream to death: Publish or Die! Part 10”

  1. nathaniel said

    i feel your pain, dude. after many years of efforts and 4 novels i know what it’s like; the industry is incestuous, lobotomised, corrupt and generally all-round f*ked up.

    i suspect that having a supply of cheap coke available is the way to break in.

  2. newtowritinggirl said

    Keep going John, I have every confidence you will get there. 🙂

  3. mesmered said

    As I a writer who has been a part of for three years and finally published 2 books with in 2008 and 2009 and has had THE best year of my life, forget the agents and publish with If nothiong else it will lead you into the wide world of marketing and promotion which seems to be a requisite for a writer with ‘a really good story’ to be published.

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