The Breakfast Club does their thing
Some of you have asked a fair enough question: why am I working on a poem about gas? Today, I was in touch with a man named Jerry Finley who promotes a great eighties cover band called “The Breakfast Club.” In fact, my wife Megan and I had our second ever date, on New Year’s Eve, listening to the band at Amos’s in Charlotte. Jerry and I discussed the possibility of me opening up for the band on a couple of their concert dates in the spring. It is a little intimidating to think about opening up for a band with a book in hand rather than a guitar.
I wrote another draft of this, long gone, back in college when my love life wasn’t as blissfully happy (thank you Megan) as it is now.
If you think any part of this structure is genius, credit Langston Hughes. I have closely followed the structure of his “Dreams Deferred.” That’s a poem I love and read with many middle school students back when I taught in Charlotte. Thank you to that poet’s work who helped me tap into some laughs when I wasn’t feeling so spirited.
Love is Like a Fart
What happens to love passed?
Does it stink up
Like a port-o-let in the heat?
Or stain your shorts
With a big brown streak?
Does it ribbit-ribbit like a frog?
Or cloud the future—
Like a dangerous fog?
Maybe it just cuts
Like a big fat lie.
Or does it just die?
I’m writing you not as someone who has an agent, but as someone who worked as a reader for an agency, has queried a lot of agents and received requests for full manuscripts, and as someone who now has a forthcoming novel with an independent press.
What’s my background? After I earned an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College and State University, I got a job teaching in the Institute For Writing Studies at St. John’s University. The summer before I began my job, I contacted Folio Literary Management in Manhattan and inquired about being a reader for them. This meant that I attended a weekly editorial meeting where I was given manuscripts to read and the next week I’d let the agent who ran the meeting know if I saw anything I thought they might be looking for. After a summer of doing that, I developed my own strategy for sending queries.
I look for agents on the Publishers Marketplace website. I limit my search to pages that have been updated in the past ten days. To me, this means I’m only querying agents who have recently said they are accepting queries. I read about the agent to see if they represent anything “like” I have written. The agents receive many queries a day, and so I know I only have a couple of words, if that, to get them interested. I have the title of my book and my last name as the subject line. I have a 2-3 sentence hook. For example, for the novel I have forthcoming with Cherokee McGhee Press, I said that Love on the Big Screen is set in 1990 and tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. Then I give a little bit about me: my degrees, my current job, and my short list of publications. After that, I copy the first two pages into the text of the email. I don’t send attachments. All this makes me think very hard about my title, the two-sentence pitch, and the first couple of pages. I think it’s good for me to think about those things a lot even before I first begin to write.
If there are any specific instructions, not too elaborate, I follow those. In general, that just means that an agent might want a synopsis or a different length of sample. Sometimes I hear back from agents the same day. They want the full manuscript or they’re not interested. Other times, sometimes six months later, I’d get a short note that the agent isn’t interested.
Keep in mind, this is only my perspective. Agents get a lot of emails from writers wanting them to represent their work. This means that you only have a few words, if that many, to get their attention. You should try to find out a little bit about the agent