An aspiring author confronts the literary demons of the world and sets off in search of an agent.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Reader-Writer Covenant

In a blog posted at HuffingtonPost, Randy Susan Meyers asks, “What is the relationship between reader and writer?”  

Her answer: “I believe there should be a covenant between writer and reader. What it is that you, the writer, are offering to you, the reader? (Because I can't imagine a writer who is not also a reader.) Are you making a bargain with the reader and then keeping to it? Are you offering the reader the same qualities that you want when you're the reader? Are you offering them your very best?”

Alas, as someone who is going through the process of seeking an agent, I am painfully aware there are two other parties involved – the agent and, eventually, the publisher. Along the way, there must be offerings to them as well as to the reader.  It is a practical matter: without an agent and publisher, the covenant between writer and reader cannot be consummated.

I say this after having been rejected by thirty-five agents (yeah, par for the course). I also say this after having received some confirmation that the reader – writer covenant is more than a figment of my imagination. I asked a former writing instructor of mine, who has published several well-received novels, to review my manuscript. Her reaction:

“I first need to let you know how very much I love this book. It is exactly the sort of story I would have been thrilled by as a child. The characters are marvelous. It is playful, intelligent, imaginative, and even, at times, poignant. It functions on many levels, able to provide pleasure to both young readers and to their parents. And, ultimately, it offers a valuable message about individuality and creativity.”

Wow!  I have experienced the ultimate writer’s thrill: the visceral connection with at least one reader who loved what I had to offer. Even better, my writing instructor recommended me to her agent! (Alas, he doesn’t handle children’s books – which I understand, an agent needs to stay focused on what he does best).

Meanwhile, as I continue to query, Meyer’s observation leads me to wonder: what does the query letter have to do with the covenant?  

Let me elaborate with an additional observation from Meyers’s blog: “I want books that have dug deep, whatever the genre, and proffer those best hours of my day…Magic happens when writers tell their personal truth and dare to let their ugly out. That's when a writer has kept their covenant.”

Keeping the convent, eh? Well, one definition of the word covenant reads, come together – furtherance of cause.

Maybe I am just whining or allowing myself to be too easily discouraged – yeah, I should wait until the fiftieth rejection before feeling that way – but too often I have felt disconnected from the magic of my book during the querying odyssey. A query letter simply does not feel like a good first step for coming together in furtherance a cause – if indeed my book could ever become a cause.

Sometimes, in my darker moments, I look at my query letter and feel like a huckster, trying desperately to please an agent, any agent! I’ll use the finest clichés, proffer irresistible emotional hooks (however irrelevant to the plot) and even invent a new literary device (can I patent that?) to further my cause.

Then I realize I am perilously close to abandoning the magic and truth of my writing. If I continue on this course, I may end up like the narrator in Robert Pirsig’s Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when he says:  “What I am is a heretic who's recanted and thereby in everyone's eyes saved his soul. Everyone's eyes but one, who knows deep down inside that all he has saved is his skin. I survive mainly by pleasing others.”



1 comment:

Kate Evangelista said...

Very interesting to think about. But, if you write the story that needs to be written, there will always be readers to appreciate it. I mean, write what you read, right? We're the readers of our own works, so if we like it, someone else will, too. ;-)