Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Agent Reaction to John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe

I knew that John Lennon and the Mercy Street Café had been published by a small press, but had William Hammett sent the manuscript to agents? His answer was very revealing ... and a bit disheartening.

Hammett: Numerous literary agents were very enthusiastic about my query. The name John Lennon usually gets people’s attention quickly, and more importantly, agents liked the hook in my query. Several asked to see the manuscript or a partial. As for what they thought after reading the book, most responded very favorably but believed that "non-literary" magical realism wouldn’t fly in the literary marketplace. They said that the days of Shoeless Joe were over. I didn’t agree since magical realism is a form of fantasy, which is very popular. As for Shoeless Joe, it is now in its 28th printing, and thousands of people still make the pilgrimage to Iowa today to see the baseball diamond because the book and movie gave them hope. I decided that I was going to get the book out because, as we’ve already discussed, people are hungry for hope, and that’s what John Lennon and the Mercy Street Café is about.

Cat: Any other experiences with agents and editors.

Hammett: Many. The former head of the juvenile division at McIntosh & Otis, the oldest agency for the juvenile market, loved three of six picture books I sent her, plus she liked two middle readers but thought they needed revision. She nevertheless declined representation, which I never understood. Why not represent the three she thought were superb and let me work on the rest? I also had a piece received very favorably by an editor at Simon and Schuster, but the project was killed by senior editorial staff. Scholastic Press accepted one of my middle readers, but after an editorial shake-up, the new editor wasn’t interested and claimed she couldn’t even locate the manuscript. I have also had agents request avant-garde, experimental novels, which I sent in, and the response was, “This is fantastic, but it’s avant-garde. It will never sell.” I was left scratching my head since the agents had, after all, asked for avant-garde fiction that would "break the mould." All this having been said, I’m not complaining. Most agents have treated me very well, and our relationships have been very good.

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