Friday, August 19, 2011

Birthday Cake and Literary Agents: When the Two Collide

Yesterday was Princess' sixth birthday. I spent a good deal of the day baking a made-from-scratch, cherry-filled Hershey's chocolate cake with homemade vanilla buttercream frosting, while taking breaks to immerse myself in WriteOnCon. Oh, yes, it was decadent. (WriteOnCon or the cake? Both.)

The cake was a labor of love. I piped on pink edging (love those icing decorators in the store baking aisle), stuck in candles that looked like fairy wands, and added orange polka dots on the sides. On the top, in a space not filled with sparkly pink birthday greetings, I added what was at first an orange daisy--then I decided it would be better to fill in the "petals" (quotes used because they are well-deserved) and make it a butterfly facing downwards.

When Princess saw the butterfly, she was thrilled with her "fairy." I told her it was a butterfly, but she said, "No, Mom, there are the legs and that's the body and head!" Who was I to argue?

After a dinner of Chinese food we dug into the cake. Then there were issues of getting overtired kids to bed, a huge thunderstorm that knocked out power all over the city (but not here, thank goodness), and a baby who wouldn't go to sleep until 11:30. By that time I was pretty tired, so I went into the kitchen to make sure the cake was covered and saw the dessert plates sitting there in all their drying, crusty glory.

And was enlightened.

Thoughts of the conference ran through my head while I walked around the table, assessing the amount of cleanup needed. I pondered the different preferences of agents when they looked at pitches (it's fascinating to see an agent's thought process), and the results of the first 500 words contest. The top five entries in the contest were picked by one agent. No surprise to me that my story didn't make it, after sensing a theme throughout the top picks. Interestingly enough, of the top five, only two were ones I would have personally been interested enough in to keep reading. Add to that the vlog I saw featuring agent Holly Root and editors Molly O'Neill and Martha Mihalick, and I really got something out of those sweet and sticky plates.

My husband's plate was almost clean. He'd eaten the chocolate cake and left all the buttercream frosting. He doesn't like frosting, but the cake was apparently acceptable.

My second son's plate was equally interesting. Lion had left no sign of cake or frosting anywhere, but he'd left three whole cherries from the filling. He likes the fruity "sauce," as he put it, but not the squishy cherries.

Princess' plate held the barely touched piece with the butterfly-turned-fairy. She was so excited for her cake and gushed over it, but she was full and could only eat two bites. She made me promise to keep it for the next day when she had more room. (She couldn't reject anything with fairies.)

The eldest, Professor's, plate was clean. I have a suspicion he might have licked it.

My plate held the picked-off remnants of pink and orange decorator's frosting. Not worth the calories or the sugar. (Though I need to throw in a couple extra workouts thanks to that buttercream.)

Bean (who just turned two) had eaten several thin slices of cake, which he demolished in turn, then begged for more. His last piece lay there in his bowl, because he'd had so much that even though he loved it, he couldn't fit any more in his adorable tummy.

I thought of all these plates in terms of agents (and readers, now that I think of it). Nothing in that cake was bad--we're not talking about the appearance, ha, ha--but each family member had their preference, just as an agent does. Some agents don't like buttercream frosting, some don't care for cherries. Some may really want your butterfly-turned-fairy, but have a full plate of other things.Some love everything about your cake, and others want to pick off parts that you might love, but just don't work for them. Then there are those who may want your chocolate cake and everything included with it, but have three identical chocolate cakes at home already.

So if you're going the agent route (or entering in contests, or self-publishing), remember that a rejection (or a bad review) might not mean your cake is inedible. You can test your recipe, tweak it a thousand times and end up with a rich, fluffy, mouthwatering confection, but not everyone will like it. Either something about your cake doesn't tickle their fancy--or they may just prefer cheesecake.

After all, the writing business is incredibly subjective. In fact, I like cake, but I'm more of a cheesecake gal.

Straight up New York style, please.


Tristi Pinkston said...

This was an excellent analogy, Rebecca. Thanks for sharing! And happy birthday to your daughter!

RaShelle said...

Very true. Agents have their specific likes and wants. It's our job (as queriers?) to find THE ONE that wants ours.

Oh, and now I want cake. =D

C. K. Bryant said...

Genius! Pure Genius. Love the analogy. SOOO true.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm with Christine, this is GENIUS.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Love your analogy.

Anonymous said...

Such a great analogy! Thanks for sharing.

John Waverly said...

Hey! I thought you were throwing cakes at agents. Where are the pics? Haha.

We also just celebrated a birthday with Chinese food. Yummy.

And my favorite dessert is NY-style cheesecake. Preferably from Carnagie deli. Now, I want some! (I blame you.)

Happy Birthday, and great post.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

Amen, amen, amen.

Sometimes when I'm helping someone with a query or pitch I can't help but think...BUT THIS IS JUST ME! This is what would convince (imaginary lit agent) Shelly to ask for a full BUT there are people who would like the pitch completely different. Weird but true. It's a tricky game.

Angie Cothran said...

This is great! Everyone love chocolate on chocolate right? Maybe I will write that story. Thanks for sharing :)

Canda said...

Great comparison! I'll never look at dirty dishes the same again.

David Powers King said...

Happy Birthday (to your daughter), and I agree, WriteOnCon was great. I was glad to meet you there. Thanks for following me.

I gave you a shout-out on my blog! :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

I love the comparison! That's awesome. And happy birthday to your daughter!

Marcy said...

I love this way of looking at things! And I love the title of your blog too.