Feeling Positive About Long Odds

In an interview on the Agent Hunter blog, Gemma Cooper of the Bent Agency was asked:

How many submissions do you see annually? And how many of those submissions will end up on your list?

Her answer:

“I see around 6000 submissions annually, and take on about 2-3 new clients a year.”

Based on other things I’ve read, I’d say this might not be a typical answer. Many agents take on fewer new clients each year and receive more queries.

Let’s break down those numbers, shall we?

I don’t have exact stats, obviously, but I’m betting at least half, maybe even 3/4 or more of those submissions can be immediately eliminated from competition, either because the author queried too soon with a manuscript that is not yet ready or because the author failed to do the requisite homework and queried an agent who does not rep that kind of story. None of us wants to believe we’re one of those writers, but if we’re not, chances are good we have been.

If we’ve sufficiently polished our manuscript and done our homework, this means our odds are improved from impossible to merely astronomical.

In a typically perverse writerly kind of way, this gives me some positive feels.

Another reason this makes me feel better is that it means when an agent says my story does not connect with her the way a story needs to if she’s going to rep it with the required enthusiasm, it might not just be a line. Agents may indeed be superwomen and supermen, but even super heroes have limited time. Well, usually. Unless their super powers include manipulating time, a power I’ll bet most agents would love to have but, sadly, just don’t.

It’s not like the agent is accepting everybody else’s manuscript and declining mine. Better books than mine are likely being rejected on that same day.

I’ve had other writers tell me they love my story, people who didn’t have to tell me anything at all. This means there might still be that one agent out there who doesn’t automatically push my query into the pile of 5,998 that will not make it.

There are a lot of agents out there. If they all choose one or two, or even three, new writers, that’s still a lot of new writers. Maybe I’ll be one of them. Maybe you will.

And if not, we’ll keep chugging along because we believe in our stories, but mostly because we just love writing them.

NaPoWriMo Day 26: Archaeological Poem

Have you ever heard someone wonder what future archaeologists, whether human or from alien civilization, will make of us? Today, I’d like to challenge you to answer that question in poetic form, exploring a particular object or place from the point of view of some far-off, future scientist? The object or site of study could be anything from a “World’s Best Grandpa” coffee mug to a Pizza Hut, from a Pokemon poster to a cellphone.

Religious Artifacts

I wipe my hands
on pantleg
dictate into my wrist

Metallic container, 11 thumb-
spans by four, found
beneath remains of residential
quarters, home of workers
perhaps, who built the city
a few miles away, laid
waste in the wars of
the empire that toppled
under its own weight

if ancient
historians are
to be believed

I am opening the box

Inside, synthetic pouch
like those found elsewhere
bearing that
unexplained word

My theory:
the word
a magical charm
to protect
contents, although
many pouches contain nothing
but household trash

Strange people
these 21st Century
coastal empireans.

But inside this pouch
a flexible block
apparently rectangular

I carefully slice the pouch
protect item inside
the pouch itself
without value

Inside, a stack of thin
rectangular objects
made of thick paper.

Warriors dressed in white,
black, orange uniforms
bearing war clubs

A mysterious word
above each picture
strange titles below:
Hunter Pence
Buster Posey
titles lost to time

I turn one over
an official called
a “Brandon Crawford”
whatever that was
long-haired warrior
slightly bearded

Rear surface covered
in numbers and strange words–
that same “San Francisco”
found in the buried ruins
of the city–
mysterious codes I hope
to decipher later

My skin tingles
with possibilities,
this discovery of idols
a cult of some kind
bearing magical words
that mean nothing
to me yet:

“Major League Baseball”


–Scott Rhoades


NaPoWriMo Day 24: Medieval Marginalia

Today, I challenge you to write a poem of ekphrasis — that is, a poem inspired by a work of art. But I’d also like to challenge you to base your poem on a very particular kind of art – the marginalia of medieval manuscripts. Here you’ll find some characteristic images of rabbits hunting wolves, people sitting on nests of eggs, dogs studiously reading books, and birds wearing snail shells. What can I say? It must have gotten quite boring copying out manuscripts all day, so the monks made their own fun. Hopefully, the detritus of their daydreams will inspire you as well!

The Lagomorph Fragment

…battle enraged, bunnies most fearsome

Combatting conies wielding crossbows

Heavily armed hares in harrowing fight

King Lop-Ear led the laporidae warriors

Matchless killer, the crafty cottontail

Spear in paw, the unspeakable spike

Hounds fled, their fur flying

The rare dog outran that raven feast

Harried by hares, unhappy terriers

No greyhound escaped the angry angoras

Then hopeless humans, unguarded by hounds

No match for the bunnies, their fruitless defence

In battle felled by the lapin lords

Many a knight graced bunny tables…

–Scott Rhoades

NaPoWriMo Day 23: Double Elevenie

¡Our prompt for Day Twenty-Three comes to us from Gloria Gonsalves, who challenges us to write a double elevenie. What’s that? Well, an elevenie is an eleven-word poem of five lines, with each line performing a specific task in the poem. The first line is one word, a noun. The second line is two words that explain what the noun in the first line does, the third line explains where the noun is in three words, the fourth line provides further explanation in four words, and the fifth line concludes with one word that sums up the feeling or result of the first line’s noun being what it is and where it is. 

A double elevenie would have two stanzas of five lines each, and twenty-two words in all. It might be fun to try to write your double elevenie based on two nouns that are opposites, like sun and moon, or mountain and sea.


La Alegria Suprema

bring joy
from the truck
to my eager belly

improve tacos
by adding fire
so I sweat happiness


–Scott Rhoades

NaPoWriMo Day 21: Overheard Poem

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that incorporates overheard speech. It could be something you’ve heard on the radio, or a phrase you remember from your childhood, even something you overheard a coworker say in the break room! Use the overheard speech as a springboard from which to launch your poem. Your poem could comment directly on the overheard phrase or simply use it as illustration or tone-setting material.


A Conversation Between Two Preschool Cousins, and a Comment From Grandad


Don’t look at                                                                 I realize kids are going to
my dress.                                                                                         
argue, and that’s

                           I’m looking at it.                                                                             OK.

Don’t look!                                                                                                                  But
It’s my dress                                                                                           can you girls

                          I’m eating my                                                          find something
                          cereal. I’ll see
                          your dress                                                             more interesting
                          when I’m done.
                                                                                                            to argue about so
No!                                                                                                                        it’s more
You can’t see
It                                                                                                                                        fun

                         I can see
                         it after I                                                                                      to listen?


–Scott Rhoades (with help from Lola and Marley)


NaPoWriMo Day 20: Game Poem

Today, I challenge you to write a poem that incorporates the vocabulary and imagery of a specific sport or game. Your poem could invoke chess or baseball, hopscotch or canasta, Monopoly or jai alai. The choice is yours!



fresh grass glows
like heaven between
white foul lines

ticklish chalk scent
well-oiled leather
polished pine bats

infield dirt smooth
as water before
the game starts

tap plate, scratch
a hanging curve
bat cracks sharply

screamin’ meemie hisses
caroms in corner
thunder from stands

taste of dirt
when  you slide
safe at third


–Scott Rhoades

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Creation Myth

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that recounts a creation myth. It doesn’t have to be an existing creation myth, or even recount how all of creation came to be. It could be, for example, your own take on the creation of ball-point pens, or the discovery of knitting. Your myth can be as big or small as you would like, as serious or silly as you make it.

The First Poem

In the beginning
wenty-six stars met
looked upon earth
observed the people

The people sang
Wordless harmonies
wafted skyward
prayerful melodies

Prayerful melodies
the heavens
like angels 
homeward in 
the night

The night wrapped
twenty six stars
in s
ong. The heavens
danced in star dust

Star dust rained
upon the earth
Twenty six sounds
fell, forming letters

Forming letters
the people cast
words to the music
and so created poetry.

Created poetry.


–Scott Rhoades


NaPoWriMo Day 18: Neologisms

Today, I challenge you to write a poem that incorporates neologisms. What’s that? Well, it’s a made-up word! Your neologisms could be portmanteaus (basically, a word made from combining two existing words, like “motel” coming from “motor” and “hotel”) or they could be words invented entirely for their sound. Probably the most famous example of a poem incorporating neologisms is Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, but neologisms don’t have to be funny or used in the service of humor. You can use them to try to get at something that you don’t have an exact word for, or to create a sense of sound and rhythm, or simply to make the poem feel strange and unworldly.

Don’t Touch That Dial

On that one desk in my home office
there’s this dingstbum that
runs that one floomdoom,
the one that flashes like
a most merry Christmas whizzberry
when the dingstbuml
writes a thing-noodle to the flamdoodle
Just don’t turn the humbob knob
Or the whole bizzle will go shnizzle

No no
not that one
That one’s OK
It’s the other one.


–Scott Rhoades

NaPoWriMo Day 17: Nocturne

Today, I challenge you to write a nocturne. In music, a nocturne is a composition meant to be played at night, usually for piano, and with a tender and melancholy sort of sound. Your nocturne should aim to translate this sensibility into poetic form!




The kids are in bed
The house moans
with relief
like a tired Grandad

I get you a drink
You lean into me

Tell me about your day
You tried earlier
but were interrupted
by an argument about
who is not allowed
to look at whom

Let’s leave the TV off
The game is on but
this is our time.

–Scott Rhoades

NaPoWriMo Day 16: Letter-Writing Poem

I’ve been swamped and missed the last few days of NaPoWriMo.

Today’s prompt:

Today I challenge you to take your inspiration, like our featured interviewee did in the chapbook she co-authored with Ross Gay, from the act of letter-writing. Your poem can be in the form of a letter to a person, place, or thing, or in the form of a back-and-forth correspondence.

My answer to the prompt is an attempt to write kind of in the style of a Chinese poet, inspired by a misspelling on a Chinese letterhead.

Letter from a Friend

‘Massage for you’

–Letterhead from Taipei

A hand
from the envelope
touches my back
my shoulders
my neck

your words
like a gentle massage
erase the aches
of a day
away from friends