On Agents

This whole weekly blog thing is a novelty. I will be all over the map. I guess this one could be filed under C for career.

Was just pondering where I was a year ago and realized I was probably sitting at this same table at Starbucks doing pretty much the same thing…writing. But my mind? A million miles away. As I scroll through my emails from a year ago, it reads like any aspiring author’s who is in the midst of The Dreaded Agent Search. At this time last year, I had my first book on submission to agents and I was a wreck.

I had been soaring on the highest highs (Axelrod requested the full!! I am going to be HUGE!!) and the lowest lows (Nelson rejected me 13 hours 4 minutes and 22 seconds after receiving my query. I am the shittiest writer. What am I doing spending precious time away from my children and family to write these ridiculous stories? I suck.) My husband and I were having a minor tiff at the time because I hadn’t heard back from InkWell—my “dream team”—and I was reluctant to follow up. They had requested the full in November and then…crickets. My husband and I have both spent time in “normal” industries like banking and marketing, where the idea of *not* pursuing a deal is preposterous. If someone doesn’t call you back? You call them! You try to win their business. You are avid! You are dogged! I try to explain to my husband that agents are DIFFERENT. They don’t want to be pursued in that way. All of the Twit-Wisdom, upon which I based my entire agent search, said unequivocally DO NOT harass the agent. I was trying to be a good bunny. (Note to aspiring writers: Get your ass onto Twitter! Use #askagent! Talk to other authors!)

After my husband pointed out that a polite inquiry did not equal harassment, I wrote a very small, quiet, sorry-to-bother-you email to InkWell and LO! I got a ping-back auto-reply that the person who had requested my manuscript back in November was no longer with the company. I was momentarily stunned. I picked up the phone with a shaky hand and dialed the 212 number. In my smallest, quietest, sorry-to-bother-you voice I asked to speak to the person now handling the departed person’s responsibilities. He sounded normal enough. “Oh! Yes! I remember your query. I am so sorry about the confusion. Would you mind re-sending it and I will pass it to the correct person?” Would I mind?!

Rapid heartbeat, gasping, and husband’s crowing all ensued.

From there on out it was a story of true love. Allison Hunter email’d back that she was looking forward to reading the manuscript and that I would probably hear back from her within four weeks. An actual response time? I was in heaven.

I got an email back from her in three weeks about how much she had enjoyed the manuscript. BUT. Before making an offer to represent me, she said she wanted to work on the manuscript together, to see if we would be a good fit. It reminded me of living together before marriage. (I am totally for it!) We spent the next two months on revisions, with tons of back-and-forth emails to make sure we could work well together. I was a quivering mess the entire time, but, as with any difficult birth, the details have already become misty and almost quaint. Megan at Ocean Reef freaking out about how to create greater depth of character in the protagonist’s father. Megan in Miami for a hen party freaking out about how to make the hero’s mid-book departure more imperative and less asshole-ish.

And then (finally!) on April 25, 2011, I opened my email to see the following subject line: Happy Monday News.

I burst into tears (duh) and just stared at the words over and over: Welcome to InkWell. (I don’t deny that I occasionally revisit this email when I am feeling low.) It was the Monday after Easter and I have never felt more full of new beginnings. I am not a religious person, but during my childhood, Easter was always my favorite holiday. None of the pressure to have the-best-time-ever-and-love-every-present-with-utter-abandon that Christmas always seemed to bring. On Long Island, Easter was always a meteorological crap shoot: sometimes it was sunny and warm and all the daffodils and forsythia were in full bloom. Other times it was still late winter. One of my favorite years it was poised exactly between both. The flowers were out, but the grass was still cold when we reached into the moist blades to get our eggs. When I read Allison Hunter’s email? I felt like that…all the cold, hard evidence of winter there in my fingertips, and all the promise and color of spring in my future.

I didn’t know it at the time (who does?) but I was learning so much during that whole back-and-forth editing process with Allison. The publishing submission process was a breeze by comparison. First of all, I was no longer alone. I had an advocate. Second of all, I knew I was capable of being meticulously edited. It’s not fun, in fact it’s grueling, but I can do it. And knowing that I could bend and not break was totally liberating. I know my core story. I know my characters. But if an editor wanted it a little more of this or a little more of that? Cool. I could do that. Having that flexibility was borne of those two months of our “living together.”

And if some of you are wondering, What if I had adhered to the no-answer-means-no philosophy? What if my husband hadn’t pushed me to be pushy? Hell, if I know. But, without sounding too Stuart Smalley about the whole thing, all of you aspiring writers out there: If I can do it, so can you. Put yourself out there!

5 thoughts on “On Agents

  1. I love these kinds of stories. :O) I read the how I got my agent blogs like crazy when I was querying. Luckily, it worked out for me too–and at Inkwell (which was also my dream agency) too. I mean, how could I not love an agency that cites Maxwell Perkins on their homepage?

  2. For me the joy of this blog was reading about the back and forth editing process between you and Allison — I can feel the euphoria rising from the page. Editors are worth their weight in gold and I like what Tobias Wolff had to say about it all:

    “I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”
    Tobias Wolff

    NB: I found this at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/

  3. It’s always good to be mindful of not harassing people, but gentle nudging would rarely be a turnoff in a professional setting. Occasionally, it helps to have that Steve Jobs, the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me attitude.

  4. Wow, fantastic and inspiring. And the “what if he hadn’t pushed me” element was what really struck me– I was so glad you brought that back at the end!
    Just was reading Allison Hunter’s blog from yesterday. You both sound like pretty optimistic/upbeat people, so can understand why living together worked out! Well done!

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