That Time I Signed With A Literary Agent

DA

I’m going to tell you a story about a girl.

Two years ago, she had a dream she was moving to London. She woke up from the dream the next morning in Texas. She had coffee. She told her husband the dream. She always forced him to listen to her dreams in case he could make any sense of them. Yes, she was one of those people. In the dream she had been nervous to go, she had been aware it was a big deal, and a part of something even bigger. Her husband played her the Third Eye Blind song “London” to irritate her. They daydreamed for a while about a reality in which they could move to London— what that would feel like, how that would ever happen.

The girl also decided to research London literary agents because she was a writer in search of a champion, and partner, for her books.

Two years ago that girl reached out to one of them.

I am telling you that story so you understand the rest. Two years ago, I — the girl — came downstairs again and told my husband the literary agent I’d queried wanted to read my book.

Today, that agent announced she’d signed me.

What happened in between?

I grew as a writer, to start. I worked hard. I learned more about craft and story. I wrote another book. I revised and revised, and then when I was done revising, I waited. I studied screenwriting and learned skills I needed to become a better writer still. I was angry, and then I was nothing for a long time, but still I believed it was worth it to keep trying.

I stayed in touch with the literary agent from London because I liked her, maybe even a little because she was from the UK and I love the UK, and also because she’d seen promise in me early on and it had helped me through the struggle.

I revised the book again.

And Clare Wallace, the literary agent from London, gave my book another look. And when she offered me representation, I knew even if I wasn’t moving to London (just yet), my book hopefully was.

I am telling you this because many of you are in the trenches. Many feel hopeless, are hearing no, are wondering when, if, that yes will ever come. If my own journey taught me anything it is this: yes comes unexpectedly, it comes in waves and it comes in whispers, and it comes when you keep going no matter what.

This is a long game. We play it as long as we have the courage to keep getting back up after we’ve been knocked down. So keep your courage, don’t be afraid to try the unusual thing on your path, or to listen to the wish your heart made when you were fast asleep. It might be the very thing you need to break out.

No Excuses. Just Write.

I just spent a week in Hawaii, and it made me realize something:

I’m angry. Have been for a while. I don’t want to be anymore.

I have been writing in the hope of being traditionally published for four years, this October. I remember the moment with great clarity that I decided to make that my goal. And, in retrospect, that may have been my first mistake.

I was sitting on my stoop in Brooklyn, and I decided to discontinue the blog I’d started when we moved to New York City in favor of creating a writing-centered blog to begin building my author platform. I didn’t even have a finished draft yet, and already I was plotting my future as an author. Already, I was thinking about what kind of brand I wanted to create. Already, I was setting myself up for heartache.

This post will be inspirational. I’ll get to that part in a minute.

I did finish a draft. And then I revised. And revised. And revised. And every time I did, I wanted it to be the last time. I wanted someone to tell me yes, this book is no longer a red hot mess. I got a lot of feedback. That manuscript helped me make a lot of writer friends and industry connections because it was promising, but it was never quite right.

I got tired of revising it and around that time I finished my shiny new idea. I revised. I revised again. I sent it to readers and got fantastic feedback. I did a revise and resubmit with an agent. The resubmit went well, all signs pointed to Yes, and then instead nothing at all happened. The agent fell off the face of the planet. I never heard from her again.

Whether it was right or not, I got angry. Yes, I did the proper thing and acted cool. I told myself this was not my fault. I told myself this was just business. I force fed every line of positive energy bullshit I could down my throat. I faked a positive attitude. I began to query more widely. I got a lot of requests, fast, and there were a couple of weeks there in January where I was flying high.

But the Anger was still there. It had a higher threshold for patience than I did. As the months of waiting dragged on, it festered. It seeped into my heart and mind and creative force. I sat down to write, anything, and Anger distracted me with self-pity. I griped about the Industry, and Anger became more powerful in my disgust. I saw certain books become successful, books I read and didn’t love, didn’t like, didn’t get. I struggled to read at all. Agents requested, agents rejected, agents didn’t get back to me. I decided Agents could go fuck themselves.

I’m a bit of a potty-mouth. Anger made that worse.

I kept having accidents and injuring myself, and Anger managed to make even those about my failure as a writer. Because since I wanted to be published, since I had decided that publishing was my goal, the fact that I wasn’t yet meant my writing was bad. It meant I was clearly on the wrong path, and I needed to realize it. It meant my talent, my love of story, my imagination, was substandard. It wasn’t enough to know what I loved and get to do it — I needed to succeed. I needed to win. I should just give up.

This wasn’t happening without my knowledge. I am not a victim. Anger became my ally. It made me feel validated in my procrastination, or lack of perseverance with the manuscripts I had started, or querying some more, or deciding anything, ever about my career.

The week before I left for Hawaii I started a new project. Well, a reimagining of that first novel. The one I gave up on. The one I wrote because I wanted to get published. As the words poured onto the page, I forgot to be angry. I forgot to feel sorry for myself, or to hate the agents that said no or said nothing, I forgot everything because the words were more important, the voice was all that mattered. It was a small victory against Anger, and it was the first step in breaking that alliance.

On the way to Hawaii I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw another writer announce they had landed an agent. And I should have been happy for them — I was happy for them, really, deep down — except Anger reminded me of all the reasons I shouldn’t be. Of all that I deserved and hadn’t received, of all the wrongness. I shut my Twitter feed and felt tears well in my eyes. I was tired of being angry. It was making this hard thing harder, and in order to win, I would need to let it go. And winning would have to become something else. And everything would have to change.

This realization followed me to the Islands, where I looked out over the ocean and asked for clarity.

The real problem was me. And the only person I was hurting, the only successful victim in my alliance with Anger against the publishing industry, was me and my writing. Me and the thing that I love.

The clarity I asked for, I received. The Islands operate on a different wavelength than the rest of the world. They move at a different rhythm. I move dangerously fast. I hate waiting. I see time as a commodity I will never have enough of. I want everything. I want to be everything. I am pulled in a million directions by me and no one else because I am afraid of missing it. I am afraid of not doing all the things I am supposed to do.

Ultimately, I, not Anger, am my own worst enemy. And I don’t know if that will ever really change, but I do know that I have to forgive myself for not meeting that goal yet. I have to forgive publishing, and Agents, for not doing things the way I want them to. I have to forgive my writing for still being a work in progress. I will only have me to blame if I let Anger win instead of Perseverance.

In the end, the only thing we have power over, no matter what we’re trying for, is ourselves and our attitude. So, no excuses. Just write. And then rewrite. And then start again. You are never finished, but you are good enough in your unfinished state.

feet in water

Waiting Ring

ring When you are a writer in pursuit of publication you wait. A lot.

First, you wait for feedback from critique partners and beta readers to tell you your manuscript is ready to query. This is an important stage of waiting. It helps you build up strength in your patience muscles. It teaches you that you can’t harass friends, that passive aggression will do little more than make them want to block your email. Waiting on readers forces you to develop a range of coping mechanisms needed to manage the heavyweight Waiting Tournament that lies ahead of you, known as:

Cold Querying.

This stage of waiting comes with a whole new set of challengers. In one corner there’s Inevitable Rejection. This is a brawny, unscrupulous, and unfortunately unavoidable opponent. Sometimes it strikes fast. Sometimes it is a slow, brutal stalemate of DID THEY GET MY QUERY WILL THEY EVEN RESPOND, in which you recheck their company guidelines and bite your nails to the quick.

In another corner you will face the Partial Request. Often, the Partial Request tag teams with Inevitable Rejection to combine their strengths in a pleasant, sometimes long-awaited Form Letter. Occasionally, Partial Request bows out, and you are upgraded to FULL REQUEST challenge.

This, my querying beauties, is the big leagues. Full Request enters the ring, distracting you with shiny hopes and dreams of Offers, and Contracts, and Emails full of flattery and begging. But then Full Request pulls out it’s secret weapon: Waiting for a Response.

At this point, you are tired. You’ve already fought through three rungs of hell to get to Full Request status. You begin to question your ability to defeat this challenge. Your anxiety seeps to the surface and gives you bitter beer face. You are constipated by the lack of movement in your inbox. You wonder if all the offers are somehow being captured by Full Request’s henchmen, Doubt and Self-loathing. You know you shouldn’t give a flying fuck but you do, you can’t help it, and what’s worse, your hands are tied.

Yes. You start work on another manuscript. Or you start a YouTube channel (like this one). Maybe you take a trip or focus on family or educate yourself in the art of underwater basket-weaving. But you are still WAITING. No winner has been declared. No loser has been declared either.

My friend, Sara Biren told me a story today about waiting in the Geek Squad line at Best Buy. A woman showed up waving a piece of paper with her appointment confirmation and demanding instantaneous service. She was sent to the back of the line. After listening to this woman complain, Sara told her, “There are a lot worse things than having a broken phone and having to wait in line to get it repaired.”

Sara knew I needed to be reminded of this, but she was nice enough not to bitch slap me with it. She was nice enough not to say, “Get over yourself. First world problems much?”She has been in the Agent Waiting Ring. She is now in the Editor Waiting Ring. Her patience muscles are bigger than mine.

When Sara was finally called to the desk, she received an upgrade and got a shiny new case to protect the Precious. Her children were happy because they’d spent the afternoon hogging the Best Buy in store iPads. Waiting had paid off.

Sometimes, Waiting is just giving the Upgrade a chance to find it’s way to you. Sometimes, Waiting is right where you need to be.