Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Agent Story: It Doesn't Save You

It doesn't save you.

This is the thought that has haunted me since I announced signing with my agent, Mary C. Moore. The fear that I have nothing more uplifting to say on the matter of achieving representation has kept me from writing this post.

During the years of waiting, I had heard stories of authors who received word of book deals while in the aisles of supermarkets. Authors who, after giving a quick jump for joy, returned to scanning the shelves for their toddler's favorite cereal or the breakfast bars their spouses put on the list. 

But I never thought it would happen to me. 

I always felt that--in the movie of my life--signing with an agent would be my make-over moment. I thought it would happen in a bubble, a shiny, happy, perfect iridescent bubble. But it happened in real life and I won't patronize you by saying that makes it so much sweeter.

I, like any other desperate writer querying their third novel (For the official record: the first was awesome and garnered a ton of praise-- all from agents who ultimately passed the full, giving reasons variant on "I don't know how to sell this;" the second should never have made it out of my desktop alive, I see that now) jumped at any chance to show agents my work unsolicited, and so I entered #PitMad on March 11, 2015 almost exactly three years to the day of my first query. 

My agent, Mary, favorited the tweet, along with four other kind souls okay three if you're discounting me and requested the first 50 pages.

On March 18th she requested the full. 

A still life of querying author.

I didn't hear from her again for exactly three months, but on June 18th I got the best birthday present of my life! An e-mail from Mary requesting to speak to me via a phone call. 

While I had received more full requests and uplifting rejection letters than any other author on the face of the planet (seriously, I am claiming this without fact checking, because while other authors have told stories of pulling out their rejection letters on masochistic days, I would read over mine when I needed a pick-me-up) I had never had an agent request to take a phone call with me. 

I was scrambling. This is a great place to insert that things in my life were not, and are not, going swimmingly, as a discerning reader might have guessed by the opening line of this post. My schedule wasn't wide-open for good news, as sad as that may sound. 

And by then I knew the book had plot problems. I was already addressing those with two other agents who had requested I edit the book and send in another draft when I was ready. (I would just like to say both of these agents--and their assistants--were wonderful and my choosing Mary had nothing to do with them and everything to do with Mary.)

We set the date for the 29th of June at 6 PM my time. 

I assumed that the phone call would consist of Mary feeling me out to assess whether or not I had the makings of a sociopath (hmmm...still debatable) and ultimately asking me to restructure the book based off her edits. Instead she did, what I still believe, after years of *almost-but-not-quite* offers had conditioned me to believe, was the impossible. She said:

"I would like to offer you representation."

And I began to cry-laugh. 

Not immediately, because this offer came smack-dab in the middle of our conversation; I attempted to formulate some of the questions I had not come prepared to ask, assuming that this was just one more step towards securing an agent, but not, in fact, the moment it would occur. 

It took another phone call on July 20th to convince me she was my Chosen One. She sold me when she said it was my writing that had grabbed her: 

"I felt like I was reading my favorite author."

For years I had been told the EXACT. SAME. THING. by brilliant and wonderful agents attempting to keep me afloat in an industry saturated with queries. They wanted me to know my writing was worth pursuing, that I absolutely had *something*, it just wasn't something they were excited to sell at the moment. 

Mary stopped short of every clause. She merely said I absolutely had something. 

Fortunes received mere days before my first call from Mary.
Five days later, on July 25th, 2015, over six months from the first pitch, I took a third phone call with her, this one very brief, where I said the words, 

"I am formally accepting your offer of representation."

I had a surgery scheduled for the 6th of August, and wouldn't you know, that's the day my contract came in the mail? There's a picture of me somewhere, I haven't yet steeled my vanity to view it, holding the blank forms while still swaddled in bandages and blood-catching contraptions.

In its place I offer this:

Editing with Mary has been the bright spot of my every day for the past several work-weeks. I personally love editing, which I know sounds ridiculous, but I have always likened this part of the process to the quote attributed to Michelangelo:

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set [her] free." 

As someone whose life has often resembled a chunk of unpolished rock, rather than a refined statuary, I connect to the sentiment, and to the process of editing, that takes you from one to the other.

This time in my life is much like editing, with additional bumps in the road that really have nothing at all to do with the poetic process, and everything to do with the unrefined realities of life.

I enjoy editing because it is a product of hope. Mary believes in my book and has offered me hope that it might make someone else believe as well. She has offered me the chance to take steps towards becoming a career author, which is a marathon and not a sprint. At times, she and I tear down sentences to build them back up again and that too is very hopeful, it is the hope that however sturdy the syntax might have been, it can be better, I can be better, we can do more. That I have it in me to be great.

Getting an agent does not save you. 

An agent is not your fairy-godmother, just as a potential editor is not necessarily Prince Charming. They are, rather, beacons of hope, little lights on the path towards a tomorrow forged by my choices and strengths. 

Getting an agent will not--does not--save you, but as an author it reaffirms the hope that you are right to save yourself. 

"The life you save may be your own." -- Flannery O'Connor

I would now like to take this moment to thank some people:

Jodi Meadows, who read over several drafts of several queries, offered amazing, tireless insight, and made sure none of them ended up in the slush pile. 

When I told her my first novel, a New Adult contemporary, was 111,000 words long she responded, "You know you can kill someone with a manuscript of that size? That's blunt force trauma." I blame her for my love of editing. 

Francisco X. Stork, who read my original first novel and was the first person to tell me I had a gift for words. And for coffee and sandwiches in Dallas. 

Kelsey Sutton, who leapt for joy alongside me.

Cindy Thomas, who encouraged me and hacked Publisher's Marketplace for me. 

Kimberly Cameron, whose agency now represents me.

And special thanks to Mary, for seeing the angel and for choosing my pitch out of over 50K others. 

To those of you, you Mod Podge People, who have been a part of the last five years of my life I would also like to extend my warmest thanks. 

Here's to the next five and all the hope to come!


EHillery said...

Hey I just wanted to say this was a wonderful read (and as a struggling writer thank you for the pic of your messy desk!)

Mary C. Moore said...

Here's to a bright future together!