Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Angling For Agents

Shortly after the birth of my first child 17 years ago, I decided to write what most writers dream about – that hugely successful, best-selling novel.
I’d take fiction writing classes and had been working for a few newspapers for about 10 years, and figured I was ready.
So I wrote. A page a day was the goal in order to have my blockbluster completed in a year.
In the beginning, as with any fresh project, the pages all but wrote themselves. At the end of the year, hammering everything out on an old world processor (there were no computers so to speak), I had the novel. Now what?
Oh, agents. This was a time when one couldn’t fire off fabulous e-mails to high-powered New York agents and get bites, just as one might while fishing the rough seas.
This was the era of buying a giant book of agents and diligently taking massive hours to write a query, a cover letter and mail the first 50 pages.
I must have spent a small fortune (enough for some Botox) at the Post Office.
“Wish me luck,” I say to my favorite postman. “Would you mind kissing this manila envelope for me, please?”
For weeks two things happened. Nothing. Or a slew of rejection letters, most of them of the impersonal kind with stamped signatures.
I persevered a while longer, and two agents told me they loved the first three chapters and wanted to see more. Oh, my gosh! Handwritten messages. I was about to be a star.
My book would sell millions, and this was before Oprah. I’d shine at the Oscars in a Vera Wang gown.
“Please sent the complete manuscript,” both my “courting” potentials said.
Courting is essentially what snagging an agent is all about. It’s like putting your profile on and waiting for the big payoff. Only this time, when weeks later the entire giant boxes containing my manuscript were returned, I got more bad news.
“The beginning was quirky and wonderful, but I felt the novel fell apart in the middle,” both agents said.
No point sending out a wobbly-middle novel again. Reminded me of my tummy jiggle. Weak in the middle. Nothing new there.
I shoved the heavy boxes under my bed and gave up my notion of wearing Vera. Instead, I delved hard into motherhood, continued writing for papers and magazines, and figured I’d never have a book published in this lifetime.
About 10 years later, that old dream of being published resurfaced. I read more books on how to write successful novels and this time, the Internet was my lover. I could find agents on the ‘Net who actually took the material electronically. No more forcing the postman to kiss my mail.
This second book was good. Not great, I later came to learn, but good. I queried about 12 agents and many wanted to see the whole book.
Two expressed interest in signing me, but they were moving at the typical New York sloth’s pace. So I pulled a fast one on the one I wanted.
“Hi So-and-So. I was just checking on the status of my novel because another agent wants to sign me, but you’re my first choice.”
“I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” he said with great eagerness. I doubt he’d read the book, and needed time for a speed read.
The next day, he and I hooked up. Just like on He became my agent for nearly five years and together we published three books. I now have a new agent, and it’s either me or the economy, but not much is happening lately.
One day, I tell myself, that novel will be published. Either with or without an agent, but I’m determined to do it.
In general, when asked by the public about agents, I tell them I believe they are necessary to facilitate deals and get the books in the stores. I still believe in agents, just as a child believes in Santa. There are always surprises just around the corner.

Susan Reinhardt is the author of “Not Tonight Honey Wait ‘Till I’m a Size 6,” “Don’t Sleep with a Bubba,” and “Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin.” Her new novel, “Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle” remains in New York limbo.

1 comment: said...

Love this. I'm just starting out on my 'angling for an agent' adventure. Your post makes me appreciate not having done this 30 years ago before email submissions. The whole idea of needing an agent is still one I grapple with, but 'it's tradition!" Thanks again for your post. :)