…is to be a published writer. An author. (Sometimes, that word can sound so exotic.) To behold my words in print. To know–and, in some cases, to get to see first-hand how my articulated thoughts on a page affect readers in a real and tangible way.
A couple weekends ago, with this goal very much in mind, my dad and I attended our very first writers’ conference. Seattle is a great town, with a fantastic literacy rate, but we are not the hub of literature, despite Amazon starting in a nearby garage. Since I can’t drive–and, if I’m being honest, I’d fear flying on my own, so I can’t just go to New York and pound the pavement looking for an agent–and I know enough not to cold-call them, this conference would be the best chance I’ve ever had to get in the room with an agent and demonstrate the passion I possess for a seven-year project that has bled the words from my writing veins, made me a better writer, and a stronger person.
The night before my agent-interview, I could barely sleep. I assume this is how an athlete must feel the night before The Big Game.
Five minutes. That’s all the time I had to showcase the most meaningful thing I’ve ever scribed (Really, I had ten minutes, because my dad, already agented, gave up his time with the agent, which followed mine, but everyone else only had five minutes, and that’s all I needed, anyway; not the point of the story). That morning, I awoke early and practiced my pitch. Imagine being in an elevator with an editor at Penguin or Random House (Yes, imagine it. It sounds amazing.). You’ve got thirty seconds to make them care about this thing you care about more than you’re willing to admit. That’s the pitch. I decided my book would be best described, genre-wise, as “secular spiritualism”. What is that? Think about the novels of Mitch Albom. His stories often mention God or Heaven, but his characters are never overtly one religion or another, meaning that he–the author–is never trying to convince you one religion is the right religion. Secular spiritualism. It should be a thing, yes?
I sat down in front of the agent. I think I was shaking, but she might have thought that was just the palsy. Fine with me. I launched into my pitch. It went off without a hitch. (A poet just stole my keyboard for a second; sorry about that.) Then she said, “Is your book complete?”
Is your book complete? Such a simple question, whose answer is so complex that only the simplest reply can accurately convey it.
“Yes,” I said.
After seven years, countless words written, deleted, re-written, and re-deleted, after receiving several rejections whose gist boiled down to: Obviously, you wrote this book for people with cerebral palsy (My book’s main character has cerebral palsy, because I’d always wanted to read a book about someone like ME, and I never had) when my book is for anyone and everyone who likes to read, wishes to read something a little different, a little quirky, that holds some meaning; after all of the struggles and doubts, and hours spent fussing over one passage or another, it was liberating to make that announcement, even if it was to an agent who’d never seen me before in her life. Yes, ma’am, my novel is done. Complete at eighty-four thousand words, the longest piece I’ve ever written.
No, this agent didn’t take me on as a client. In fact, she took only a few days before passing on the project. But, unlike the overwhelming majority of rejections I’ve received, this was not a form letter. An I have decided to pass or I didn’t connect with the story.
She told me she liked my writing, and that my story was merely outside of her expertise.
So this post is a thank-you of sorts. To that agent–and to agents everywhere–who take the time (I realize not every agent can do it, but if you can it really does assist us writers) to offer constructive advice. One or two sentences might be all it takes to send that future best-selling author off in the right direction.
And, okay, I’ll grant you that not all of us can be best-selling authors. There are 100 best-sellers per year, and there are so many books published annually that to read them all would be the height of insanity. But every author who has something to say should be able to say it to the widest audience possible. Agents serve as gate-keepers to this audience. But who says the key needs to be made of gold? Sometimes, it’s as simple as a few fleeting moments.