author – activist – faculty – mom
Start spreading the news:
At this point, it’s not even really news. It happened mid February, but we didn’t sign the contract until mid-March. It felt somehow premature to announce it before I had the fully executed contract in my hands. I didn’t get it til April, and by then I was overwhelmed with end-of-semester stuff at work. Still, there’s part of me that feels uncomfortable talking about it. Like disclosure will somehow jinx it. Like it’s a magical boon I’ve been given by a fairy godmother instead of the result of a decade of thoughtful and dedicated planning and work.
In an earlier post this year, I claimed that 2014 would be the year I would get a literary agent, and acknowledged that the act of claiming it publicly felt like a risk of humiliation. I could fail and then feel like a fool in 2015 to be claiming, “no, really, this is the year!” But I’ve had to face the fear of failure, or worse yet, overestimating myself in public, in order to get where I want to go. But I wrote about it because I knew that boldly risking rejection, failure and humiliation would be the key to success. I queried over 100 agents (102 to be exact).
Of the 100+ agents I queried, most were in New York City, but the rest were all over the country, from California to Colorado to the Southeast and Southwest. I did prefer a New York City agent, just because that’s the heart of the publishing industry. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York. But today’s technology has leveled the playing field in many ways for agents in other parts of the country and the world.
As it turns out, the agent who offered me representation, my agent!!, is in Manhattan, but wasn’t even one of the 102. The project was handed to her by an agent I found on Publishers Marketplace and to whom I sent a slush pile query.
So part of my reticence to write publicly about getting an agent is about fear of failure, of claiming some sort of victory too early. However, another part is fear of jealousy. Recently, I had a fabulous time at the SF Writers Conference. However, I had a harsh interaction with one woman there. She was a white woman, perhaps in her fifties, staffing a table that advertised an upcoming event with literary agents. I explained to the woman that I had just finished a massive round of querying, and had gotten an offer from an agent.
“You bitch!” she said in that gaspy, jokey, claws half-retracted way that women treat other women whom they envy.
I was stunned.
I don’t take kindly to being called a bitch by anyone, male or female, white or of color. But something in this particular woman’s envy of me elicited an unexpected compassion. While other writers had heard about the offer and asked, “Can I stand a little closer to you?” “Do you think it will rub off?” The bitch-caller seemed defeated. She couldn’t celebrate with me. She couldn’t take my success as a hopeful sign or a good omen. Perhaps she came from the school where women bond over victimhood and tear each other down over triumphs. I’ll never really know much about her, because I just shrugged and moved on.
Which is exactly what I had to do with the 101 rejections or non replies from the other agents: shrug and move on. I stayed focused on my goal and my risks and persistence paid off.
As I revise the draft for my agent!!! I must say I feel a bit disoriented, askew. I’ve spent the last decade trying to get a foot in the door of the literary industry. And now I have just that. A foot in the door. If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere… Nothing is assured, but my total outsider status has ended. I feel like I had a cozy identity as indy artist/underdog. And now, I have to step up to success, failure or mediocrity on a much larger, more visible scale.
It’s up to you
New York, New York lyrics © EMI Music Publishing
Songwriters: KANDER, JOHN/EBB, FRED