This is the post I’ve been wanting to write for nearly a decade, the post where I tell you I am officially represented. Sounds very serious, doesn’t it? It is very serious. I have signed with literary agent Steven Malk at Writers House, and though it’s been a couple weeks now, I still wake up and think, oh, I had a wonderful dream that I signed with this incredible agent, and then I tell myself this is real! Normally, my dreams go the other way, with me falling off buildings, falling out of a car that’s falling off a cliff. So, this is a great new development!
I have many, many things to say about getting to this point and what happens next, too many to vacuum-pack into one post, but for now, I’d like to hold these two, at first-glance contradictory, opinions up to the light.
1) This was a long time coming.
2) This happened seemingly overnight.
First, number one. I’ve been writing for years, dear readers, you know this. I started blogging (very occasionally) way back when I was writing my first novel and my daughter was still in diapers. (I just walked that daughter to school where she’s now in the 4th grade.) I’d been publishing short fiction for years and started to regret that I’d given it up to try a novel. That novel almost broke me, not the writing of it, which was very hard, but still enjoyable, but the trying to get it published part. It wasn’t that no one liked it. It was that lots of people liked it, but didn’t love it. (To those of you in the querying trenches, you’ll recognize this as a common phrase on rejection letters.) Sometimes I think it would have been better if they’d all hated it because I would have set it aside much sooner. Instead, I kept thinking the next query was going to change everything.
And I did get the attention of an agent who had a good track record. She wanted to see a few changes before she signed me. No biggie, right? Except that the little changes were actually kind of big, and after I’d work on one thing then another, I was met with long periods of silence, then apologetic messages, all without a contract. I was so naïve and, yes, desperate, that I just hung on and hoped. This sounds like a bad romance, and in many ways it was. We met in person and there were warning bells going off in my head the whole time. I knew we were not a good match, but I did not trust my instincts, and so when she eventually said, “It’s not you, it’s me,” I was not only devastated, thinking my book would never get out there, but also hating myself for being so stupid.
I entered a period of curling under the covers and wailing “I will never write again!” And that book? It never got out there, and that’s okay.
I took a new approach. I decided if I love writing (I do) and if I’m only really happy when I’m writing (I am), then I just need to write and not care so much about the business end of things. Agents, and editors and publishers, are going to do what they’re going to do. They will either want my work or they won’t. All I can do, all I can promise, to anyone, but mainly to myself, is that I’ll keep writing and trying to improve. And when I’ve got something I think is pretty good (whether that’s my new novel, an essay, a short story, a picture book), I will put myself out there, but I will not beat myself up when rejections come in. I will work hard so that when opportunity comes knocking, I will be prepared.
Giving up on that first book was the hardest writing-related thing I’ve ever done, but also the best thing. My second novel knocks the socks off that first one. And I’ve written, and published so many other things because I’m writing whatever makes me happy. I’ve taken to writing essays when I really need to deal with something that happened to me. If they get published, great, and many of them have, but it’s the act of writing them that I find liberating. I’ve written humor pieces and also (newsflash!) picture books!
It was inevitable, really. Though my kids, at 7 and 9, have largely moved on to chapter books, our home is still filled with picture books. We still bring home a few on every library trip. The ones we love, we read again and again. I volunteer to read with kids at the elementary school. I co-chair the book fairs. There have always been times when I’ve come across a really great picture book and thought, wow, I would love to be able to write something this good! And other times when I thought, well, I’m sure I could write something this good! And over the years, every time I had an idea for a picture book, I added it to my “big file of picture book ideas” on my computer. Which brings me to #2.
It feels like I signed with Steve in an instant because we were really only in communication with each other for a few weeks prior. I should mention that Steve is a children’s book agent, representing everything from picture books on up to YA. When I emailed my book, titled “Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse,” to Steve along with my query letter, I literally chuckled as I hit “Send.” Steve is one of the top children’s book agents in the country. Look up all the best-sellers, all the Newbery and Caldecott winners, then look up their agents. Time and again, I found it was Steve. And here I was, brand new to children’s writing, sending my query cold, into the so-called “slush pile” to be read, I figured by an intern who might, if she even felt like it, send me a form rejection back.
When I got a very quick reply back, I was expecting the typical “Sorry this isn’t right for me…” letter. But instead, Steve wanted to know what else I was working on. And he liked the book, very much. We emailed back and forth for a few weeks until we had THE CALL, which is a very important chapter in the fairy book tale of getting an agent. Unlike my meeting with that agent many years ago, this time, I knew it was right. We clicked. Everything he was saying made sense to me and let me know that if Steve was my agent, I’d be in excellent hands. When I got off the phone, I sobbed. My husband cried. The kids were freaked out, not really understanding the concept of “happy tears.”
Lots of writers complain about the “slush pile” or say the publishing industry is rigged against those who don’t know the right people. When I was in my deepest denial about my first novel, I often said the same thing. It was easier than admitting the truth, that maybe my book just wasn’t good enough.
My experience these past weeks has taught me that the only thing that really matters is that you keep trying to write something great, and keep aiming high. If your dream agent seems to land in your lap, it’s because you did everything right to bring him there. And also, who knows, maybe there was a bit of luck involved. Maybe Steve read my manuscript right after eating something delicious or watching a YouTube video of kittens. Whatever the case, I am so grateful and pleased to be starting this exciting new chapter of my writing life.
And now before I start quoting Journey (Don’t Stop Believin’!), I need to sign off. There is MUCH more to come on this story. Stay tuned.