A few years back, I met someone. I felt a special spark, the kind that told me this was meant to be. After a good deal of pursuit on my part, I was successful in snagging this person of my dreams, and things were great for a while. Then one day, without warning, I got the email: “I’m letting you go.”
I know it sounds like I’m talking about a romantic relationship, but I’m talking about my agent. Unfortunately, breakups with agents are the same as breakups with lovers: they suck.
I had met this person at a writer’s conference (which, by the way, is a fantastic way to meet people. It’s the eHarmony of the writing world.) I had a one-on-one with her, pitched an idea, and honestly, she was kind of lukewarm at first, but then became more interested the longer I talked. But I really wanted her. So, I kept her in mind, went on my way, and eventually got a two-book deal with an editor, sans agent.
That’s when I thought, “Hey, now that I’m desirable, maybe she’ll want me.” So, I contacted her. I dangled my two-book deal in front of her. I needed help with negotiating a third deal. She didn’t want to take me on unless there was really something there, though, so we had a courtship of sorts. I sent ideas her way, she wrote back and said I had great promise, that I was “full of great books”. There was talk of a long-term relationship, and the promise that the agency wanted writers it could cultivate and nurture, not some short-term moneymaker with no real future. We were both excited and happy.
But she got interested in other stuff, the agent equivalent of cheating, I guess. I wasn’t exciting enough. She was busy with writing her own books, going abroad for movie productions of projects; she didn’t have time to really pay attention to me. I felt neglected. I mentioned this. Not soon after, I received a short email, the kind that feels like a band-aid being ripped off an amputated leg: “I’m trimming my list, and although I think you’re wonderful, I need to pursue other interests.” Seriously, one of the reasons she gave was that I was still young enough in my career to find another agent. It’s not you, it’s me.
I cried. I was bitter. I cursed her name. I stopped writing for awhile, beat myself with the “I’m not good enough” stick. Eventually, I got over it. I started to write again, even pursuing an idea she had rejected out of hand and which, at the time, I had abandoned because of her opinion.
Now that same idea that I had abandoned is flowering into a novel I am so very proud of. I gave up on it out of “love” for my agent, but it wasn’t truly what I wanted. In agenting, as in marriage, you must be true to yourself, and if you and the agent have irreconcilable differences, it’s best to have an amicable parting. In fact, a good friend and wonderful writer, Jincy Willett (Jenny and the Jaws of Life, The Writing Class) told me once over a glass of bourbon, “You don’t need an agent. Fuck ’em. You’re a published writer.” I believe this could be true, but it strikes me as sort of the writing equivalent of living defiantly alone with lots of cats. I’m not sure I’m brave enough for that quite yet.
I went to the writing conference again this year after a three-year hiatus. I met someone new.
She really likes my idea, my writing, and me. We’ll see. I’m not going to be so quick to give my writing heart this time around, and I’m wiser for the wear. As in love, though, it’s best to try again once you’ve been hurt. In the end, what you can gain is so much more than what you’d lose.
If it doesn’t work out, I guess I can buy some cats.
Any agent experiences you’d care to share?