Every fiction writer knows the legend. “The Call.” The best day of your life. The day an agent finally pulls your golden query from the depths of the slush pile and says, “You, sir, are as brilliant as you think you are.”
Or something like that.
Well, on Monday, April 25, 2016, it happened to me. And let me tell you—it was awful.
Now, forget for a minute that I hate talking on the phone and that my ringtone alone makes me nervous. This call was one during which I was extra terrified of making a misstep, accidentally saying something so egregious the agent would rescind on the spot.
If you’re a stronger gal than me (which is likely), you might be able to take something like this in stride. After a lifetime of people telling you to get used to rejection if you’re going to be a writer, and then months (maybe years) of rejection and/or radio silence…
A wonderful agent contacts you and lavishes praise on you and your work!
It’s like waking up from a familiar dream in a parallel universe. All of a sudden, after nothing but *crickets* for so long, I was suddenly smack dab in the middle of this world that I did not know how to navigate. And I was petrified of screwing up.
Publishing etiquette (something I know very little about) dictates you tell the offering agent you need a week or two to consider. This is normal, I know this, but I still felt like a brat for not immediately jumping on the “Yes, oh my gosh, thank you, yes!” train.
And then you must notify any agents who may still be in the process of considering your manuscript that you’ve received an offer. (I only know this, too, from extensive googling.)
So I sent the required emails, after some stressful email writing—it’s pretty difficult to find a template for that kind of letter. But I did finally find one.
And then I waited. Again, publishing etiquette (thanks, Google) requires you give those agents 2 weeks to decide, with an unequivocal deadline.
(Unfortunately, I’d read in an untrustworthy source that you should only take 1 week, causing me to shoot myself in the foot and hurry this stressful process by a whole week. Don’t do that. Take 2 weeks at least!)
Regardless, the end result may still be like mine: I spent a week inside my head second-guessing everything.
What if I don’t even want an agent? What if my readers, who are used to my fast self-publishing timeline, grow bored with waiting for a traditionally published book? What if the agent’s great but hates my revisions? What if the agent hates what I write next? What if I never write a good book again? What if she can’t sell this book? What if she does sell it but it sells so badly the publisher puts me on some sort of publishing black list that means I’ll never publish again and people point and laugh when they see me on the street so I have to become a hermit and only eat delivery?
And then that deadline day came about. And I got a call.
Having one agent make an offer kicked my anxiety into high gear. Having two offers tossed my feeble coping abilities out the window.
After years of all writing instruction including a chapter on “get used to rejection,” you’re suddenly thrown to the other side of the desk with zero instruction on how to do it. I felt like I had to fire someone, despite not having a working relationship with anyone yet! I mean, it’s ingrained in my brain, how to gracefully accept rejection. Rejection—I eat it for breakfast. But how to be the rejecter?
Luckily I have a really sensible mom who made me make a pro/con list, and with that, my choice was clear. But that meant having another really difficult conversation—again, there’s no template out there for this.
I’m not going to lie to you. I cried. I actually cried about having to turn an agent down. I mean, she was the one who saved me from a slow death in the slush pile! After I told her, she was totally understanding and supportive of my future career. And I was in tears.
I guess now’s the time to tell you there’s no moral to this story. I mean, I did end up with a great agent. But the process was nothing like I’d imagined.
And I guess what surprised me most is that up until this point, I always thought, “You’ll feel like a real author when ______.” But the end point always changed: When you finish a book. When you snag a prestigious review. When you start querying. When you get some manuscript requests. When you get an agent.
But every time I’ve reached a milestone—including receiving agent interest—I still feel like I’m line-dancing in a big group and I’m one beat behind everybody else and I only vaguely know the steps.
I still feel like a poser, agent or not. Does that feeling ever go away?
I don’t know. All I can say is if you’re a quiet, timid writer like me, beware “The Call.” Useful tip: Chocolate helps nerves.