Friday, March 04, 2005
How I Got Here, Part 7
Once again, thanks to you who commented. Ya make my day. Becky and Kelly, e-mail me and I’ll answer your questions privately. (You can e-mail me from my Web site if you don’t have my address.)
Okay, so it’s 1996. I’m rewriting Color the Sidewalk for Me. And I don’t have an agent.
I knew I needed an agent. To me, that’s always been the only way to go. If you want to get your manuscripts before the big houses, you need representation. Thing is, my last one had surely put me in my place. Who’s to say I knew what I was doing with this rewrite? But I had to try.
Meanwhile, I loved the writing. How could I have ever left it? I worked on the story whenever I could, sometimes all night. In fact, all night was my favorite time to work. No interruptions. No kids, no phones. Just me and the computer. Seems I’d just sit down, and the sun would come up. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And deep inside me, that feeling came back. The feeling that I was good at this. Yes, I still had much to learn. But I knew I was writing a story that mattered. It occurred to me that my former agent, who’d never really represented fiction before, may not have known enough about it.
Oh, please, God, am I just deluding myself again?
Within a few months, I finished the rewrite of Sidewalk. It was much better, but still almost 200,000 words. Oh, well, if it’s a great book, they won’t care how long it is, right?
I bought the latest version of Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents. Herman’s agent section contains a lot of information on what they’re looking for. I scoured over each agent’s guidelines, creating an A, B and C list. My A list contained around 30 names. I sent out simultaneous query letters. All my marketing writing through Vantage Point now came in handy. Writing an intriguing one-page query letter didn’t come hard to me. I included a short passage from the book that I thought well represented my style of writing.
Amazingly, I received almost 50% positive responses—send the manuscript, or a portion thereof. Now, I’d been through this process before, when I found my last agent. I knew there were plenty of hoops left to jump through after receiving a positive response. Still, 50% was phenomenal! I danced around my office, hope growing with every new good response.
Okay. Not all were good. One editor circled the bottom of my letter, where I’d said the manuscript was 200,000 words, and wrote: You’ve got to be kidding. Another circled my quoted passage and said it sounded too literary for her. But others circled it and exclaimed, “Beautiful writing!” Sheesh. See the subjectivity here? No wonder the business drives us poor authors crazy.
Some agents asked for an exclusive look at the manuscript. I put them at the bottom of the pile, thinking I’d send to them if everyone else fell away. Eventually from an initial 15 or so, the number of seriously interested agents fell to 6. Mind you, this took months of waiting. Every day I’d run to the mailbox, heart in my throat. Every morning I got up wondering if I’d soar that day, or if some negative answer would ground my writer’s spirit in the dust again. What if all the agents ended up saying no? I couldn’t imagine starting the process all over with my B list.
A couple more months passed. One day a Madison Avenue, New York agent who’d read the entire manuscript called. When she identified herself, I sank into a chair, shaking. Hoping I wouldn’t sound like a complete idiot.
And praying she’d have something good to tell me.
Read Part 8