Maybe you know that in book publishing we have literary agents whose purpose is to prevent most writers… Wait, did I say “prevent”? Heh, I meant to say promote, whose purpose is to promote most writers to be accepted by book publishers.
Many book publishers, in fact, will not even talk directly with writers, even though we’re the Reason They Exist. But they won’t, and I don’t think it’s only because writers have strange tattoos and we’re drunk most of the time and we forgot to brush our hair. So it’s useful to have an agent.
Back in the spring, I signed up for the Atlanta Writers Conference to meet with an agent, which I’ve done twice now. Perhaps you don’t know all the lingo those of us in the “publishing industry” use, so I’ll tell you, when you have a brief conversation with an agent, frantically trying to think of what to say in five minutes to make them realize that you’ve written a brilliant book, that’s called “making a pitch”.
I believe the metaphor “to make a pitch” derives from the idea of ripping your heart out of your chest, tossing it across the room, and saying, “Here, catch.” They almost never catch it, though, so it falls on the floor, and then it’s dirty and you don’t want to put it back.
The first time I went to the Atlanta Writers Conference, the agent who I made a pitch to seemed to regret that he had agreed to hear about my lousy book, so we did not end that conversation with him offering to buy me a drink in celebration. The second time, this past spring, I met a woman who seemed fairly nice. She also told me—granted, not with the same enthusiasm that you might use at Disneyworld—that I could send her the first 20 pages of the novel.
In this grim undertaking of looking for an agent, being asked to send 20 pages is considered a real success. I’m not kidding. When I left the room and told somewhat what had happened with the agent, I was congratulated.
I researched “my agent” and was slightly dismayed to see that she was from the same agency as the man from the previous year. Once I knew that, I had fantasies of them talking and him saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. Geez, what a shitty writer. You’re not gonna take his book, are you?”
In my research I also discovered that I had some surprising things in common with her, so I wrote a nice letter, tried to be very friendly, and sent the 20 pages. It can take a long time to hear from an agent. If you pick one out of the air and send them something, it might be three or four months (or more) before you get a reply. If you get a reply at all. Most of the time you just never hear anything.
This agent, however, had actually asked for a sample, which made me think—naive child that I am—that she would go home and read it. After six weeks, I wrote a second letter, expressing sympathy for how busy the life of an agent obviously is, and asking if I might send more. Maybe I could send 30 pages this time!
After another month had passed, I contacted someone from the Atlanta Writers Conference, to express my perplexity, and through the intercession of my friendly conference contact, the agent at last wrote to say that my first 20 pages did NOT, in fact, make her weep with gratitude that she had found me. Well, damn it. How could she possibly not like that book? I even ran Spellcheck on it.
Since the whole experience has been heartwarming to this point, I’ve signed up for the same conference again, this time to meet two agents. Because when you double the sound of silence, it gets even quieter, which is good for thinking. I was thinking, for instance, that this writing business is not for people who don’t like getting slapped around. Fortunately, I do like that.