At the end of the movie When Harry Met Sally, the two of them are talking about their relationship as if they’re in a documentary. Referring to how long it took them to get married, they say, “Twelve years and three months.” Twelve years to fall in love, or at least to acknowledge the love that had been growing for some time; then three months to get married.
A few days ago I signed a contract with an agent. (Whoopee!) Getting an agent took me six years, ten months, and two weeks.
Six years ago, as a starry-eyed hopeful young writer (young as a writer, not as a human being), I took the manuscript of my first novel to a writers’ conference and submitted the first 20 pages to an agent. She loved them. She quoted to me all the brilliant little bits she had read aloud to her roommate as she first looked over the manuscript. She mentioned the magic word “representation.” She also mentioned a few things she felt I needed to fix.
I left that interview floating about six inches above the ground. I was a Real Writer! A respected publishing professional had told me so.
I revised the manuscript thoroughly and sent it off to said agent. She responded fairly quickly—with a no. I hadn’t fixed the problem she was most concerned about—couldn’t fix it and tell the same story. Back to square one.
I didn’t despair. After all, I knew now that I was a Real Writer. I did some research and sent off queries to another half-dozen agents.
And another half-dozen.
And another half-dozen.
Over the next four years, I revised that manuscript within an inch of its life and sent it out to more agents than I could shake a rejection letter at. I had a few close calls. One agent I met at a conference expressed strong interest, but by the time I got the revision to her she had left the business. Another loved the story but didn’t see how she could sell it—it was too edgy for the Christian market but too Christian for the general market.
Finally, it got to the point that every agent had a different problem with the book, and they all sort of canceled each other out. I decided it was time to lay that book to rest.
By that time I had finished my second novel, which was much better than the first. I felt in my bones that this one was a winner. Writer friends and critique partners loved it, said they couldn’t put it down. I carefully selected four lucky agents to send it to, anticipating that at least two or three of them would soon be fighting over me and my wonderful book.
All four of them turned it down.
Repeat from the top. Several dozen more queries, in batches of four to six. Only by this time the situation in the industry had changed. With the first book, 90% of the agents I queried returned some response, usually within two months. At least half included some sort of helpful comment or personal regret, and several asked to see the full manuscript.
But with the recession, agents got much busier. And pickier than ever. This time around, perhaps half the agents warned on their websites that they would respond in up to four months, and then only if they were interested. I got a few comments, mostly along the lines of “you’re a good writer but this isn’t for me.” I didn’t get a single request for the full.
So much for the six years. Now the ten months begin.
A writer friend roomed at a conference with an agent I’d been considering submitting to but hadn’t yet moved to the top of my list. My friend talked up my novel to the agent, who said she’d be interested in seeing it. I whipped out a proposal according to her agency’s particular guidelines and sent it off. She acknowledged it right away and said she’d get back to me soon.
Three months passed with no word. Not unusual, not particularly worrying. The friend who had referred me offered to drop the agent a reminder. The agent wrote with an apology and asked for the full manuscript by email. I sent it right away.
A month passed, and then I heard the agent’s father was dying. I sent her my sincere condolences with no word about my submission, knowing this event would slow things down on her end for some time. And it did. Five more months went by with no word. When an agent gets behind, she gets really behind.
Finally, around the beginning of April, I decided it was time for another polite reminder. She responded quickly this time. Within a few days she had read and liked the initial chapters and asked for a hard copy of the full.
I sent it off, schooling myself to patience. I told myself it could easily be another month or more. I certainly didn’t expect to hear anything before Easter.
But on April 19, Holy Tuesday, I got an email saying she really liked the book and wanted to talk. I called her that afternoon, and by the end of the conversation I had myself an agent.
I’d waited so long, jumped through so many hoops, that it was hard to believe the waiting was finally over—and so quickly (if you consider only the last two weeks). Surely there were more hoops to jump through. Surely there must be a catch. Would I wake up in the morning and find out it was all a dream, or a horrible misunderstanding?
But by the end of the day I had not only a contract to sign, but an edited manuscript to look over. I called her the next morning to ask some questions about the contract, and she still wanted me. It wasn’t a dream. She likes me, she really likes me! And I like her. I think we’ll go far as a team.
I guess the moral of the story is: It takes a heck of a lot of patience to be a writer. But when God decides it’s time for things to move, hold onto your hat.