Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why must everything in this business be so darn hard?

Nancy and I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area feeling very pleased about our trip to New York. All four agents had promised to get back to us as soon as they'd read the rest of our book, WE INTERRUPT THIS FUNERAL TO BRING YOU BACK, and we had no reason to doubt that they would do just that. (As I mentioned earlier, could we have ever been that naive?)

Well, we waited, and we waited, and then we waited some more. Nothing. Not a single word from any of the agents we'd seen. When our patience was finally exhausted, we gave each of them a call, thinking perhaps that it had just slipped their minds. Yeah, right! To our dismay, we discovered that two of the agents -- the man we'd met who worked out of his apartment, and the last young woman we'd spoken to the next day -- had both decided to pass on the project. Oh, had they neglected to inform us about this decision? Sorry, their assistants must have forgotten to put our letters in the mail.

Our last two phone calls produced even more astonishing -- and bewildering -- news. It seemed that the teenager we'd met that first afternoon (okay, maybe she wasn't exactly a teen, but she couldn't have been more than a year or two out of college), as well as the woman we'd spoken to who had been in the business for nearly thirty years, had both taken it upon themselves to send out the book pages without bothering to tell us. On the one hand, the fact that they'd both liked the book enough to submit it to publishers was exciting. On the other hand, we suspected that the two women would be less than thrilled to discover that they weren't the only agent sending out the same proposal. We might be new to the publishing business, but even we knew this kind of behavior probably wasn't looked upon as kosher. The question now was what the heck were we going to do about the mess? Which agent should we keep, and which one would we be forced to "fire"?

As far as dilemmas went, we figured this one wasn't all that bad; after all, two New York agents thought enough of our work to actually send it out to publishers. No matter what we did, however, we were sure to make an enemy, the last thing we needed at this stage of our writing careers. We finally decided to go with the more experienced woman who'd been in business for several decades. We figured that during all those years she must have made a lot of good contacts. At least we hoped so.

Instead of calling the junior agent on the phone and admitting our mistake, we gave in to our mutual cowardice and wrote her a letter instead. We kept it short, polite, and hopefully professional. Signed, sealed and in the mail, it was time to start biting our fingernails. How would she respond? Was there an agent hot line somewhere out there and our names were even now being added to a black list? Would editors burn any manuscript that landed on their desks bearing our names? Had we just sabotaged our careers before we'd even been published?

For the next week we cringed every time the phone rang or the mail was delivered, expecting a blistering response to our letter. None ever arrived. For all our worrying and gnashing of teeth, we never heard from the woman, or her agency, again. It was as if we'd never existed. In one way it was a relief. It was also @#!&*# humbling to say the least!

(Next: More rejection slips for our walls!)


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