Finding an agent has been nothing like anyone told me it would be. I was never discovered online or in a literary magazine. I was never plucked from the slush pile and propelled into my future. I really haven’t sent out hundreds of queries over the years… I’ve sent out many, but I’ve stockpiled my writerly rejections in other ways than in queries. I just have my own brand of weird luck, good and bad.
LIFT had two agents. The first abandoned the project as a proposal. He wanted a book focused on surviving as a woman in the “man’s” world of falconry. He wanted to call the book “Sky Trials”. It wasn’t the book I wanted to write, but I was so thrilled to have an agent that I would do anything to please him. I tried to write what he wanted anyway and not surprisingly, he hated what I wrote him and stopped answering his phone.
Two years later, the manuscript finished, I found another agent who swore she loved the book, but shopped LIFT to one editor at a major house and when that editor said, “no one but falconers will want to read this,” my agent told me to put it on a shelf and write her another. When I stuttered and suggested that Red Hen Press wanted to see it, my agent said to go ahead and send it myself. She too stopped answering emails and phone calls and I signed the book contract with Red Hen Press myself.
That was five years ago and though I’ve tested the waters now and again with new projects, I haven’t seriously sought representation since. I think I’m not really afraid of rejection so much as I am afraid of abandonment.
I’ve met a handful of agents I have lusted over along the way, agents with catalogues I drool over and personalities that I adore. These agents thought I was a wonderful writer, offered words of encouragement, but just didn’t love whatever project I was working on at the time enough to offer representation. I firmly believe you should suck up every little bit of encouragement you can along the way, however, and I have. No one has to take the time to say kind things to you. It essentially costs them to do that, it costs time that could be spent on clients they are already promised to or who they could be the right champion for and no matter how magnanimous, time really is money and the industry is tough for everyone. I am grateful. I say thank you. I should probably say it more.
The bottom line is that agents can’t represent everyone just because they “like” them or think they have potential. They can’t represent things that are a “maybe” to them and if you don’t believe that, I remind you again of my first two agents. Neither should have offered representation in the first place. Agents can’t represent with lukewarm feelings or even out of the goodness of their heart, not even if the writer is a friend. Everyone loses.
Which brings me to one of those agents who happens to be a friend. She was my editor when I published my first book, Falcon’s Return with Avalon twelve years ago. We double-dated at RWA in Denver one year, perhaps the only two women who gleefully tormented their boyfriends by making them attend. I’d like to forget my boyfriend at the time, but Erin married hers and we’ve kept up ever since. Shortly after, she became an agent. Erin has been there for me when I needed a friend to talk to me about book contracts, about retainers, about finding a publicist and the various dramas of publishing, but I’ve never had a project that was right for her.
She’s a great agent. She would never pick up a book she couldn’t get 100 percent behind. And a couple of days ago Erin offered me representation for What We Lost When We lost Barbara Jean (the prologue is over here at The Rumpus).
I know Erin. She’s going to kick my ass and make this an amazing book. I’ve already seen some of her notes. She’s also going to kick ass shopping it. And I feel like my long journey to finding an agent (the RIGHT agent) was the exact road that was meant for me. I have learned a lot about patience, about gratitude, about the vagaries of life being capable of shaking up all matter of things. My expectations of Erin the agent are separate from my expectations of Erin the friend, but I am thrilled I get to have them both at a time in my life where perhaps I can truly appreciate the synchronicity and possibilities of partnerships.
It’s been a hell of a road to get here, but you know what, it was worth it. I think you get what you need in life, but only if you don’t give up. So keep writing. Keep believing. Don’t buy into the idea that there is only one way to get where you are going. The journey is going to be yours alone and good things happen when you stay on the road. I bet they’ll happen to you too.
Rebecca K. O’Connor, Author
Represented by Erin Cartwright Niumata, SVP Folio Literary Management