Landing an Agent (My Journey to Publication Part Two)

A couple of years after I started writing, I’d finished a first draft of my book and an old friend introduced me to her agent. He asked to see my work and, bam, offered to represent me.

I had various reactions to this. One was, wow! This is all happening so fast, much faster than it’s supposed to. The other reaction was, well, of course, I’m special, my work is special and so naturally all of this was going to happen very quickly for me. The sea has parted exactly on cue.

Cut to several months later and no takers for my book. Some nice comments from editors, but no one was biting. I knew that this wasn’t surprising; I’d read how some authors faced 30 rejections from publishers before finding one that was interested. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my book wasn’t ready for submission.

Yeah well, you’re thinking, first drafts rarely are. My problem was that the offer from the agent had clouded my brain and prevented me from seeing this very inconvenient truth until I ran into this particular brick wall.

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My Long, Strange Journey to Publication (Part 1)

When you publish your first book, two different kinds of people will ask you how you did it. The first kind has no interest in writing themselves. They are your friends, family and colleagues, who will most likely be happy with the short answer: “Oh, you know, I just kept my nose to the grindstone, had a bit of good luck, and here I am.” They’ll smile, congratulate you and ask you if you want to split an appetizer.

They’ll never suspect just how much the road to publication was pocked with false starts, landmines, heartache and jealousy.

Let them live in their innocence, like children.

Other writers, however, will want the long version: the mistakes, the agony, the gore, in detail. You sent an attachment with an e-mail query? You labeled the genre of your book about medieval magicians as “fantasy”? You showed up to meet your high-powered agent for the first time two weeks early? (Guess which one of these things I actually did.)

If my winding, many forks-in-the-road, seven-year story can make anyone feel better, then great. If not, well at least I got to tell it, which is something I could never bring myself to do with friends who honestly are just waiting to dig into the walnut pesto crostini.

So in that spirit…

Once I decided I wanted to try to write a novel, I signed up for a class at the New School in New York City. Smart idea: suddenly I had deadlines and, after thinking about writing for a year I actually started to do it.

Of course, that doesn’t prepare you for the moment when your work is discussed in front of you as if you are a houseplant.

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Writing with out a Net(work)

My debut novel is about to come out and, and, like so many writers before me, I’m uneasy. Okay, anxious. In just a few weeks, my work, for better or for worse, will be out there in the world to be enjoyed (hopefully) and judged (certainly).

The ironic thing is, I should be used to it.

I’ve been writing professionally for years and my work has always been for public consumption. You might even be familiar with some of it. Maybe you enjoyed an interview with Stephen King or Ellen Degeneres. Maybe you followed a “film noir” true crime story about cheating husbands and lethal wives through every delicious twist and turn. Or maybe you learned the dirty truth about the health code violations of a restaurant near you, or how a new kind of designer drug stays one step ahead of the law.

If you’ve watched morning television or primetime news magazines over the last fifteen years or so, you may well know something of my work. I’ve been a writer for two network shows and written for at least a dozen household name anchors.

But you’d never know it. Because in this kind of writing, the writer is for all intents and purposes, invisible. My name is well below the radar and I betray almost zero of my self, my sensibility, or my psyche in my work.

How so? Mainly because I get to make very few choices in the stories I help tell. And the ones I do make, which are creative ones that relate to style and rarely substance, are subject to extraordinary constraints.

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