I never started this blog, nor did I become a literary agent, because I wanted to be a writer. When I started as an assistant at Curtis Brown in 2002 I had some vague notions that I might write a screenplay… or something… someday… maybe… but that was quickly consumed by the more-than-full-time job of being an assistant and trying to work my way up in the publishing world.
I started the blog because being a literary agent is not only my job, it’s a true passion, and I wanted to both help out the unpublished and try to differentiate myself from the scores of other agents out there. Not, let me say again, because I thought of myself as a writer or had any designs on being one.
Fast forward to October 2008. The publishing industry and broader economy was in total meltdown apocalyptic mode, the whole country was stressed out about the election, and I had this idea for a novel… what better time to write a novel, right???
So, over the next several months, over late nights and weekends, I wrote a middle grade science fiction novel called JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, about three kids who trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast off into space, accidentally break the universe, and have to find their way back home.
(And yes, San Francisco residents: Jacob’s namesake is the completely delicious Philz coffee brew).
Whew! Finished it!
Then I had to find an agent. And no, I couldn’t represent myself.
I sent out my queries, got my share of rejections, stressed plenty, but found my way to the awesome Catherine Drayton at Inkwell, who, to my extreme delight, agreed to take it on. (Why not Curtis Brown? I wouldn’t have wanted it to be awkward for my coworkers when I devolve into an unrepentant diva.)
Then came the submission process, where I… also got my share of rejections.
But then. Then! The clouds parted, the light shone through, and Dial Books for Young Readers at Penguin agreed to publish it. JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW will come out in 2011.
Now. Let me try to preempt a few questions that will be on the lips of many an anonymous commenter:
Did you have an advantage being a literary agent?
Yes. Are you kidding me? Yes.
I have been eating, breathing, sleeping, inhaling, and ingesting books basically nonstop, 24/7, for seven years. It’s my day and night job. I’ve seen tens of thousands of query letters, and I (hopefully) know what makes a good one. I’ve been working with some of the most talented writers in the world and have had to think extremely hard about writing and plot and all the other elements that go into a book.
But before I’m held up as an example of all that is wrong with publishing these days, please consider the following:
This wasn’t actually the first novel I have written or tried to have published. Like many writers out there, the first novel I wrote (deservedly) crashed and burned. Couldn’t find an agent and justifiably so. Because it wasn’t good enough. Like many people, I had to experience the pain of giving up on it, putting it in the drawer, and battling a serious case of the “Am I crazies” when I decided to start another one.
So… if all it took to find a publisher was being a literary agent and having a blog: you would have been hearing me announce a deal for that novel.
Let me also just point out that whatever advantage I have as a publishing employee is completely open to everyone: you just have to find a job in publishing, toil away for seven years in the industry, steadily gain everyone’s confidence, and then write in your spare time.
Trust me, there are easier ways of getting a leg up.
But it’s not really a coincidence or a sign of inside dealing that there are so many agents and editors who write: they’ve already devoted their lives to books because they love them dearly. Of course some of them then decide to write themselves.
Are you giving up agenting?
Let me elaborate: No. No no no no no no.
I’m first an agent. That’s my job. This novel is just a fun side project. My clients and prospective clients always come first. I made it a point of pride that my response times never, ever suffered as I was working on my own projects. Not for queries, not for partials, and especially not for my clients.
If anything, going through the publication process has made me a much more empathetic agent. I thought I would be totally cool throughout the process… I’ve seen this before! I know what it’s like! Yeah, not so much. I learned a huge amount and have (I hope) become a better agent for it.
Will this blog be changing into a vehicle for relentless, egotistical self-promotion over the next two years (god, I’m going to have to hear about Nathan’s freaking novel nonstop for TWO YEARS someone please just go ahead and kill me now)?
Anyway, hope this explains why I’ve been so sentimental on the blog lately. This has been quite a roller coaster of a process, and I’ve been feeling the ups and downs of the writing life very keenly over the last year.
Thanks so much for reading this blog and for all of your great comments. I really can’t even express just how much I’ve learned from all of you.