The Terror Within: A Hypothetical Look at Changing Agents
by Georgia McBride
You’ve done it! You’ve finished your query, polished and sent it to several hundred of your favorite agents. You can’t sleep, you barely eat and you lie awake at night wondering if you remembered to sign the email, include your phone number and add page numbers to the manuscript. While waiting you decide on a subscription to Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly with the goal of cyber-stalking the agents. You need to see what they’ve sold, for how much and note any new clients they may have signed since you subbed. Obsession forces you into checking email every other minute, even though your smart phone is set to check for email every five minutes.
Friends and family hardly recognize you. You’ve become distant, spending most of your time on the Blue Boards, YALITCHAT groups and Absolute Write. You know those people will give it to you straight. They are of course, your peeps.
And then, it happens. The moment you’ve been waiting for, actually happens. Only, it happens at the completely wrong time—in the middle of little Johnny’s soccer game or cutie pie Mila’s dance recital. You want to read the email, to read it again, to memorize it. You want to send it to your friends or post it online for expert analysis of content and context. You’re in a raw panic and can concentrate on nothing until you put Johnny and Mila down, and then go READ YOUR EMAIL. After all, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Duh.
The email is great. Cryptic, awesome and scary. It puts the ball squarely in your court. Awesome Agent wants to TALK to You. Like, a real-live conversation. Not on twitter during #askagent but IRL! And as quickly as the elation came, it fades, leaving room for terror to settle in. What will you say? How will manage to articulate like a person of above average intelligence? What if you don’t hit it off? Maybe she has me mixed up with someone else? Oh Lord. Glee is on then!
You consider jumping from the second story window. Why not? It’s a dream right? You can’t break your legs in a dream. Can you? Then you consider calling your BFF in Florida who totally gets you, except she’s not a writer and will not understand why you are so panicked about getting something you wanted. Then you realize she doesn’t know you at all. The writer you is a completely insecure, irrational crazy creative person. You promise to never let her see you this way and hug Renesme the cat for comfort.
The daze lifts and it’s time to talk to your would-be new agent. She is everything you dreamed of, and more. Angels sing in the background as she describes how your manuscript moved her. The sound takes you to a vision of your very first books-signing. The line is out the door and snaked around the corner. Of course it is. You are a New York Times bestseller. Have been for weeks. No. Months. But no! You forgot your Sharpie and the panic brings you back to the conversation with Awesome Agent. She’s silent. You’ve not been paying attention and she’s awaiting a response. You’re too nervous (and don’t want her to think you odd) to ask her to repeat the question so you simply say, “yes!”
The fog that is you can barely recall the conversation, let alone believe it has actually happened. You want to email said agent to make sure you weren’t dreaming. Then again, who does that? So, you wait. If it DID happen, she’ll be in touch. You commit to remain calm and relish in your victory despite not being able to recall its details.
And then you remember an article you read on YALITCHAT.ORG about agents, submissions and etiquette. You notify all agents with your query (especially those with partials and fulls) of the offer you are nearly certain you’ve received. You ask kindly that anyone with interest respond within a two-week timeframe. Any longer and you’re going to explode. Thoughts of multiple offers, negotiations and the rules of “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe” set in. But you’re not vain and could never conceive of more than one agent possibly offering representation. So, you go to sleep while dreaming of your second book signing with J.K. Rowling.
After two weeks of stress, nail biting and Toblerone (a Toblerone per day while waiting on agent news has never killed anyone that I know of); you accept agent number one’s offer. You always knew you would. She’s awesome online and even awesomer (this is a real word) on the phone. You envision her as your new BFF because SHE understands you.
A week later confirmation of your prowess as a writer arrives in the mail. Tossing aside People magazine and the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, you tear into the envelope addressed to you (your real name, not your pen name) with a return address in NEW YORK CITY! With shaky hands and teary eyes, you read. Seems you have a contract for agent representation with a real, live, big-time agent.
You’re blog has never seen so much action. News of your agent signing is spreading like the Swine Flu all over the web. Your new agent has added you to the list of clients noted on her website. It’s official. No one stop you now.
Fast forward to the day this dream becomes a nightmare. It’s been four months since you’ve heard from your agent. I mean, you’ve spoken, have seen agent on twitter, Facebook and even in chats. You start to wonder if you are being ignored, if there are other clients who are more important, if you will ever hear back. You email. No response. You call and leave a message. And just like any self-respecting person, you wait. And wait. And wait. Then email again. Then email agent mates to find out if you are the only one being ignored. Three months becomes four. You’ve had fun conversations on twitter, even shared photos on Facebook. So, everything’s great right? Better to have an agent who is MIA than no agent. Right?
By month five, you’ve spoken to every client of hers you know. You feel guilty for doing so, but she’s left you with no choice. Nothing mean, sinister. Just testing the waters. Asking around. Looking for a reason for the radio silence. You even consider spending $1,500 to fly to the east coast to attend the huge-mega-giant kidlit conference your agent is speaking at. Because you just happen to have an extra $1,500 to confirm what you already know. THIS RELATIONSHIP IS BROKEN.
OMG, it’s not working. What to do? Your old friend Panic returns, all too happy to see you again. Only this time, he’s not satisfied with a seat on the couch. He has moved in and taken up residence. He expects to be fed, clothed and well taken care of. Panic resolves to never leave your side (or brain as it were). What’s worse? He’s brought friends. Insecurity, Shame, Terror and Loneliness. Now it’s a party—a pity party. You begin thinking things like: “What if she never really liked my manuscript to begin with?” “What if she found a similar book she likes better?” “What if she’s found me out for the charlatan that I am and no longer wants to represent me?” You chastise yourself for thinking such selfish things and begin wondering about her health. Is she okay? Is her cat okay? What if she dies? What happens to my contract?
You try to write but you can’t, as nothing coherent or remotely intelligent clings to the page. You start hearing it as a small voice at first, but then amplified with each day your communication goes unanswered. Loser. Zero. UNAGENTED. UNWANTED.
You can’t breathe. You’ve been sick to your stomach for weeks. You know what you have to do and live with the regret of not giving the other agents who had your manuscript more time. It’s too late. Six months have passed and you decide to write the inevitable email. You wish to terminate your agreement and hope she’ll see fit to let you out of the dreaded-but-standard “thirty-day clause.” After hitting “send” you relax like a patient at the oral surgeon’s office. That was way easier than talking to Formerly Awesome Agent on the phone. Besides, it’ll take her weeks to get back to you and by then, you might even have your mojo back.
Johnny asks you why you didn’t cheer when he scored his goal. You don’t know. You are happy for him, proud even. Mila fell during recital and you barely noticed. You’re back to ZombieMom and hate yourself for it. You put the kids to bed and have barely looked at your smart phone all day. Why should you?
Upon checking your phone, you see it. An email from Formerly Awesome Agent. The one you thought would take weeks to receive and it reads something like, “Understand, good luck and OK.” You drop your phone and fall into a ball of tears and regret. She’s dumped you. Or rather she’s agreed to let you dump her without a fight, a request to discuss how to make it work, or it seems—a second thought. You had an agent, for six months, you like, HAD an agent. And now, you don’t.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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