Therese here. Today’s guest is debut novelist Jennifer Miller, who’s here to talk with us today about agents–particularly why it’s important to have not only any agent, but the right agent. Jennifer’s book, The Year of the Gadfly, will be published by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt in May 2012. And even though the book isn’t available to pre-order yet, you can whet your appetite for this spring book by reading the early reviews here.
Jennifer is also the author of a nonfiction book, Inheriting the Holy Land, and has a long line of journalism credits including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, Smithsonian.com, Salon.com, Guernica.com, the Columbia Journalism Review, and The Millions. She has an MFA and has taught about the craft of writing to students at Columbia, WritopiaLab, and the Free Bird Writer’s Workshop.
My Agent Romance
Break-ups suck and this one was no exception. It was a rainy afternoon, and I stood gripping the phone, feeling a chasm open in my stomach. My four-year relationship was over, and I was convinced I’d be alone forever.
If I tell you I’d just broken up with my literary agent, you might accuse me of hyperbole. Sure, we’d never kanoodled on the couch, or gone for Saturday night dinner dates, or batted around baby names. Our relationship was built on mid-week power-lunches and intense rounds of book proposal edits. But even though ours wasn’t an actual marriage, it kind of felt like one. My agent and I had signed a contract that (I naively thought) signaled our intent to stick together through thick and thin—good book deals, mediocre deals, or in the case of the immediate situation, no book deal. And we had produced a child together—the amazing book she’d been so instrumental in helping me produce. When my agent and I linked up four years prior, I never anticipated divorce. Does any newlywed?
Early in our relationship, my agent and I wooed each other in a way that felt a little bit like dating. I’d get dressed up and put on makeup to go to her office (but I could never compete with her style—it appears to be a requirement of NYC agents that they always look amazing). She’d offer me a drink, and then we’d chat, trying to impress each other while pretending that we weren’t doing just that. It turned out we were a great match. She was Jewish (my grandparents were thrilled!), I responded really well to her editing style, and she was patient with my neuroticism.
So then what went wrong? When my second book proposal was rejected by the imprint that had published my first, we came to an impasse. She didn’t think the proposal or any of my other ideas were marketable. I wanted to write a novel, but she didn’t think that a wise career move. After our rainy day phone farewell, I reluctantly deleted her number from my contacts list.
Like so many of us do after tough breakups, we cry for a while and then have a rebound. I signed on with the very next agent who came my way. She was totally wrong for me, of course, but I was afraid to leave—afraid of being alone again. Wasn’t it better to have any agent, I wondered, even one who doesn’t get my work, than no agent at all?
“Break up with her,” my friends told me. “She doesn’t treat you right. You deserve better!”
Only after we split—and I was truly alone and agentless—did I learn to trust myself. I started working on my novel in earnest. Of course I worried about the future. Would I ever publish another book? Was my fiction total crap? But I couldn’t move on with another project until I’d finished my novel.
They say you always find love when you least expect it. A few years had passed and I wasn’t so concerned about finding an agent anymore. I believed in my novel and I knew that when I’d finished a draft, I’d find an agent who believed in it too. And that’s when I met Mollie. We’d been in a creative writing workshop together but lost touch after the class. Months passed and then one day, I ran into her at a reading. I spotted her across the crowded bar—and made my move.
“Hey,” she said. She was wearing large dangling earrings and an amazing dress.
“Hey,” I said, hoping my hair looked okay.
She asked about my novel. “I’d love to see it,” she said.
I swooned. Then we made a date.
Living in New York, running into your ex is inevitable. Earlier this summer, when I spotted my first agent at a reading, I had to fight the urge to duck behind a bookshelf or crawl under a table. She looked amazing, better than ever. And even though I’d sold the novel she’d advised me against writing earlier in my career, I didn’t feel triumphant so much as nostalgic. You never forget your first love, but you can find the resilience to move on.
Thanks for a great post, Jennifer, and congrats on finding The One.
Readers, do you have an agent story you’d like to share?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Neal.