Five years ago, I listened with 500 unpublished writers in a huge hotel ballroom as a panel of literary agents introduced themselves to the Writer’s League of Texas. We were there because we all wanted one thing: a literary agent. But who among us had what it took to be signed by one of these? Even newbies understood the supply side of this dynamic. But I wasn’t a newbie anymore. I’d been around long enough to ditch my first novel in a drawer along with a pile of rejection: thankful agents stepping aside so that other agents who will feel differently about my manuscript can wish me all the best with my writing.
Agent representation had begun to seem like an impossible dream.
In the hotel ballroom, the last agent stood to speak. As she introduced herself, she carefully placed her authors’ books upright on the table in front of her. Her manner reminded me why I was there: because I love books. I read books and write books and would live in books if I could. I wanted to be one of her books. She looked into 500 pairs of eyes and told us slowly and clearly what she was looking for: a compelling narrative voice. During the happy hour I stood in line to pitch my novel to this agent. I’d practiced my pitch on fellow writers, in front of the mirror, and in my head. It was late and she was tired. She accepted a glass of wine from an enterprising fellow pitcher, and turned to me. She listened carefully to my pitch then looked at me apologetically. The room was very noisy and she had to lean in to tell me—she’d run out of business cards. But she wanted to see ten pages when the book was ready.
I did not go straight home and send her 10 pages. Instead, I resolved to do what published friends, teachers, agents, and people paid to give writing advice had been telling me to do for five years, none of which is a secret, all of which required effort outside of my comfort zone, and felt a lot like doing sit-ups and eating right. First, I finished my novel. Then I researched the market, honed my query package, and polished the compelling narrative voice until it said, “one of us has to go.” Almost two years had passed. I sent my materials to the agent I’d met in the hotel ballroom, as well as nine other agents.
The first rejection came within two minutes of my email submission. Three more rejections came later. But that was all the rejection it got. Three agents never responded, and three agents asked to see the whole book. Two of those offered representation, one being the agent from the conference. I signed with her.
This is not to be confused with happily-ever-after or the end of the story, just a really good day in my writing life.