A saga of the supermarket and the complex role of the literary agent in the process of publishing a book

IMG_3703 (1)I went to the supermarket yesterday to buy dog food. My husband was waiting in the car and we wanted to get home for dinner and to feed the hungry dog a.s.a.p. I grabbed about 12 or 14 of those expensive little containers of wet dog food (my dog is finicky. don’t judge.) and I went to go check out. Now usually I go to the self checkout aisle, because I’m a control freak and sometimes feel socially awkward and just want to skip having to deal with a checkout person. But there was a regular checkout line wide open, nobody on it. I had a dozen+ little dog food containers that are a pain in the neck to scan. I never, ever do this, but… I walked up to the aisle and started loading my stuff on the conveyor. The checkout lady was chatting with another store employee. Neither one of them acknowledged my presence. I ahemed, and my checkout lady turned to me, with a big smile.

“Hi!” she said.

I said “hi” back.

She looked at my arm and said, “Oh, what’s your tat?”

I have a tattoo of a typewriter on my bicep. I said, “It’s a typewriter.”

She smiled a bigger smile and said, “Well, I bet you either own your own business or you’re a secretary!”

I didn’t quite know what to say. I forced a smile, silently wishing she’d STFU and just start ringing up my dog food. She stood waiting expectantly for me to reply. Should I tell her I’m a literary agent? Then I’d have to explain what that is. I always have to explain what that is to people in the non-publishing, non-writing world. “Lit agents are like Ari Gold, only for books.” Should I tell her that I love words, and books, and storytelling, and that I think typewriters are iconic and cool and a self expression for me? Why didn’t she just ring up the dog food?

I had to say something. I mean, she was waiting. And she was so nice. So even though I was cranky and impatient, I just said, “I’m a writer,” to which she immediately replied, “Oh! I could never write a book but I love to read! What do you write?”

I thought to myself, “Sweet lady, working the checkout line in my local supermarket, reading books in your spare time, so lovely and friendly: PLEASE RING UP MY DOG FOOD!” But I said, “I write books for children.” I smiled an uncomfortable smile.

She said, “Oh, that’s so cool!” and finally started ringing up the dog food.

When she was done, she said, “Let me know when your book comes out. I’d love to read it!”

Which again, was so nice. But for crying out loud, is that what people think? Anyone can write a book and then it just comes out?!

“Ok, thanks,” I said. And me and my dog food went to my waiting husband in the car.

What should I have done? Should I have just said, “I’m a literary agent”? I mean, I am a writer, too. Should I have explained to her how publishing works? How difficult it is to sell a manuscript, especially a picture book? Should I have let her know that even if I wrote a picture book, and sold it, it might take years for a publisher to find just the right illustrator, and for it to finally come out? Maybe I should have just gone with, “Yes. I’m a secretary.”

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “A saga of the supermarket and the complex role of the literary agent in the process of publishing a book

  1. Steve Kozeniewski

    So when do your loyal blog readers get to see this tattoo that any random grocery clerk can espy?

  2. Gerry Walker

    First thing I thought was, Where do you live? Everybody visits with each other in most lines I’m in, though I have to admit I usually use the self checkout counter in Walmart.
    oh…I’m from the south.

  3. Susan Halko

    Your post made me laugh out loud this morning. Thank you!

  4. Dear Linda,

    I loved your story! So…since you asked I will tell you that I welcome ALL those slow-me-down people in my life. They ALWAYS turn out to be game changers in disguise! They are like Fairy Godmothers cloaked in rags…”Do you have a penny for a poor old woman, Dearie?” Seriously, each one is trying to give a gift to the person who has to wait. In this case, you got a reader…and if you HAD been a writer, you could have sold 10 more books since she probably would have given 9 of them as gifts. Each one would have had these words on the card, ” I wanted you to have this book since I actually me this author in person!”

    Sometimes the husbands who wait in cars have to wait for their celebrity wives! What an awesome time this is that authors ( and literary agents) are celebrities! Enjoy the fame! Or… keep a bottle of calomine lotion in the car and cover up that tattoo!

    There are a lot of us reading your blog who are wishing we could have checked out your dog food Ms Epstein!

  5. My takeaway was: don’t have a tattoo where other people can see it. 😀 Oh, there’s all that stuff about how hard it is to get a book published, too…

  6. You should have told her you train dogs to type. 🙂

  7. susan

    In this day and age of computers and automated everything ( ie self checkout!) I thought that she was going to ask, “what’s a typewriter?” never mind a literary agent! 🙂

  8. What we will put ourselves through for our dogs.

  9. Susan

    It was the perfect check out line small talk. It was probably the most exciting chit chat she had all day.

  10. Clo Carey

    Now there’s a rock and a hard place if I ever saw one. If you dove into explaining the vagaries of the weird and wonderful publishing industry, you would have been there all day. If you replied, “I’m a literary agent”, you risked the “I’m a writer, can I send you my manuscript? It’s not long, only 120K. I’ve been writing it for the last ten years.” followed by lengthy plot line description, response. As it was, you ran the slighter risk of the “I’m a writer too. Who’s your agent/publisher? Can you give me their contact information? Can I give you my 120K manuscript to give to them?” response. Good save!

    The only other possible response that you could have given would be “I was a literary agent in my last life”, and hope that she rang in the dog food while she tried to figure that one out.

  11. So true. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. I’m a hairdresser (my day job) and, over the years, SO many people have asked me why my books aren’t published yet with this How-Hard-Can-It-Be look on their faces. If only they knew!

  12. Oh my gosh. This totally validates my anti social tendencies. If only she knew how awesome you are.