I offered representation to a great author the other day. I’d had her full manuscript a long time (3 months, which is very long for me) and I just hadn’t had a chance to get to it until now. I read almost the whole 400 pages over the weekend and it was fabulous. I e-mailed her when I was about 3/4 of the way done and asked her if she was available for a phone call. We set it up for Monday.
The call went well, I guess. I could feel her excitement thrumming through the phone. It must be fantastic for an author to be getting THE CALL. She was about to say something like, “Yes! Yes! I’d love for you to represent me!” Or at least I think she was. And I slowed her down, reminded her to keep breathing, and gave her some advice.
I’ve said something like this to everyone I’ve offered representation to: “Please don’t accept my offer in this phone call. It’s important for you to make this decision when you’re not all amped up. When you’ve had a chance to formulate any questions and think about all of your options.” Then I recommended that she e-mail the other agents that had requested full manuscripts from her. That’s the part that bit me in the ass. I know that’s the right thing to do. I mean, it really is. It’s just common courtesy. But it also sets off a feeding frenzy.
When an agent (myself included) hears that someone else has offered a writer representation it’s a signal to take a closer, quicker look at the manuscript that’s been sitting in their inbox, to see what the fuss is about. Why is someone else interested in this person? Should I be interested? If so, I’d better make my move! I’d better do it quickly! I’d better do it now!!!!! And that’s how an author can go from zero offers of representation to 3 or 4, within a day.
So I reminded this lovely young writer to do the right thing and let the other agents know. And then she had multiple offers. And then she said “thanks, but…” to me. Dang it. She’s a great writer. I really do wish her the best success. But I’m pretty disappointed. I’m not taking it personally (much) because I know I’m a good agent, but still it kind of stings.
Don’t you hate it when doing the right thing bites you in the ass?!
When I read a novel I want something to happen. My best friend, who is an avid reader, doesn’t agree with me. She doesn’t mind reading a whole long book where basically nothing happens. When I had more time, and I was in a book group, I bagged reading a fair number of books where nothing happened. It’s really a matter of taste. Some of these were books that had won awards, were on best seller lists. People like them. But for me as a reader, it drives me crazy when nothing happens. I do love pretty sentences, carefully drawn characters and lyrical or graphic descriptions of place. But it’s also imperative to have a plot impetus to keep turning those pages. Now that I think about it, that goes for non-fiction, as well. Maybe I’m shallow or lazy or something (it’s quite possible both!), but I want to be pulled forward in a book. If I have to work too hard… well, I can just watch t.v. or pick up something else off the stack of books waiting for me to read them. Don’t get me wrong, I like deep ideas, intricate plots, meandering stories, complex characters. But there has to be a certain amount of tension, a certain amount of not knowing, that keeps the plot moving forward and keeps pulling me towards the end. You know how J.K. Rowling has said that she knew all along how the Harry Potter series would end? She started with the end so writing the books was just a matter of filling in everything that happened, with all the details. I definitely think of it as being pulled toward the end of the book, rather than being pushed from the beginning. If there’s not enough tension, I don’t care how pretty the words and images are that I just read. I lose interest.
What has you keep reading a book?
1. I have a lot of Fairy Godmother in me and I look forward to helping authors achieve their dreams.
2. I’m a straight shooting, no nonsense kind of chick, so the writers and editors with whom I work will know exactly what they are getting.
3. With a good eye for detail, I happen to have a knack for looking at a manuscript and seeing what’s working and what’s not.
4. As I’ve gotten older I have learned how to be diplomatic and patient.
5. I have always loved books and reading so much so I will feel honored to be midwife to more books being published and more people having the opportunity to be challenged, entertained, educated and engaged with new literature.
6. # 4 may not be entirely true.
7. I am enthusiastic, passionate and committed to Act 2 of my life being awesome.
8. If I’m working with other authors’ work it gets me off the hook with my own writing.
9. I can help create art, make everyone some money and spread more love in the world, in my pajamas, sipping coffee, at my kitchen table, with my trusty computer.
10. Well, maybe #4 is a little bit true.
How about you? If your muse went out of town what kind of a list would you write?