Looking back on my first try at pitching agents, my naivete was hilarious (or maybe the word embarrassing would be more apropos?) I had just spent more than ten years (30-minutes here and there, between full-time working and full-time motherhood), writing what I thought would be the world’s newest enlightening novel. It had a social justice theme; it had humor; it had beautiful writing (I was sure); it was inspirational. What wasn’t to like, or even love? How could I go wrong?
After the final draft, I told my best friend (and Beta reader) that I thought I would be able to resign from my “day job” if I could get at least a $100,000 advance (which I truly believed was entirely possible). I had finished the hard part – writing the novel – and now I was ready to make arrangements to share it with the world.
I purchased the book Your First Novel by literary agent Ann Rittenberg and author Laura Whitcomb, which also had a cool intro by an author I love, Dennis Lehane (who happened to be Rittenberg’s client. Cool.) It was a wonderful book – full of all the “how-to’s” needed to write and revise my novel, find an agent, and get my book-publishing contract. I followed their advice to the last labored detail, especially the instructions for writing the greatest query letter on the planet. Everything was perfect! I was ready!
And because Ann Rittenberg had such a sense of humor (as both her writing and website clearly reflected), I decided I wanted HER, and ONLY HER, to be my agent. I just knew that since I’d written a great novel, and had perfectly followed her instructions for my query letter, her offer of representation (and the huge advance and publishing contract) were in the bag! I mailed my wonderful letter and sample pages on July 15, 2008. (PS – I am now painfully aware that my letter wasn’t so wonderful after all).
I was a happy and excited debut author. Until July 28, 2008.
On that fateful day, I opened my mailbox to find a letter with ANN RITTENBERG LITERARY AGENCY, INC. on the outside of the envelope. My heartrate first went wild with excitement, but then almost stopped. Wait…wasn’t she supposed to immediately call me, her potential client, on the phone instead? Isn’t that what agents did where they were super excited to represent someone????
Why had I received a one-page letter?
The brief paragraph informed me my manuscript WASN’T RIGHT FOR HER LIST. What??? How could this possibly happen?
My book was well-written and captivating (I was sure), and I picked an agent I thought would be perfect for it. The contract should have been a no-brainer.
I stood on the street curb, in front of my mailbox, my feet unable to move, staring at the typewritten lines that taught me my first lesson in the business of publishing. The rosy world I saw through my pretty pink glasses was not reality. It was NOT how the industry works. (Had I just skimmed-over that part of her book?)
The day I opened her letter (a/k/a rejection, but I didn’t want to say the word out loud) was the first major disappointment in my publishing career. But I wasn’t going to give up…
Here is what I learned that day:
- Don’t assume getting an agent is a slam-dunk. Believe me – it’s not. There are many variables involved in the process. (And I know they say it’s not personal, but it is to us.)
- Toughen up that body armor. You will most likely need it.
More to come….