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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Money for Jam

Ten years ago this month, I turned in my blue pencil and became an agent. I never thought I could be closer to writers than in my capacity as an editor, but I have found that the agent relationship can be even closer. You are there at the inception of a career, or you are stepping in mid-stream and trying to rebuild a career. You spend your time as an interpreter, negotiator, editor, shrink, friend, mother, principal, ping-pong partner and bank. You witness the passing of parents and the birth of babies. You know when the writing flows and when it falters. You know your writers’ strengths and limitations, when they’ve had a breakthrough and when they’ve hit a wall. You track a mood swing from self-aggrandizement to self-flagellation and back again many times over the course of one conversation. At a reading, you feel as if you are watching your child’s first recital. You wildy applaud as he picks up his first literary prize. You are celebrating a great review. You are going to a memorial service, an emergency room, a motel in Texas. Just when you think your tank is empty, a pile of pages arrives that takes your breath away.

I’m curious how you feel about your agents, but please don’t mention names or call anyone a douche. And if any of my clients feel compelled to write in, lay it on thick.

12 Responses

  1. My former agent, at a big agency, was a twice a year kind of woman. We spoke once to decide what to pitch, and a second time to confirm the offer (which is unusual for me, because I’m a BIG talker and sharer – my editor and I are very close and email several times a day).

    Now that I’m with a different agent, I’m shocked by how little interaction I had with my former agent. My new agent emails at 2am (not that I’d ever expect that) and actually answers my questions. I’m not sure he gives a crap about births/deaths/vacation photos – but that’s what my editor is for. I lucked out on that front!

  2. I feel hopeful.

  3. My first agent couldn’t remember the title of my book.

    The second was certifiable.

    Number three was a big fat liar.

    Current one is very busy.

    None them play ping pong.

  4. I’ve got two agents at the moment, YA and adult. Been working with my adult agent for almost ten years. Of the 30-odd agents I approached, he was the only one who wanted to rep me.

    I said, “Thanks for repping me.”
    He said, “Don’t thank me, I’m not doing you a favor. I expect to make a lot of money from you.”

    He’s been doing this since I was in elementary school. We’re not friends. We’re both awkward on the phone; we talk about the weather until an extended silence descends. He once called and said, “I’ve got some interesting news.” He told me he’d sold a project for six figures. I said, “That’s nice.” Then we talked about the details and hung up.

    My books tanked, so I’m using a pen-name. I sent my agent a bunch of possible names. Three months later, I got the first rejection, for a book by a pen-name I’d never seen before. My agent didn’t like mine, so invented one himself. I trust him completely: he knows what I care about, what I don’t.

    My YA agent is new to me–and younger than me. Probably smarter, too. We’ve sold one book together. Unlike my adult agent, who dismisses all of my crazy shit without comment, I think she worries that I actually *am* that unstable. Partly because when I first got an agent, I’d spend an hour crafting a professional email, and now I just append neurosis to every message.

    She asks if a deadline is okay. I say “Yes, and maybe I should work on a YA novel in which the 100-year-old vampire is *overtly* a pederast. And the high school girl has experimented with necrophilia in the past.”

    A motel in Texas?

  5. I, being a bottomless pit of mental health, am (apparently) one of the few Betsy Lerner clients who has never had to call on her for psych services, literary intervention, or bail. Except for that one time. (Sorry about that wee-hour phone call from the emergency room; I forgot about the time difference between NY and Texas.)

    I’ve never had any other agent but I know that I’m freakishly lucky to have you take me seriously when I send you those home-made crafts projects I call ” my writing”. I bet Dave Cullin doesn’t scotch-tape his manuscripts together .

  6. Wendy Schmalz is my agent. What I love most about her (other than the fact that she’s super funny, super smart, sells lots of books, etc.) is that she’s a real person. She treats me as if I’m a bona-fide writer, although I have no idea what I’m doing and haven’t a clue why my messy stacks of paper end up with titles and covers, and strangers actually read them. I love her. I really do!

  7. Several writer friends told me that the wrong agent is worse than no agent. I feel fortunate to have found a good match for me. I love my agent. She gets my writing, is a good communicator, and is fun to work with.

  8. Yeah, as a Texas resident I was intrigued about that motel comment.

  9. I love your description of what is can be like to be an agent. Almost (almost) makes me want to be one!

  10. I recently signed with a new agent and we’re still in the honeymoon phase. I feel like the dog, Doug, in UP – “I just met you and I LOVE you!” We’re on submission right now, which may sound exciting, but I feel like I ate nails and chased them with some battery acid. The new agent is wonderfully calm about the whole thing. Nice. I can use some calm. And Rolaids.

  11. You never thought you could be closer to writers than as an editor but find the agent relationship even closer?

    Thanks for the warning!

  12. I’m intrigued by the “motel in Texas” ref, since I grew up there (in Texas, though not in that motel). Wondering whether it involved Vivian Swift, since she remarked on Texas’s time zone. But she seems to have been the source of the ER ref instead.

    I have nothing to add to the agent commentary, not having one, and having no need for one yet. But I did save as a PDF your post in answer to “James Frey” (about how memoirs sell), because I’m writing one for personal reasons and may want to try selling it later. Tricky business, involving an apparent case of borderline personality disorder in my sister, and its role in the last couple of years of my mother’s life–tricky because my sister’s still alive. Enough of that for now.

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