• Bridge Ladies

    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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Are You Ready, Are You Ready For This

A writer gets in touch, an editor recommended him. You like the topic of his project and request to see the proposal. You ask if any other agents are considering, and the answer is yes. In fact, the writer tells you that some agents have already expressed interest, could you make it snappy. Naturally, you wonder why you didn’t get it when the other agents did. Is the writer bullshitting about interest. Is the writer, suddenly realizing that he is in demand, interested in trading up or widening the potential circle of agents from which to choose. You read it over night. You’re not blown away, but still, the psychology of the hunt works its magic on you  and you make an appointment to meet with the writer.

He is breathtakingly handsome, mid thirties, cool sports jacket, just the right amount of gel in his brown locks. Horn rimmed glasses like Paul Theroux. Firm handshake. Looks you right in the eye. Steady, steady. You ask all the usual questions, how did you get the idea, how long have you been working on it, what other writing have you done, what books would you compare it to? And you explain all the usual things, the process of getting a proposal ready. The writers is eager to “do what it takes.”  you explain  the submission process and what happens after the book is (hopefully) sold. Then, he asks how much it’s worth and you hem and haw. You can tell he wants to hear a big number, but you actually think the project is mid-list at best.

You  can see right then in his eyes that you are not going to be his agent. That he has bigger fish to fry, or another agent has shot him up with publishing heroin and he is happily stoned. You start to make all the usual noises about advances being unpredictable. There is also the small matter of this writer not having any real credentials to speak of. There is also the small matter of the subject being interesting, but not riveting, not necessary. And there is the small matter that nothing is selling and fewer and fewer books are deemed essential. You look at the table. You have twisted your straw wrapper into the equivalent of a  snot rag. A few days later he calls to say he has chosen someone else.

How do you feel?

65 Responses

  1. I think you feel okay. You were honest with him, gave his project serious consideration, assessed it given your knowledge of the market and your gut, conveyed that to him, and he decided to go elsewhere.

    Of course you second-guess yourself wondering if you’re going to see this book upon release in a year or two (?) really making waves.

  2. You feel like you did your job and forget about it.

  3. Sounds like you wish you had gotten him and you’re second-guessing your pitch to him. You’ll find out if you under-valued or over-valued his book if/when it gets sold.

    I hate having to wait to find out anything. Maybe you do too. Shouldn’t there be an app for that?

  4. To borrow and then slightly tweak some sentiments from a once-popular German techno outfit: some days you feel like a bulldozer trying to catch a butterfly. And some days that butterfly turns out to be a half-dead moth anyway.

  5. You feel fine. No amount of gel is the right amount.

  6. Every decision you make is the right one. Two words, Patti Smith. Next…

  7. You feel like you sure wish your screenplay would sell.

  8. How do I feel or how do you feel? Judging by the straw wrapper, this has become about rejection by a handsome if average (or below) talent. Personally, I’m already married so he has nothing I want.

  9. You feel unloved.

    Or, as Mr. Beckett put it, “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

    You’ll realize only much later that he wasn’t THAT good looking.

  10. PS Mr. Theroux, who fulfills the Italian adage, “Mal’ a visage, mal’ di cuore”– appears to be wearing black frames there, not horn-rimmed or tortoise shell. I went and looked up horn-rimmed to make sure it meant what I thought it meant.

    I know, obnoxious. But I’d rather see you angry than sad babe.

  11. You feel relief, at least I would. He had expectations that were insurmountable prior to your meeting.

  12. I would open my handy dandy box of cliches and read when one door closes, another door opens and promptly get on with my business at hand.

  13. relieved.

    people in obnoxious frames who talk money are ass aches.

  14. I’m guessing a whole lot worse if the book went on to become a mega success, but if it stayed right about where you expected, or below, then the sun would probably be shining on that day.
    Trust your instincts. What the hell.

  15. I’ve been reading all this crap about how to write an effective query, how to deliver a pitch, a synopsis. Now I have to worry about hair gel? I have to be handsome? My suit? I’m screwed.

  16. Me, I’d ruminate about this until I doubted every qualification I knew I possessed. Then, I’d move on to the book that sings to me.

    Speaking of glasses, I just got some circa 70’s old school sunglasses that make me look like a male porn star. I love everything about them and feel my chances of getting published have been increased exponentially. Clearly, I’m living the dream.

  17. You feel your hand on a drink and smile because you rewind and remember that you weren’t blown away.

  18. Well, honestly, I’d feel embarrassed and slightly used.

  19. How do I feel or what do I think?

    I think it’s really all about sex. I want to sleep with his horn rimmed glasses, get it on with his cool sports jacket, still be attractive to a man in his mid 30s who can use hair gel and still take my breath away. I quiver from the thrill of the hunt. But his project is just eh, his creds are just eh, and it sounds like he’s got some at-it-tude about how great he is. Pffft. Who gives a shit if other agents are interested or even if he goes on to get published? I might want to (figuratively) go to bed with an author like this, but do I want to wake up to him every morning? Watch him floss his (figurative) teeth? Pick up his (figurative) socks? You get it… You know that’s what an agent does when they take someone on.

    But what do I feel? At first I was all hot and bothered. Then I was rejected, self-doubting, feeling old, unattractive. But that wouldn’t really be about his work now, would it? So I don’t worry. It never would have worked out. After the (figurative) one-night-stand, I would have been looking for ways to get rid of him.

    All figuratively speaking, of course.

    • Some of us are soooo funny. We want people to continue to love us and desire to sleep with us not only DESPITE our telling them the truth but — even dumber — BECAUSE we’re telling them the truth.

  20. The guy lied about his age. He’s at least mid fifties. His hair color is way too dark and his eyebrows are starting to sprout wings. Probably lied about the other agents, too, or they’re the ones who advertise in the back of Writers Digest. The editor? We can pretty much figure that one out. He should go with the agent who lied about getting the big advance.

  21. I never (or rarely) want to attend the party, but I always, always want an engraved invitation, hand delivered and smelling faintly of Caleche.

  22. You should feel relieved, because he’s going to be a pain in the ass the entire time, and never, ever satisfied.

  23. Writers come and go. We’re like buses. Get on, ride us to your next stop, and get off. If you have to go further, there’s always another bus.

    We can take you uptown, downtown, crosstown, and even out-of-town. But we can’t cross oceans, and we can’t take you to the moon or stars. We’re just writers, a fairly common mode of transport these days.

    Not only that, writers are buses when more and more people are getting around via personal jet-packs, and some even have Star Trek transporters. What will the market bear?

  24. tired. a little horny, I’m thinking. those glasses, the reveal. the sex would probably be mid-list, too.

  25. You answered it yourself: “… interesting, but not riveting, not necessary.” ‘Nuff said.

  26. I’m reliving your meeting through other, parallel experiences: the job interview at the A-list company where the HR person is s-o-o nasty you consider jumping out the window; the first date with the guy you met at the party – he was fascinating amid the party chatter, but now boorishly rude to the waitress as you order an entree’; the outfit that looked great on the display rack but now, in the dressing room, has morphed into a parody of fashion. Optimism in the face of reality.

  27. I know how you feel but I’m not gonna describe it because I don’t want to reify his self righteousness. Next.

  28. In all honesty, I’d probably feel anxious, a little doubtful, and ready to see what magic his book does or doesn’t make. At the end of the day, though, sounds like you were straight forward and perfectly fair in your assessment of the book. No regrets!

  29. Betsy,

    I find myself in a like positon to your ‘lost writer’. A boutique agency has expressed interest in my proposal. I am a good looking, male ex-actor/writer of a memoir of seven big-time famous American icons of showbusiness who heard you speak at an NYU conf. last month. You told me after the meeting to remind you of our post conf exchange when submitting, which I have done.
    The question is one of ethics. I think you are probably a bigger, better, more experienced agent than she. Do I betray her trust if she is interested and use her as a lever to get you to read my proposal???

  30. Like I felt when I’d grown disinterested in my high school boyfriend and planned to break up with him, but then found out he was cheating on me.

    You only want the ones that you can’t get.

    Be comforted in the fact that he’ll probably leave this agent-lover for another and likely amount to nothing. But just in case, don’t Google-stalk him thirty years later…

  31. How do I feel? Just like I did when I was in tenth grade and heard Carly Simon sing You’re So Vain on the radio. I HAVE TO KNOW. I HAVE TO KNOW.

    Please have a blog reader contest and please let the prize be the whispered name of Mr. Missed Opportunity and pleeeeeeeese let me be the winner.

  32. What is an essential book? What makes a book necessary? How is it possible to know beforehand that a book will prove to be essential and/or necessary?

    With nonfiction it may be easier to predict the answer. A book that explains how something works or why something happened may be considered essential or necessary, at least for a time; for instance, “An Idiot’s Guide to How to Walk Down the Street,” or “Crossing Over: The Price One Family Paid for Ignoring Traffic Signals.”

    Even a grammar or a dictionary may be considered essential and/or necessary; and if so, and the consensus were sufficiently general, perhaps more writers would make use of one or the other, or both.

    With poetry or fiction, sometimes it can take generations to answer the question. Even then, the answer may never be incontrovertible, and may rely as much on historical accident as on the innate qualities of the work. As that can be the case, then to ask, prior to publication, if such a work is essential and/or necessary could be a category mistake, akin to asking about the ethical purity of an orange tree, or the teleology of a tornado.

    • Yes, just yes.

    • Actually if you’re good and remain true to your sensibilities you KNOW when a piece of writing feels necessary (unless it’s your own, that’s harder). It doesn’t take decades. The world may NEVER recognize it; might recognize it and forget it; might dig it up later and show it to you then because you missed it before, but that doesn’t change or even affect the basic relationship of your eyes/ears/soul to the language and the voice on the page. So many books are put before us, deemed worthy, that are NOT necessary except to keep the publishing industrial complex busy that we’ve essentially set aside, as bad for business, the whole question of necessity.

  33. Relieved, because you weren’t in love with it, and frankly if another agent was, she might do better for the author anyway. Or not — but at least she’d be the one trying and failing because she believes in it.

    Also, it sounds like maybe, possibly, the author has the potential of being a bit of a d-bag.

  34. I feel like this about the writer: Fucker. You’re making us all look bad.

  35. This is so depressing. I thought writing was for ugly people. That’s why I got into it.

  36. I feel nothing, because I’ve already written the vapid man off.

  37. You feel that you called it just right. Furthermore, you have no idea what kind of a writer he is, whether he would be able to respond to editing, whether before that he could even deliver a good-enough manuscript, let alone a necessary one. He might get a too-big advance, once. Not your way of doing business.

  38. like it’s personal. A rejection of your self-self as opposed to your agent-self, which is why it lingers in your psyche, why you’re second guessing your decision to keep your knees crossed, not give it up on the first date. Though it was clearly the right decision. I’d put all my chips on your instincts regarding whether the story is salable. If he’d been fat and bald wearing smudged wire-rims and a short, stained tie, you would have felt like you’d wasted your time and lunch money. Weird how beauty beguiles.

  39. Karen calls it. What if this mid-talent was…fat/ugly/female/fat/ugly? There are a million more where he came from.

  40. I feel that writers are like buses. There is always another one coming along to take you where you want to go.

    Is there anyone in your agent history that you feel was “the one that got away”?

  41. Actually if you’re good and remain true to your sensibilities you KNOW when a piece of writing feels necessary (unless it’s your own, that’s harder). It doesn’t take decades. The world may NEVER recognize it; might recognize it and forget it; might dig it up later and show it to you then because you missed it before: but that doesn’t change or even affect the basic relationship of your eyes/ears/soul to the language and the voice on the page. So many books are put before us, deemed worthy, that are NOT necessary except to keep the publishing industrial complex busy that we’ve essentially set aside, as bad for business, the whole question of necessity.

  42. How do you feel?

    A bit like writers sending query letters, I imagine.

  43. I’m not sure what you think, but I, jealous unrepresented writer that I am, would like to throttle him. He left our Obi-Wan Kenobi sitting there, twisting a straw wrapper, lusting for horn-rimmed glasses and hair gel and (I feel certain of this) Obsession cologne?

    I hear those wrappers make great spitballs. Next time, maybe.

  44. To me, this is one of the most valuable posts in a while. While I’m going through my own mishigas this week, this week of a final decision, it’s so helpful to hear this on your end. How do I feel? Exhausted.

  45. He’s on publishing heroin. Why would you want an addict? He’ll never like you.

    I had a verbose romance writer leave my publishing house and go to Pocket. She called and told me smugly her new editor said she “WOULD NOT CHANGE A WORD” of her manuscript. You know and I know the new editor is just too busy, or maybe too lazy, to actually edit the damn thing – no possible way the manuscript is perfect. But the author is on publishing heroin now. She’s too good for editing.

    • @BookMd. I don’t get that and I hear it all the time “You will be sorry you didn’t pick up my book. You are a thus and such.” I don’t get that. Prove who you are and don’t include other people in the process. And who has time to write all those stupid retorts anyway. She had to call you back and rub it in, asssuming she left wounds.

      • Where does self confidence end and delusion begin? Like the freaks on American Idol who screech out a mangled song, get rejected, and say, “I don’t need no stinkin’ American Idol! I’m gonna be FAMOUS! I AM the American Idol!” No, you’re not.

        Somebody overpromised this guy – oversold him on the idea of making a $100,000 advance, so now he can’t hear the truth. He’s average, God forbid, and won’t accept it. Wait ’til the rejections come in – and hopefully a $10,000 offer, right?

  46. It’s only because he’s good-looking and male that you feel this way….you slipped back into your 15 year old self before you were an accomplished writer, editor, agent, blogger, etc. Just imagine if he were a nerd or some 50 year old nebbish with a lisp, soiled tie and bad eyewear. Good looking ones–especially writers–are highly suspect, most often for their proclivity for shallowness and extreme phoniness. Bet you anything you called this one right. Next!

  47. Please define midlist. Please.

  48. And that guy in the picture, even if I was 35, I wouldn’t fuck him. And he would so want to .The perfect scenario would be to fuck him silly and then tell him next day his book sucks. And maybe add a remark about how tiny his penis is.

    • I can tell you right now, the guy in the picture likes some freaky, not-ooooooh-freaky but sweet-merciful-heavens-I’m-bleeding-freaky stuff. It’s a no-go.

  49. Like said snot rag.

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