Tag: agent

“There’s a lot to be said for the long game”

My college friend Michael Szczerban is now an editor, and he also contributes interviews to Poets & Writers magazine. From his latest, a roundtable with 4 young agents:

Ballard: I often take people on and then work with them for a very long time. The first novel I sold this year was something I had worked with the author on for four years. It wasn’t that I was editing every line. We just had to find out what the story was. I work very closely with my clients, and I bet everyone in this room does. The better you make the book, the better the sale.

Flashman: Your point is really important because sometimes writers think, “Oh, I’ve got an agent! We’re sending it out, it’s going to be a best-seller tomorrow!”

Habib: There’s a lot to be said for the long game. Look for an agent who’s in it for the long haul.

This turns out to be a fitting post for today since Twitter tells me that it is Agents Day. I’ve been with my agent, Tina Wexler, since April of last year. In that time, she has already proven to be a kind, wise, generous, and patient advocate. Even when I lay bare my insecurities and frustrations, she guides me through them with confidence and grace. Sometimes I worry that I’m a bit of a disappointment to her, like an investment that hasn’t panned out. But then I remember that she’s in it for the long haul, and so am I, and the years ahead hold unlimited potential.

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Venice, Bologna, and oh yeah, MY AGENT

Venice was a dream come true. The canals, like veins, coursing through the living breathing city. The motorboats and gondolas and vaporettos, gliding through the water, criss-crossing each other’s wakes. The sun rising over the islands of Burano and Murano, where ladies stitch lace and artisans meld glass. The sun setting over St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace, where once an empire was run.

At long last, I was standing in the city that I had always wanted to see most in the world. It was as beautiful as I had imagined, and then some. Mossy docks, windowed waterfront façades, doors that opened right onto the sea. A hundred tiny bridges connected one neighborhood to the next. Each narrow alley was a secret whispered between the larger fondamentas.

(Also, the complete lack of cars gave the city an almost out-of-time feeling. If you ignored all the smartphones and modern fashions, anyway.)

Our stay in Venice was brief but unforgettable. And as I leaned against the cool stone railing of the Rialto Bridge, looking down over the glistening Grand Canal, there may even have been tears in my eyes.

Shortly after The Call, the first agent sent me a follow-up email that was, in a word, epic. Her passion and understanding for my story came through in every sentence. As the days passed and the details of our phone conversation began to fade, I had only to re-read that email for all the emotions to come flooding back.

This was real. My book had found a champion.

Our last stop in Italy was Bologna, the food capital. Andy found an excellent tour, which took us to a certified parmigiano-reggiano factory, as well as a private manor where dozens of batteria sat for years, brewing traditional balsamic. We watched burly-armed men wrangle cheese curds out of 200-gallon vats, then explored the “library of cheese,” a compendium of yellowing wheels just waiting for their perfect age. We peered into dark barrels and sniffed the sharp, sweet aroma of grape must.

The tour ended with an unexpectedly lavish meal at a family-owned trattoria. First course (mmm): salad with nuts, chicken, and homemade balsamic. Second course (fave!): corkscrew pasta with bacon and artichokes. Third course (oh boy…): prosciutto and spinach rolls in creamy white sauce. Fourth course (seriously?): fettucini bolognese with edible flower petals. FIFTH COURSE YOU’RE KIDDING RIGHT I CAN’T EAT ANYMORE OMG: roasted chicken with sweet onions, broccoli, and potatoes. Dessert (just kill me now): bite-sized biscotti, chocolate torte, and sour blackberry crumble.

It was all so beautiful and delicious, but no more food ever again, please.

Despite of a series of almost-catastrophes getting to and through Milan, we made it home late on a Sunday night. On Monday afternoon, I had a call with the second agent. She was supremely lovely, had many kind things to say about me and my book, and came from an incredible agency. Once again, I felt delighted, amazed, honored.

The ten-day deadline passed, and in the end my choice came down to these two. Both agents had strong sales records and were well-liked in the writing community. Both had confidence in me and seemed like great people. Both would no doubt help me to succeed.

The good news was: I couldn’t make a wrong decision. The bad news was: I still had to make a decision.

What I kept coming back to was that follow-up email. Not even so much the email itself, but what the email said without saying — and what it made me feel without trying. Every time I read over her words, I was reminded of how well the first agent and I had clicked, both personally and professionally. How perfectly tuned-in to my characters and themes she was. How supportive she sounded about where I wanted to take my career.

When I called to accept her offer, she sounded even giddier than I did. Don’t get me wrong: I was giddy. My voice might have been steady, but my hands were shaking, and after we hung up, I jumped around the house like a loon.

And to be honest, I kind of feel like doing that again now. Because it’s time (FINALLY) for the big reveal.

The agent who wrote that follow-up email — the agent who is now representing me and my book (!!!) — is none other than…

Tina Wexler of ICM
tina wexler
(Photo shamelessly stolen from her Twitter account.)

I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me to have Tina on my team. I know that this is just one milestone, one hurdle, of many more to come — but everything feels more possible, more manageable, more hopeful, with her helping me through it.

Just like getting to this point felt more possible, more manageable, and more hopeful with all of my family and friends — that means YOU — helping me through it.

Thanks, guys. Y’ll are the best.

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Florence (aka hillsides, mosquito bites, and the second agent)

After receiving my first offer of representation (!!!) I promptly notified the other agents who had my materials. With some, I withdrew my manuscript from consideration. With others, I requested that they finish reading and make a decision within 10 days (which included 2 full weekends). That meant the rest of my vacation would be a waiting game, as most of the querying process is, but now without that pit-of-your-stomach dread or exhausting self-doubt.

In Florence, we stayed at a homey B&B just around the corner from the Duomo. Five rooms branched off a main lobby, like a warren of rabbit holes. The husband-and-wife owners were tall and generous. They gave us keys, coupons, and a complimentary bottle of prosecco.

First we did the Duomo’s bell tower — 400 steps up a narrow curving stairwell, not intended for two-way traffic, and then 400 steps back down. Then we did Ponte Vecchio — a gold mall on a bridge, the stores full of jewelry too gaudy and expensive for our taste. And last but not least, we did the Galileo Museum — an elegantly designed tribute to centuries’ worth of Italian inventions and innovations.

Our second day trip promised the “Best of Tuscany,” and it didn’t disappoint. We lost ourselves (literally and figuratively) in the quiet, dusty labyrinth of Siena. We enjoyed the world’s best gelato at Dondoli in San Gimignano. And we ate a simple but exquisite lunch at an organic farm, overlooking endless green hillsides and vineyards.

It was all so tranquil and enchanting that I could almost forget about the agent stuff.

Almost.

Before bed each night, I was glued to my iPad, eagerly working my inbox. (Thankfully Italy seems to be even more obsessed with free wifi than America.) I may not have been able to update my spreadsheet, but I mentally logged each agent’s response. And now that I wasn’t neurotically over-analyzing every word of every message, it seemed fairly obvious who was actually interested and who was just playing the game.

A second agent, also fabulous, soon tossed her hat into the ring. Unfortunately we couldn’t schedule a good day to talk until after I returned to the States — but that just gave me more time to look forward to the call.

Poor Andy had to put up with my constant questions and speculations. What if this? What about that? He was very gracious and remarkably helpful, but after a certain point, he would switch off the light on his side of the room and gently remind me that we needed to rest up for our next big day of adventuring.

I would say the mosquitoes were karma, except that they bit Andy too. All night we suffered buzzing in our ears, snapping us out of slumber, warning us of big red bumps to come. It wasn’t until morning that we realized the skylight was letting in more than sun and moon beams. Thankfully this Houston girl is a champion mosquito-hunter.

Neither the itching nor our aching feet could stop us from appreciating the rest of our time there. More gelato, more churches, some shopping, the Uffizi. Though small, the city was a treasure trove.

Maybe the most unique experience of our trip was truffle hunting in a hill-town just outside Florence. All morning we skirted the edge of a forest with Ricardo and his two dogs, Nebbia (fog) and Luna (moon). Nebbia was amazing, a constant rocket of energy, sniffing and circling and digging until she came up with a precious woodland nugget. Luna, on the other hand, was useless — but cute. She would dig excitedly in Nebbia’s wake, then peer up at Ricardo in hopes of a cookie.

Endearingly dumb, she reminded me of Riley, my beloved “grumble pup,” who I couldn’t wait to reunite with. It’s not that I wanted the trip to be over — I didn’t. But there were good things waiting for me at home.

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Rome (aka jet lag, historic ruins, and The Call)

First stop: Rome. We landed fairly early in the morning and hit the ground running, pausing only briefly at our hotel to stow our bags and freshen up. Then it was off to Vatican City for a stroll through the museum and a tour of the archaeological excavations under the Basilica. (Our guide “spoke English” in the sense that we could understand maybe half of what she said, and she could answer “Yes, OK” to any questions, regardless of whether or not that answer actually made sense.)

For lunch we enjoyed the first of many (many, MANY) excellent pasta dishes, freshly made, with finely grated parmesan and savory-sweet artichokes sprinkled throughout.

We knew jet lag would be our enemy, so we purposely planned to retire early and relax at the hotel. What we couldn’t have anticipated was that I wouldn’t have slept a wink on the plane. Me! She Who Cannot Stay Awake in Moving Vehicles. She Who Often “Rests Her Eyes” During Takeoff and Then Does Not Open Them Again Until Landing. I am a champion sleeper, and yet for no good reason that I can discern, I was completely thwarted from slumber during our entire flight over the Atlantic.

So, at about 4 p.m. on that first day in Rome, I was crashing. Hard. I wanted nothing more than to collapse on the bed and go unconscious till morning. But Andy insisted that I push myself, just until 6 p.m. Otherwise I might not adjust to the new time zone properly, which would throw me off for the entire trip.

Reluctantly, I listened to his wisdom. I forced myself to shower, eat, remain upright. To pass the time, I checked Twitter and read articles that my friends had shared. I Instagrammed.

By 6:17 p.m., I had brushed my teeth, put on my pajamas, and was ready, at long last, to sleep. But out of habit, I checked my email one last time — after all, people in the States were finally up and about — and I received one of the simplest but most exciting messages of my life.

It was from a literary agent I had queried. She had finished reading my manuscript and enjoyed it. She wondered if I might have time to talk.

Suddenly I was wide awake.

Fortunately, our schedule for the following day had some flexibility, so I set up a time to speak with the agent and then proceeded to freak. the hell. out. Now Andy switched sides, insisting that I try to sleep, lest I become even more of a zombie. In spite of being out of my mind with (cautious) optimism, I did (finally) zonk out, almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The next day I woke with a smile on my face and a pegasus flying circles around my heart. That buzz kept me company as we explored the Colosseum and wandered through the ancient crumbling Forums. I may have been reading about the past, but I was dreaming about my future.

Lunch was beef carpaccio and more hand-cut pasta, this time with impossibly thin slices of black truffle on top. Bellies full, we went to the Pantheon and to Trevi Fountain. Together, we turned our backs to the statue of Neptune and threw coins over our shoulders into the water. One, two three, splash! That was the sound of wishes being made.

Back at the hotel, Andy stepped out to give me privacy for my call. For The Call. The one where an agent told me that she loved my book, that she understood my book, that she wanted to represent my book. That she wanted to represent me.

We talked for over an hour, and I couldn’t stop smiling. When we got off the phone, my whole body was vibrating with excitement. Euphoria. Disbelief and validation simultaneously.

I had an offer.

Although this agent was wonderful, I did not accept right away. I wanted to honor the time and interest of the other agents who were reading my work — and if I’m being honest, I was curious to see who else, if anyone, might offer, and how they would compare. But more on that later. For now, it’s enough to say that I was on cloud nine, and I stayed there for the rest of the trip.

Day 3 was an excursion to the Amalfi Coast and the ruins of Pompeii. We spent hours enjoying the view as a driver wound us along the breathtaking mountain roads. Sea and sky, cliffs and lemon fields. The panoramas imparted a peace I can’t explain. I fell in love with Positano.

In Pompeii, our guide explained how remarkably advanced this ancient civilization had been — with roads, a court system, bakeries and bars, even indoor plumbing — as well as how such a grand city could go missing for so long. Twenty feet of ash, thousands of lives lost, and still years to go before the whole thing was unearthed. Huddling under umbrellas to avoid the rain, we marveled at what remained of their world.

Our last day in Rome was the most free-form. Decisions made on the fly. A quick trip through the wrong museum, followed by a quick trip through the right one. Gnocchi and maialina just off the Piazza Navona, and a long, warm climb up to Gianicolo Park for spectacular views of the city.

As we walked and ate and admired the art, every now and then it would hit me: She loves my book. She wants to work with me. When I get back home, the next phase of my journey will begin.

But first, we still had Florence and Venice to go.

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