Friday, April 13, 2012

AGENT HAPPY, AGENT SAD

Not long ago, over four years now, I was in the thralls of a fear so incapacitating I couldn't see a way out. I was certain I'd never be published. My family and friends said it would happen. I even smiled confidently when asked if I believed that. But the fear had a strangle hold on my throat, and I knew to survive, I might have to admit to being the biggest fool ever.

I see other writers today feeling that fear. I hear it in their posts and emails. I've preached enough times on my blog that if you work hard, if you stayed committed, if you keep the faith, it WILL happen. But honestly, the true secret to success is to use the fear.

In my quest to find a topic to write about today, I mulled over some ideas while shredding files. That was when I came across some correspondence with an old agent. Yes, I've actually had three. The one I'm referring to was my second, and most respected and renowned agent. I can still recall the sheer moments of exhilaration working with her. Sorry I can't mention her name. Not that she'd care. She's probably retired now. But in her day, she was one of the very best New York could offer. And oh how I admired her.

She's been through her own battles to reach the top, and she knew her stuff. I knew it was up to me to knock her socks off. As I read my query letter again this morning, I was dumbfounded as to why she agreed to be my agent. I made every mistake possible in that query letter. By now you probably know what those mistakes are without me having to list them. I ended the letter with this statement: If my work doesn't move you as I hoped, of course, I'll understand. I'm just grateful for this opportunity. 

That was the summer of 2001.

Even I understood she needed time to come to terms with 911, yet by May 2002, she apologized for the delay and mentioned that she knew waiting was difficult. A few weeks later, she wrote a wonderful letter complimenting me on the many plot-twists in Dead Witness. She said that was no small feat for a writer to accomplish. Then she went on to suggest revisions, and promised once completed, they would make my manuscript even more riveting. She also requested a Bio and Writing History.

We corresponded a few times after that. She was always gracious and encouraging. I sent the Bio and Writing History; again she was gracious with her compliments. In September 2003, I mailed my Broken but not Dead manuscript. She acknowledged receipt of Broken and said she looked forward to reading it.

Two years had now passed since she agreed to represent me, but I was still thrilled.

One month into 2004, I emailed to see how things were going. She didn't respond. Six weeks later I emailed again. Nothing. I waited three more months. I felt like a stalker. One day I read an article in The Times about her and her famous new client. I was stung with envy. I gave my head a shake and asked myself what I was doing with an agent of her calibre. Yes, I sank to the depths of woe is me. One more unanswered email and, in July of 2004, I wrote the hardest letter I've ever had to write. I thanked her for all she done, and asked to be released. Within days she replied, said she understood, and wished me the best.

I won't even venture to guess how many times I've wondered if I made a horrendous mistake. Especially after she was so understanding. But like every other writer out there, I wanted my dream to come true now. I had a renowned agent and expected something wonderful to happen. When she failed to answer my emails, I felt rejected.

I'm not one to rehash the past, nor do I believe things happened randomly. Besides, I was raised to never cry over spilled milk. I learned a lot from my agent. I'm a better writer because of her. But I needed more than what she was willing to offer.

As you read other authors' journeys to publication, it's hard not to compare. Harder still not to wonder why their success seemed so easily obtainable, while yours feels like climbing Everest without a rope. The fear of never being published can be debilitating, if you let it. Or you can use that fear to push yourself past your comfort zone. I could have waited another four years for my agent to find Dead Witness a publisher. Or I could have spent those years as I did, learning my craft, the business, and finding out just what I was made of. It was my path, and I had a right to take it.

What's yours?


Now on a totally different note. It's breakup time again. Time to guess when the ice will come off Cluculz Lake. Somewhere between next week and the middle of May; I'm predicting. What do you think? Leave a guess in the comment section before April 20th, and if you guess correctly, I'll mail you a copy of my suspense thriller Broken but not Dead. 
 
Good Luck.  





April 18 - Susan Hornbach
April 23 - Kittie Howard
    April 27 - Carrie Butler
    April 28 - Susanne Drazic
    May 1 - Laurel-Rain Snow
    May 5 - Suzanne de Montigny
    May 8 - Alina Niemi
    May 11 - Carol Garvin
    May 12 - Kittie Howard
    May 16 - Stacy Green



55 comments:

  1. Such a difficult decision to make. You're right, don't look back. The entire experience shaped you and helped put you where you are today. And I think (along with MANY others) you're great.

    Onward! (You've seen me use that closing in my emails before, haven't you? Ha.)
    Keith

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    1. Keith, what we've been through together is amazing and inspiring. Couldn't have done it without you!

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  2. My guess is the ice will break on May 5th. I'd love to read your novel!

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    1. Don't be shy, Unknown. May 5th is a great guess, but I need your name so I can let you know if you win. First name will do. You can email me your addy privately to cluculzwriter at yahoo dot ca if you like. Thanks for guessing!

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  3. What an awesome post! Thank you so for sharing your story with us. I see much success in your future;)

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    1. Martha, what a nice thing to say. Thank you. Huge success for you and your books too. Happy weekend!

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  4. What a great story - thank you so much for sharing it with us. I completely understand your frustration, but I don't think you made a mistake. I just don't think writers should have to wait to break into the publishing world when they have a quality product, and Dead Witness certainly is quality. Thanks so much for sharing with us, and I'm guessing May 16th, just because it's my wedding anniversary:)

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    1. Thank you, Stacy. I ended up waiting 4 years anyway. LOL. But I agree. I did it on my terms. May 16th is a good guess. Best of luck, eh, and thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Yes, that journey sounds mighty familiar! I guess it's universal that we writers all have those same debilitating fears. Why do we even want this so much? I can't even begin to explain it. It just is.

    I think we all have our own path, our own customized journey. We just have to clear the way of weeds to determine exactly which one that is. I'm not sure if I'm on the right one, the best one, but it works for me right now.

    I think you made the right decision. She may have been a superstar agent, but she didn't treat you very well. She was hoarding you, not letting anyone else see your remarkable talent. That's the antithesis of what her job is all about. Shame on her. And good for you!!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. I often worried that I overreacted. I do that sometimes. But I agree. She was so focused on her famous clients that she had no energy left for me. I'm okay with that.

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  6. Excellent post, Joylene, and thanks again for a glimpse of your world, Love it when that happens.

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    1. And thank you, Carole, for giving me so many wonderful children's books for my list. I couldn't have found these books without you.

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  7. Hey Joylene,
    I really must read more carefully, for a moment I thought you had written, "I mulled over some ideas while shredding 'flies'. Ignore me, Joylene :)
    You are a great source of inspiration to me. You used your fear as motivation, to challenge the rawness of such emotion and my goodness, look at you now. And that hot shot agent...I got to totally agree with what the lovely Nancy said.
    There you go, a rather short comment from me. And with that, I shall go back to my blog and um, wait for a bus :)

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    1. You probably don't remember, Gary, but we shred our mosquitoes here in Canada because they're so darn big. Our flies are big too, but nothing in comparison to our mosquitoes. Heck, I've seen they carry off people in their quest for blood. Ooh, sounds like a horror story. Thank you, my dear humble friend for stopping by. Have a great weekend. Hugs for Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet star. Oh, and keep on busing, you lover of buses you! LOL.

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  8. Joylene, I've said it before and I'll say it again. The standard New York publishing industry and mega-giants and all powerful agents are dead. They just don't know it. And they created their own demise by their neglect of upcoming potential talent. The writers currently on the NY Times Bestseller list? Hate to tell 'em, but one day they will leave this earth for the next journey. Who takes their place? Because who are they cultivating to take their places? You made absolutely the right choice. I will not even guess how many rejection letters I've tossed over the years. But I can tell you this -- I am twice the writer now that I was when my first manuscript was accepted a year ago. Why? Because of the company I've been able to keep. The company of writers, both newbies and veterans. There is no substitute for experience. There just isn't. And if we're too afraid to grab that experience when opportunity presents itself, we will probably be able to improve our writing on our own, but I sincerely doubt to the same extent we can improve it by moving in the professional writing world.

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    1. Very wise words, Gail, and so poignant. I did grow from that experience. She encouraged me in ways I hadn't receive before. Yes, I was blown away by her status, but to think she thought highly of my writing kept me going on many a chilly night. Especially after I published my first novel and was told in so many words that to be self-published was a detriment. But it's the reason why I refuse to judge self-published novels today on that merit. So, yes every negative creates a positive if you look deeply enough. Have a great weekend.

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  9. That's one mighty cold looking lake! But was the winter as cold as usual? Maybe not, so maybe the ice isn't quite as thick. What do I know? I'll guess at May 11th, but I don't need to be entered in the contest.

    I enjoyed getting another peek at your journey to publication. Everyone's seems just a little different. For some, it's a lot of work and a little luck; for others it seems to be a lot of luck and not nearly so much work! I don't agree with Gail that the publishing industry as we've known it is going to cease to exist, but there have certainly been big changes, and everyone is shuffling to adapt. What I like about it is how the industry has opened up to accommodate so many different approaches to reading, writing and publication.

    Your comment about using fear is a wise one. Fear can motivate or paralyze, depending on the person. For me, it's more anxiety than fear that occasionally stops me in my tracks. But how I react to it determines both the quality and quantity of what I eventually accomplish. When I get back to the querying process it will be interesting to see if anxieties crop up again, and how I'm able to use them!

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    1. I think we have two choices in any given situation. I don't always choose wisely, but I've learned not to beat myself up about it. Anxiety, I understand. When my life is back to normal, I'm going to start putting together a kit. The manuscript based on Vietnam is calling to me. I've decided to answer back.

      I'm always here, Carol, if you need anything. Anything. Happy Weekend and hockey watching. Yay Canucks!

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  10. Joylene,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Enjoyed the post and all the wonderful comments.

    Best wishes,
    Cher

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    1. Thank you, Cher. Hope you have a safe and happy weekend. Yay blogging!

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  11. Thank you for sharing this, Joylene. If I were in your position, I probably would've done the same thing. Communication is essential.

    As for my path... well, I'm at a fork in the road. Strength falls into an unestablished category ("new adult"), so moving forward might prove to be an interesting challenge. I hope I'm up for it. :)

    P.S. April 27th. ;)

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    1. You're up for the challenge, Carrie. And I bet there are many out there who will help when they can. I know a few great marketing gurus. If you need me to ask them anything, just shout.

      April 27th is a very good guess.

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    2. Thank you, Joylene. I appreciate that. *Hugs*

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  12. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Joylene. I can recall a similar experience with my novel Embrace the Whirlwind. I had a publisher (a small press) and lots of encouraging words, and then many unanswered e-mails and lots of neglect until the day I, too, decided to break with them. Four years and nothing in print...I moved on.

    I figured that, at my age, my path was going to be another kind.

    I love those lake pictures and wouldn't have a clue about when the ice might break! Let's just say: May 1!

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    1. Thank you for sharing that, Laurel. It means a lot to those of us who have bad experiences to know we're not alone.

      May 1st is another great guess. Good luck.

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  13. Joylene, this is a wonderful post that shows the crossroads writers may face. If you weren't moving forward with that agent, what would be the point of staying?

    I agree with Gail. The publishing industry is changing drastically.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Karen. And since so many authors blog about their experience and knowledge, it's certainly making the journey easier for the rest of us. That's always a plus. Thanks for stopping by.

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  14. I couldn't even hazard a guess on the ice, after living in Quesnel for 2 yrs, Vanderhoof for 1 yr and Smithers for 2 yrs I've seen thunder storms in January, green grass in March and snow in September.Thanks for sharing your post. I am right now in the quest for an agent and honestly, to get in with the big publishers you need one, but it is almost as daunting as getting your first book published. I have 2 MS right now looking for an agent and the one I am convinced is the best story I have ever written, but is it good enough? I have my doubts sometimes and somedays it is hard to believe in myself. My saving grace is that I want a NYT best seller so badly I am willing to fight for it no matter what it takes. Of course it helps to have a wonderful 1st publisher like Muse where everyone bands together to help and encourage us all.

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    1. Killarney, I had no idea you lived in my area. I should have known that. Shame on me. Yes, we do have weird weather, don't we. It snowed yesterday and last week it was 17 C. Stubbornness and determination are a great combination. You'll land that NYC agent, I feel it in my bones. Thanks so much for visiting my blog.

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  15. Joylene,

    Thank you for sharing your history and the difficult decision you had to make.It's those tough decisions that shape us into the writers we are meant to be. Honestly, I thought you were going to tell us that the agent had died and you read her obituary in the newspaper.

    I had an agent for a short time who told me that she wouldn't be able to begin editing my work for 6 to 8 months. Yes, I was green and never heard of an agent editing someone's work. But it was the "6 to 8 months" that I couldn't live with so I "let her go" and sold my book three months later.

    What a beautiful backyard you have! The lake is smooth as glass. What a view!

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    1. Hi Christy. My first agent had a massive heart attack and that's why I sought her out. But you got my attention, so I looked her up online. Couldn't find anything current, which could mean nothing. Good for you for standing on your own. I know how much courage that took. Thanks for stopping by, Christy. Have a nice weekend.

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  16. I am sure you made the right decision, Joylene, by taking what you could from an agent who wasn't right for you and moving on. It's not a measure of success or failure, its part of your growth as a writer.

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    1. I certainly grew after that, that's for sure. Hi Anita. Hope you're doing well. Thank you for stopping by. Best of luck with your books.

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  17. Joylene,this was an interesting post. Thank you for sharing with us. I could feel your pain, and I will say, if it had been me, I would have made the same choice. I think if an agent can not get to your book; they should express how busy they are, consider you as a human being with feelings, and at least tell you their time line. Leaving someone to wait for years; for me would feel abusive. I admire your decision to stand up for your work.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. That's what I mean about writers, we think alike on issues like this. For a while, it was a wonderful relationship. Happy Weekend, Susan. I meant to tell you that post you did on the vet was outstanding.

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  18. Hi Joylene. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    My guess is April 28th!

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    1. Good luck, Susanne. Thanks for your kind words.

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  19. My vote for the lake breaking is April 18th

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  20. Good for you, for following your heart and moving forward. You had to do what was right for you. And look at you now!

    Self publishing still has a stigma attached, but it's becoming less so, as more books of high quality are out there. And the old way of print publishing is in limbo. Go with the flow, or get washed away.

    I know self publishing is a legitimate model for some writers; I'm following it and seeing success and no wasted time waiting for others (like unresponsive agents) to give me permission. It's not for everyone, but it's an option to be considered, for sure.

    I'm guessing May 8, so it keeps the deer flies and the no-see-ums and all those other bugs away longer! haha.

    Alina Niemi
    Author of The New Scoop: Recipes for Dairy-Free, Vegan Ice Cream in Unusual Flavors (Plus Some Old Favorites)
    and Lizard Lunch and Other Funny Animal Poems for Kids: With Animal Facts, Puzzles and Fun Activities
    http://alinaspencil.com

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    1. Hi Alina. Thanks for your thoughts, they're much appreciated. I tried to leave a message on your blog, but it wouldn't let me. I'll try again. Your books look wonderful. Good luck on the ice contest.

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  21. Hey Joylene,

    Wow, I didn't know about your agent journey. I think you did the right thing. Even though she was civil when letting you break your contract, she wasn't civil when you tried to get in touch with her--numerous times. To me, it's rude and disrespectful to repeatedly ignore one of your clients simply because you're busy with other prospects. A one-line email or a one-minute phone call isn't too much to ask. You've done wonderfully for yourself, and your career still has so far to go. :) Thank you so much for this post.

    Hugs.

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    1. Thank you, Adriana. I've had a blog for 4 years, but it was only recently that I realized I should be sharing this stuff so it wouldn't seem so unreal for other writers. I had a lot of help on my way, and now I want only to pass it on. Hope your weekend is wonderful.

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  22. That story broke my heart. Why? Because she did not respond to all your other emails, but replied so very quickly to the one in which you asked to be let go. Which meant she'd apparently simply been ignoring you prior to that. That's sad, and...unprofessional, or so it seems to me.
    And then the sting you felt at reading about her big new client.

    I've never had an agent, and don't know exactly how I would handle such a situation. But I suppose, for sure, I would continue to work on my craft in the interim.

    I'm glad you shared this. Made me remember that fear of being rejected, and reminded me that you really do just have to keep going.

    I'm glad you kept going. Your literary offerings to the reading world were well worth your perseverance.

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    1. Such kind and appreciated works, Vastine. You showed exactly what I felt. And while I honoured her accomplishments, she still managed to make me feel less than worthy. But the operative word is that I allowed it. It was a valuable lesson to learn. Sadly, it often takes years for any woman to realize her value. God Bless.

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  23. If the door hit that woman's arse on the way out, so be it. What she did wasn't just unprofessional, it was totally uncalled for. It's agents like her who helped cast the shadow that hovers above the publishing business and sends talented writers like you to e-pubbing. Yes, you had every right to get on with your life. And you did so with class - Dead Witness is a delicious read. I have a dear friend of many years who produces TV commercials in NYC. She said to me at Christmas, "Never trust a New York agent." Her words, not mine.

    Enjoy that cookie. I don't mind being the Cookie Monster.

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    1. Dear Cookie Monster, I keep meaning to tell you, every time I read your posts, comments, anything, I feel like singing, "I am Woman, hear me roar!" Thanks, Kittie. I appreciate your support. Hope you're having a wonderful weekend.

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  24. Oops, the lake. Hmmm, April 23rd.

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    1. I've got you down. Best of luck. Wish I could just send books out to everyone.

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  25. Thank you for your story, Joylene! I enjoyed reading about your journey. Like you, I had an agent offer representation on my first picture book, only later to say (when I followed up) that she didn't think the manuscript stood out enough to be noticed by a publisher. I wondered what was with the 180. Anyway, it was a good feeling to have someone say, "I want to be your literary agent", even if she changed her mind. Maybe you and I will each hear that again one day soon!

    And thanks for stopping by my blog. Funny, the very night you commented on my blog, I had opened a link to your blog - but I'm sorry to say I'm only now getting back to that link to read and comment.

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    1. Hi Lauren. Sorry to hear you've been down that agent-sad road. Maybe this is our year, eh? I'm with you. We have to stay optimistic. Thanks for stopping by, Lauren. Have a great day.

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  26. Love the title of this post, Joylene. I appreciate you sharing your story. I may pass this link along to a friend who is plodding through (and she just learned she didn't make the cut for Genesis).

    Thanks again, and have a wonderful weekend! :)

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    1. Hi Karen. That's exactly why I shared this story. I want those writers out there to know, you don't have to measure your success by who your agent is, or even if you have one. It's all about your prose. Have a great day.

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  27. Hi Joylene, I enjoyed reading this part of your journey. I think what many writers would mistakenly believe is that once they find an agent it's all uphill from there. I've read other people's experiences with agents and they're not always positive. Truthfully, I haven't even queried, not even sure how I feel about it all.

    I do believe that, had it been me, receiving no replies to my emails would have left me very upset. In fact, it's really one of my pet peeves. It seems in this day and age that emails are so easy to ignore even though they only take a very moments to reply to.

    So glad you shared this story with us!

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    1. Hi Laura. I've softened in my old age and no longer feel any resentment, especially over what if. I do know that I will query again some day. I've learned a lot since those early years. I feel ready to work with someone who believes in my stories. Thanks for stopping by, Laura. It's always great talking to you.

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