April 29, 2010

Waiting to Exhale

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 8:37 pm

With one single novel, Terry McMillan came up with a metaphor that rocketed home and has stayed with me ever since.

We all know the feeling of wanting something so badly that we can’t breathe–not deeply at least–until we have it. For some it’s true love. Or a baby.

For others it’s a book deal.

After I signed with my first agent, I thought it was time to exhale.

The very use of the word “first” tells you that it wasn’t.

I have nothing but good things to say of my agent. She was experienced, wise, supportive, and went the extra mileS, including having me and an editor interested in my work to lunch at her very own apartment because the writing biz is small and people would wonder why this editor was out with me when no deal had yet been announced.

My agent has made many deals for many good authors over the years.

The only problem is, she wasn’t able to make one for me.

This is how it began. You might remember that I had two completed novels at the time that I signed with my agent. She had offered representation based on my second novel. After much (more) revising, that was the one she submitted.

I still remember that it was May, and she said, “We have time for one good submission [before the summer slowdown].”

Ahhh (eeek) was I ever going to learn the monstrosity that is the summer slowdown in publishing…but that’s getting ahead of myself.

(And yes, of course, I understand that all those hard-working and mostly underpaid editors and publishers deserve their time off. It’s just a little teensy bit hard on the writers, that’s all I’m saying, to have to constrict time in this already geologically slow business by two months or so…)

Anyway, we went out on our first round, got several passes, including one that said “the pace flagged a bit in the middle.” In editor-ese (they tend to be kind, perhaps because it’s important to preserve the agent/editor relationship–after all, they’re saying no to something the agent believes in–or perhaps because they’re genuinely nice people and know that passing on a novel is like removing the writer’s heart with a spoon and stomping on it) this means: I was bored silly by the time I got through the first page.

So I revised that manuscript, turning to my various trusty readers, including TBEITW (The Best Editor in the World). When I’d finished, I felt by turns stricken that we had sent something so flawed out into the world–the publishing world, no less–and grateful for all the offers this new, improved version would surely receive.

And in September, when the Hamptons grew chilly and publishing began to crank up again, we went out on a new round.

Stay turned for what happened next.


  1. I can’t wait to hear what happens next!

    Comment by Judy — April 30, 2010 @ 6:41 am

  2. Me too!

    I knew as soon as you said “The best editor in the world” that you meant Lauren. She is wonderful! Smart, and specific, in a world where many editors are like, “Hmm, why don’t you try something different?” she gives a clear, specific road map, and reasons why she suggests it.

    I hope your career takes off soon and makes all the waiting worthwhile! Summers do suck. For some reason you reminded me of an experience I had with my 2nd agent, when she told me an editor had rejected my ms but said “I’d like to work with you (you being the agent) further on other projects.” My then-agent said this was good news because it meant my ms was along the right lines for that editor. I was, in my mind, thinking: “Well, that’s good news for YOU, but what about me?” And, in the end, she wasn’t the right agent for my work. I think we all have funny, weird experiences along the road.

    Comment by Savvy — April 30, 2010 @ 8:45 am

  3. I can’t wait to hear more, even though I know it isn’t yet a HAPPY story, at least it is a HOPEFUL one… (and I love hearing the experience of it)

    Comment by Hart — April 30, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

  4. Boy, the words “summer slowdown” really hit home. I experienced it during the summer of ’06, and I fear I’m about to go through it again this summer with my standalone novel. Looking forward to reading the rest of the tale. If you ever need someone to commiserate with, you have my email address. ~Doug

    Comment by Doug — April 30, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  5. Thanks for visiting, Doug, and for reading what sometimes feels like a sad little tale (so far at least–suspense is known for its twists and turns and reversals, I suppose). I’m interested in your tale as well–what happened in ’06, how your current standalone came to be. Perhaps you’ll write a Made It Moment for this blog in the near future…? :)

    Comment by jenny — May 3, 2010 @ 7:26 am

  6. Jenny, I’d be happy to contribute again anytime. I’ll email you soon with my own sad little tale of ’06.

    Comment by Doug — May 4, 2010 @ 11:45 am

  7. Really looking forward, Doug (if that’s not the wrong thing to say combined with “sad little tale” :)

    Comment by jenny — May 4, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

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