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Day 4: How not to get an agent


Listen to what I’m going to tell you because it’s important. Turn down the noise and lean in close. Now read this next line carefully. Don’t skim. When you make an appointment with a literary agent at a conference, especially one you want to consider representing you…


Did you get that? I’m going to repeat it once more just in case the gist kind of went over your head. Do not make an appointment with a literary agent and then fail to show up. Especially, don’t do this when you paid that agent to critique your work. It’s more likely that they’ll remember your name if they took the time to read a portion of your manuscript, and spent more precious time taking notes.

And that is not the way you want to be remembered.

I can only plead mental instability brought on by exhaustion. Every day of the conference was filled with information. I had continuing sessions with Jeff Gerke. He was the guru of teaching how to master the craft of fiction, while valiantly bucking the trend to remove ‘ly’ words and keeping us laughing so we weren’t discouraged when we finally realized how much smarter he was than us. On top of that, there were meetings with agents, editors, and authors. And I was privileged to be involved in an Intensive Fiction Writing Clinic taught by Author Kim Woodhouse.

So, yeah. By day four, the rubber band holding my brain matter together had reached maximum capacity and it was on the verge of snapping.

Let me digress a moment. I’m a planner. As a control freak, I don’t like surprises. I like schedules. Schedules make me Gene Kelly “singing-in-the-rain” happy. I never set out from my room in the lodge each morning without quadruple-checking my schedule for the day, plotting my route, and doing my mental support exercises—You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Or something like that.

And Friday was no exception. I left the room with my mental guns locked and loaded. But I was tired.

By the time I made it to clinic, my brain was little more than gray putty, and I deviated from my itinerary. At the end of a few hours of learning how little I knew about the craft of writing—the rubber band snapped. Maybe it was the relative sanctuary of the cabin in the woods in which the clinic was held, or maybe it was the irresistible allure of picking Darcie Gudger’s brain with questions on editing. Whatever madness drove me to it…I stayed after class. It was 4:30. By the time I stumbled from the cabin, brain capacity maxed, it was 5:30.

I wandered back to the dining lodge, my mind full of self-doubt. Was it even possible for me to learn everything I needed to know to be good enough to find an agent? Why did it seem like everything was subject to the whims of the “gatekeepers of fiction” who might overlook six years of hard work on a manuscript if they ran out of coffee that morning? Why was I subjecting myself to this whole grueling process when I could be at home watching Star Trek?

In the grand scheme of the vast universe, I felt very small.

I stepped into the dining hall and looked at the time. And what was left of my confidence shattered into tiny, bite sized Chaka-fragments as it dawned on me that I’d missed an appointment at 4:45. An appointment with Jim Hart. An appointment with Jim Hart, a literary agent. An appointment with Jim Hart, a literary agent who I’d paid money to critique my manuscript.

In tears, I found a couple of friends I’d made over the course of the conference. Choking on embarrassment and mourning the incredible opportunity squandered, I told them the whole nightmare of how life itself unravels when you don’t stick to your schedule. And as I was weeping, the three of us noticed Jim Hart sitting at a table in the dining room.

Jim was in animated discussion with another agent. My friends urged me to go and talk to him. I wailed, bemoaning my own stupidity and my failure in not checking my itinerary a fifth time before venturing out that morning. Now I had definitive proof to show God that what I needed in my life was more control, not less as He seemed to suggest every time he wrested it from my grip.

And that is the story of how not to get an agent. If you make an appointment, you must show up. You will not get a literary agent if you don’t show up.

Nothing good can happen in your life if you don’t show up.

But if you’re human, and you make a mistake—pull on your “big girl” britches, walk over to that table looking like a hot mess, and apologize your little heart out.

Jim Hart accepted my apology, and graciously agreed to give me another chance the following morning. The meeting went well. Three weeks later, he offered me representation as my literary agent.

And that’s how not to get an agent—by yourself. My meticulous schedule keeping and my having it all together did not get me an agent. The “best laid plans” and all that jazz.

Sometimes it takes a few friends, a never-say-die spirit, and a laughing God who upends your schedule because he has a better idea.

And that’s how I didn’t get an agent, but ended up with one anyway.

What a gloriously bizarre trip.



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