Waiting to Exhale: How I Got an Agent & a Book Deal

Yesterday's CallHere’s what I’ve learned about The Call: it never happens when you think it will.

Sure, we dream about it. When I started querying agents I’d fantasize about it happening every. single. time my phone rang. Every single time my phone notified me of an incoming email. Life became a constant game of “Is this it?” followed by a let down. Oh, it’s just my sister calling to ask how my day’s going. It’s my husband letting me know he’s on his way home. (Yes, I know how messed up that sounds.)

The thing is, I was letting this hope take over my life. It was hard to be in any moment when all I wanted was to be in this other moment—the dream I’d concocted when things would suddenly be perfect. Its shiny appeal made everything else seem dull. But dreams are supposed to enhance our lives, not rob it of all meaning if they don’t come true.

Slowly, I got back to my normal pleasures. I got back to working, to writing, to living. I was writing a blog post one morning in February 2011 when my phone rang and interrupted my train of thought. I was actually kind of annoyed by it, and quickly went to silence it. In the moment I least expected, in the moment when I was accomplishing the nearly impossible task of not thinking about the book, it happened. The 212 number. The offer of representation from an agent.

That was call number one. Call number two—the book deal—came a year and eight months later. Again, not the way I expected. Not for the book I thought would sell. Not in the quick week or two I thought it’d happen. It wasn’t even a call, really, it was an email.

But it happened the way it was meant to.

I’d like to say that after being on submission with agents, I learned my lesson about putting life on hold when it was time to go on submission to publishers. But old (ok, newly-acquired habits) die hard.

Months passed and still no book deal. I was walking my dogs when I did some terrifying math: if I’d written 1000 words for every day I’d been on submission, I’d have a rough draft of a new novel. Suddenly the only thing more terrifying than not having my book sell was having nothing to show for it at the end of this very long waiting period.

So again, I got back to work, to writing, to living. I wrote and edited Chasing the Sun and when I found myself on submission once again, I decided to turn my attention elsewhere.

I was at a conference on sustainability and green living in October 2012 when I saw the little unopened envelope icon on my phone. I figured it was another annoying Facebook notification. The absolute last thing I expected, because by some miracle, I wasn’t thinking about the book, was to see an email from my agent, with subject line: “Amazon really likes your book!” She wanted to know if I had time to talk.

I was standing in a conference center courtyard when that call happened. I was lying in bed reading a book when the next call happened, a week later, to say my publishing deal was final. I was gathering doggie poop bags and looking for washing machines online when other, equally exciting calls happened.

If I’m lucky, there will still be several Calls in my future, but I have no idea when the next one will happen. The only thing I know for sure is that it’ll be when I’m busy doing something other than holding my breath, because life waits for no one.

What were you doing in the moment you last received some great, life-changing news?

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

19 thoughts on “Waiting to Exhale: How I Got an Agent & a Book Deal

  1. A wonderful post Natalya. Thanks for sharing. You captured the waiting game feelings beautifully. So true how we put life on hold and have to force ourselves to divert our attention and focus on other things-like writing-so the waiting doesn’t consume our thoughts. Can’t wait to add your novel to my TBR pile.

    • Thanks so much, Kerry! It’s so hard because things can take soooo long in publishing…but I’ve realized that being patient and waiting are not necessarily the same things!

  2. I love this paragraph, Natalia:

    “The thing is, I was letting this hope take over my life. It was hard to be in any moment when all I wanted was to be in this other moment—the dream I’d concocted when things would suddenly be perfect. Its shiny appeal made everything else seem dull. But dreams are supposed to enhance our lives, not rob it of all meaning if they don’t come true.”

    It’s completely crazy how often I let the waiting game get me down, especially during the agent querying and rejection process…Wow. I’d get so depressed I didn’t want to write much! It took the joy out of writing. It’s expectations — expectations get us every time.

    • I completely agree, Lisa. I had it take the joy out of writing too, but if that happens, what’s the point of any of it?

  3. “The thing is, I was letting this hope take over my life. It was hard to be in any moment when all I wanted was to be in this other moment—the dream I’d concocted when things would suddenly be perfect. Its shiny appeal made everything else seem dull. But dreams are supposed to enhance our lives, not rob it of all meaning if they don’t come true.”

    This. A million times this.

    Life-changing calls? Not sure I’ve had any, actually. There are a couple that I *fear* more than anything, I guess because I associate the phone with emergencies. I mean, unless it’s super urgent, everything’s done by email now, right?

    Glad to know some phone calls can bring good news, though. 🙂

    • Everything IS done by email these days, but I do love getting a surprising phone call with great news. (In fact, I told my agent she should feel free to call and interrupt my day with good news anytime she’d like! 😉

  4. I love your story!!

    My story is very similar – except that mine sold much faster than anyone anticipated (less than 2 months after my agent put it on submission) so I wasn’t expecting an offer at all yet – I assumed the email was going to be about a rejection, not an offer.

    When I got it? I’d woken up that morning and walked barefoot into cat puke. Oh yeah. Livin’ the high life.

  5. A great point about being present in the moment, Natalia. It really should be about enjoying the journey instead of the constant strive to another goal, and yet it isn’t much of the time. As a goal-oriented person I have to constantly remind myself of this.

    • I do, too. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be so goal-oriented (it keeps us always moving forward after all)…but I’m trying to learn to savor all the moments, not just the great ones, along the way.

  6. Fantastic post, Natalia; you described that up/down process so perfectly. My agent had an emergency situation arise the Friday we were supposed to hear back from my publisher. The silence about killed me. Then Monday came, and my agent called (while I was outside walking off some negative energy in the hot, hot sun) and apologized about the delay and said that the deal was final. So, yes! We must keep living! 🙂

    • Omg, Jolina, that must’ve been torture! Talk about a long weekend!

      Speaking of, another thing I noticed while I was on submission is that I began looking forward to Mondays because I figured I’d never get THE CALL on a weekend. So much for enjoying and relaxing, though!

  7. Natalia, this is such a beautiful post. It reminds me of all of the times I’ve paused my life for something that seemed to be of the most importance at the time. And you just reminded me that while those things were important, so was actually living… it’s so hard to surrender to life’s movement and flow. I’ll re-read this when I need to jolt myself out of the illusion of control… because it’s important to not waste your time. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Frankie! I’m honored that you’d want to re-read this as a reminder. How does that saying go, about the little things in life really being the big things? Your comment reminded me that we can’t live our lives tossing great moments away in exchange for others we expect will be greater; better to enjoy each one as they come, no matter our expectations.

  8. I was rushing out the door from work to go relieve my childcare provider when my agent first called. I silenced it, too, because I was in a hurry and didn’t notice the 212 area code.

      • Sorry, I’m just catching up on messages after my trip. I ended up calling the agent back when I got home. She told me she had read the first half of the manuscript and wanted to know who else was in the running. She didn’t come right out and offer in that first call, but wanted to get some more background info and probably make sure I wasn’t a nutjob. She ended up finishing the manuscript over the weekend and then offering on Monday. In the meantime, I had other offers and ended up choosing between 4 agents in the end. But I knew from that first call and her enthusiasm that the one I signed with was the right match!

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