You’d think that when I got my agent and my book contract, I’d be singing from the hilltops about my good fortune! And I did, if by hilltops you mean a 4×4 room with a desk and a telephone.
At the time I got “the call”, I was still a cubicle farm dweller at a large (yep, you’ve heard of it) tech company in Silicon Valley. I’d been sending my manuscript out to agents for about a month with a few nibbles and now I had three agents interested. Yes, it was exciting! But I it was important to me to find the right one. My 20 years in Silicon Valley taught me many things including this: Your work may be creative and full of your soul, but it also has to be a profession or you will fail. I’d seen writer friends sign with any agent that would have them only to be disappointed in the results. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
“It’s a crazy scenario,” the agent I chose said to me when I told her I wanted her to represent me. I was at work, in a window-less, fabric-covered, 4’x4′ room meant for people to take conference calls so they wouldn’t disturb everyone else in the open cubicles. I was dialed into a Webex meeting for my job, but I had the desk phone on mute. The slides from the meeting flipped on my laptop in front of me. I was on my cell phone with the woman who was now my literary agent. She said, “You’re entrusting your novel, your baby, to a complete stranger that you’ve never met in person and only talked to on the phone a couple of times. It’s a leap of faith for both of us.”
So now I had an agent. Yes, I was excited, but wary. Again, my Silicon Valley DNA was kicking in. It’s one thing to get an agent, but it’s another to sell a book. As anyone who has ever worked at a tech start-up knows, there’s a huge difference between getting your Round A funding and making your public offering. I knew there was still a steep hill to climb.
I made changes to the manuscript based on some suggestions from my agent. I paid an editor friend to copyedit the manuscript because–as anyone who has read my blog posts knows–I’m hopeless at catching my own mistakes. And then, on my birthday, my agent sent out the manuscript to 12 editors. She emailed me a list of who she sent it to. I was at a conference. I spent an entire session Googling the bejeezus out of each and every one of those editors.
And then I got an offer. Again, I sat in that 4×4 room, ignoring slides flipping by on my screen as my agent explained the details. I had a book deal. As before, I was excited, but a little apprehensive. I had so much work ahead of me. You see, I’d talked to the editor who acquired my book the week before. She loved it, but thought there were changes that were needed. The crazy thing was, her ideas were very much like my original concept for the novel, a concept I’d strayed way too far from. I was excited to get back to it. But oh the work to do!
I adored my editor as much as I thought I would. I was thrilled by her ideas for improvements. But most of all, I so appreciated that she didn’t scream when I said, “I love where you want me to go with it, but I want to get there doing exactly the opposite of what you suggested.” Instead, when I told her what I wanted to do, she loved it. And it was really that moment, weeks after the contracts were signed, that I felt like I got “the call” because that was the moment I knew I had the right home for my book and an editor who was going to help me make the novel all I wanted it to be.
In his beautiful book On Writing, Stephen King writes about answering the phone, alone in his cold apartment, to hear his agent tell him he’d sold the paperback rights for Carrie for millions. He writes about hanging up the phone and sitting alone in his kitchen with this news, knowing that his wife and children were on their way home. I always loved that image of him, basking in the anticipation of telling others. That’s the way I felt in that 4×4 room, ignoring those slides, alone with knowing what lay ahead of me.
The work doesn’t stop when you get an agent or even get a book deal. It doesn’t stop when you turn in your final draft or final copyedits or even when the book is printed and in stores. Because even though your work may be creative and full of your soul, it also has to be a profession. Following your dream is the hardest work there is.