“I am now represented by John Cusick of the Greenhouse Literary Agency” is what I _should_ title this post, but its real title is OMG, I HAVE AN AGENT!!!

Roger-Federer-Reached-Quarterfinals

Placing in the Tu Books contest started a chain of circumstances that entailed a lot of fairly quick movement and a lot of sleepless nights. For once, the publishing world moved at a rapid pace. I think that the last two weeks have been the only time in my life when my writing life has moved faster than my real life.

My agenting story starts in January of 2012, when I started querying agents about this novel. I got a few manuscript requests, but my submissions process was interrupted by several long breaks during which I tried to hone my query.

Then, in January of 2013, a query that I’d sent out in October resulted in an offer of representation from a literary agent (A1). I was excited about the offer and was leaning towards accepting it, but there were two problems: a) I still had manuscripts and queries out with other agents who I wanted to hear back from; and b) I was a finalist in this Tu Books contest, which required that its winner be unagented.

A1 rather graciously agreed to hold the offer until the award was announced. If I lost, then I’d be free to sign with her.

A week later, the public announcement of the slate of finalists for the Award generated a manuscript request from another agent (A2), which I also had to put on a shelf until the results were announced.

About two months later (and roughly two weeks ago), I was notified that I’d won the Honor Award. Since I hadn’t taken the top prize, I was now free to sign with A1, who was still waiting for me to respond to her offer. However, I asked her for two weeks in order to follow up with A2. I then emailed A2 and asked if she could possibly get back to me within two weeks, which she agreed to (try) to do.

I also emailed all the other agents who were sitting on partial manuscripts* or my query, and said that if they wanted to consider the manuscript, they should get back to me within two weeks, because I was considering another offer. This generated a lot of very nice notes of the “Good luck with your new agent!” variety, as well as another (partial) manuscript request! (Oh, and a lot of the agents never responded at all, of course)

At this point, I was still relatively sane, since I was really only  waiting on one person to get back to me.

But then the winner of the contest, Valynne Nagamatsu, emailed me (and all the other finalists)  out of the blue and offered to refer my manuscript to an agent (A3) with whom she had a personal connection.

A day later, an old high school friend who I hadn’t spoken to in quite awhile Facebook-messaged me and asked me if I had an agent yet, because one of her college friends was an agent (A4). My high school friend knew from Facebook that I was an author, but I don’t think she knew that I was actively looking for representation, which, to me, makes this the weirdest bit of serendipity in the whole process.

Anyway, both A3 and A4 wanted to look at the manuscript and were willing to get back to me within the deadline I’d set for responding to A1.

During the whole querying process, my full manuscript had never been on more than two desks at the same time. Now, within the space of a few days, it was on four.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. Well, actually, that’s not true. I wrote 20,000 words over the course of one weekend. But there was a frenetic quality to everything in my life. I was flitting from euphoria to despair every few hours.

When all of this began, I was reading a story collection by Miranda July that’s only maybe 60,000 words long. Now, two weeks later, I’m not even close to finished. I still have a third of it left!

While I waited, I developed some unsettling behaviors. There were days when I literally spent seven or eight straight hours staring at the GMail client, waiting for emails to come. I developed a cardiac arrhythmia that only appears when I hear the little beep that my iPad uses to signal new emails. I turned down social engagements so I could spend time in my room, alone, worrying. I exhausted every possible way of obsessing about this process.

Then, last Tuesday, I got an offer of representation from one of the agents. I had a very pleasant talk with the agent (one that made me late for my fiction workshop). And after hanging up, I dropped into an even deeper abyss of insanity while I waited to hear from the rest. Before that, I’d been somewhat convinced that A2, A3, and A4 were all going to turn me down. But now I knew that anything could happen.

The agent search has literally been all that I’ve thought about for the last week. Thank God that I had a class to teach, or I think I’d have skipped all my seminars and literally just have holed myself up in my room with my computer for days on end. I owe a very special thank-you to all the friends who were willing to listen to GChat with me about this agent stuff, ad nauseum, for hours.

Anyway, I’m not going to describe the details of my deliberations over the various agents (or, for that matter, their deliberations over me). All were amazing options, and I think they’d all have represented me very effectively. But I finally decided on A3 (John). I think he’s awesome: he seems enthusiastic about my book and my career, and he belongs to a great agency. I am extremely satisfied with this outcome, and I’m really looking forward to working with him.

In all of this, special thanks go to Valynne. She’s amazing. During this whole query process, I never even thought to ask anyone to refer me to an agent: my only referrals came totally unsolicited, and I really want to thank everyone who thought to lend me a hand. But I think it’s a special kind of awesome to win a contest and immediately turn around and offer to help the same people you’d been competing against. Also, during the last two weeks, she answered a lot of my questions and gave me plenty of useful advice on how to conduct myself. Before talking to her, I hadn’t realized how much I didn’t know about the publishing world.

And thanks are also due to my old friend, Valerie! Hearing from her would’ve been wonderful under any circumstances, but few rekindled connections are as wonderful as those which come attached to amazing career opportunities =)

*Agents will often respond to an author’s emailed query by requesting a partial manuscript (usually the first three chapters of the novel), so they can better judge if they want to see the whole manuscript.

 

Trying to enjoy second place

silver-medal-hiSo, first of all, yay, I won the honor award in the Tu Books contest. It’s always good to win things. Also, I’d like to congratulate Valynne. We’ve corresponded a bunch and she is wonderful in a number of different ways: a truly rare person and one who is very deserving of this award. Despite her modesty, I have no doubt that her novel is excellent. Also, I’d like to congratulate the other finalists: Ibi, Ailynn, and Akwaeke. I’m glad of the chance to (virtually) meet them, and I’m sure that they’ll be successful in their writing endeavors as well. And I’d like to thank Stacy, the editor of Tu Books, for, you know, making me a finalist and reading the book and doing all that other good stuff.

However, I think I will have to break from the normal triumphalism of these sorts of posts and say that I was a bit disappointed at not winning. Being runner up is good, but if I’d won, my book would be getting published. It’d be in stores (well, like two years from now). That’s a concrete accomplishment. A runner-up prize really isn’t. It’s definitely a sort of triumph, but it’s also a sort of loss.

So for a few days after this happened, I was feeling a bit disappointed about it and I was finding it hard to concentrate. I can’t say that I felt poorly done by. People have to publish who they want to publish. But still, I was just really wishing that I’d won.

However, eventually, during one of our classes, I had a sudden realization. I thought, “You know, I better enjoy this, because this is not going to come again.” And I immediately felt much better.

Now, this realization makes perfect sense to me, but no one else seems to understand it. Here’s how my conversations about this tend to go.

Me: So I decided that I better enjoy this, because it’s not going to come again.

Other Person: What? No! Of course this will happen again! You’ll publish a book someday!

Me: No, no, I just mean this…this thing…placing second in a contest…being so close but quite there…that is never going to come again.

OP: Err…well…I guess that’s true. But every moment is kind of like that, right? I mean we’re never going to have this conversation again, are we?

And then I just throw up and my hands and say, “Sigh! I am so misunderstood!”

Because this is not some kind of zen thing. I don’t mean that I need to enjoy this moment because you need to people to enjoy every moment because every moment is special and beautiful and wonderful.

No. I mean that every phase of a writing career has its own joys and sorrows. When you’re starting out, the sorrow is that you’re getting rejected everywhere, but the joy is that you believe so strongly in yourself and the writing is so easy and so confident. Then you get slightly more encouragement, but you drop into the pit of self-doubt once you see how far you have to go. And eventually you get to where I am: a place where you really don’t have much in the way of concrete success or status, but you’re  finally able to successfully execute at least part of your vision for a story.

Right now, I have tremendous artistic freedom. I’m not (too) hampered by my own inability and I’m not at all hampered by external constraints: marketing, agent expectations, editor expectations, deadlines, the public’s perception of me. Right now, there are no risks. Nothing I write can hurt me. The moment you publish a book, that stops being true. Your next book needs to improve on the performance of the last one.

And I’m not terribly far from selling a book. It might not happen this year, or next year, or the year after, but it’ll happen eventually. And when that happens, I’ll be on the rollercoaster. It’ll be great, but I’ll also have so many new worries and new anxieties. There will come a time in my life when not winning an editor’s approval will be a real tragedy—something that will throw a severe wrench into my career.

So yes, I do want to enjoy the good things that come my way right now, because I’m never again going to be on the verge of selling my first book, I’m never again going to be such an unknown quantity, I’m never again going to feel the momentum gather around me in quite this way.

Also, I won $500.

(As a P.S. I believe I’ve never mentioned what my eight-day novel is about, but the press release for the New Visions award unfortunately let the cat out of the bag.)

 

Some thoughts about my probable impending rejection by Tu Books

Simon-Chan-network-marketing-training-rejectionOn my computer, I maintain a word document called “Things I am worried about” where I periodically go and list all the things that I am worried about. It’s not an exhaustive list, it’s more in the way of a mental exercise. The purpose is and was to show myself that most of my worries end up being baseless: I wanted to demonstrate to myself that my worries usually don’t come to pass and, if they do, it’s usually not that bad.

And in the case of personal, professional, and academic worries, this is largely true. However, for writing worries it’s absolutely not the case. When I worry about writing-related stuff, the worry usually does come to pass and when it does, it often is kind of bad. If I am worried about something being rejected, it usually does get rejected (since most things get rejected). If I am worried about a project falling through, it usually does fall through. If I am worried about a story sucking, it usually does suck. This is just the way the writing world works. Unlike in most areas of life, there’s a massive amount of churn that goes on beneath the surface.

Right now, I’m about two or three weeks away from the biggest selection moment of my life, this Tu Books contest where I’m a finalist. If I win, I’ll, like, be a novelist. I’ll have a novel that will come out and be published. Those stakes are way higher than any short story submission or agent search.

But there are these four other finalists. And they seem like pretty good writers too. So what can I say? I am not hopeful about my chances. I mean, I could win, but experience tells me that I probably won’t.

I can’t even say that I’m terribly anxious about it. I don’t spend much time ruminating over it and cataloguing reasons why I do and don’t have a chance. I literally do not lose any sleep over it (when I’m really worrying about stuff, it definitely cuts into my sleep). However, it does pop into my mind once in a while, “Oh yeah, that’s happening. I’m probably going to lose. When I do, it will be incredibly disheartening.”

There’s not even any kind of preparation you can make. After I lose, it’s almost definitely going to suck for a few days or weeks. I mean, this will mean that several people read my whole manuscript and decided they’d rather not publish it. That’s always hard to take.

And yeah, I know the writer’s mantra is to be insensitive to rejection and develop a thick skin and all that. But, ummm, whatever. I have about as thick a skin, rejection-wise, as anyone in the world. I submit constantly. I’m rapidly approaching 1000 short story rejections (wooo, that will be a party day). But some rejections still do sting. There’s nothing you can do about that.

When I was on a Baltimore Science Fiction Society panel recently (about the slush pile), I said that sometimes when I get a rejection, I feel an urge to email the editor back and say, “Come on, I think you should take another look. In my opinion, this story really does belong in your magazine.”

And everyone laughed, as if that was kind of crazy (which it is. Obviously, I would never send that email). But still, I can’t be alone in wanting to send that email. There’s a real frustration in wanting something so badly and being fairly close to seeing it happen, but still not really being able to make it happen.

   Helena Bell posted a long blog post on cover letters recently, which included the (to me) rather odd tidbit that she leaves her Nebula nomination and her Clarkesworld sales out of her cover letters. When I asked why, she basically said that she didn’t want her credentials to sell a story that wouldn’t stand on its merits.

To me, this sounded like insanity. What are a story’s merits? How many great works of art are bitterly hated by how many people? Andre Gide—a very sensitive and assiduous reader—rejected Proust’s novel. Proust basically had to self-publish it. I think that editors are generally good readers, but I don’t think that they have a monopoly on assigning merit. I think that editors frequently reject stories that, if published, would’ve been better-received by their readers than the ones that they actually did publish.

All this is just a long way of saying that I believe in my work. Not in some kind of crazy “I am an unsung genius” way. But just as a statement of fact. When I send a story out, I generally believe that it is worthy of publication at the market to which I’ve sent it. Once I no longer believe that, I usually stop sending it out. Sometimes frequent rejection of a story spurs a reappraisal, but oftentimes it doesn’t. Just this last week, I edited the galleys of my story “Droplet” (which will appear in the We See A Different Frontier anthology). I wrote this story nearly three years ago, in March of 2010, and it’s been rejected 14 times. I expected to be embarrassed by it, but instead I was really impressed by its subtlety and insight. That story caused me at least as much angst as I’ve ever had from a short story: it got very close to publication at three separate magazines. I definitely cried over it at least once (when it got rejected after a rewrite request).

I don’t want to make editors feel bad over this. I rejected 850 stories when I was reading slush. I know for a fact that my rejections made people really upset. And that they questioned my judgment. I know that I rejected stories which went on to sell to other professional markets. I don’t feel particularly bad about that and I don’t think they should feel bad about being upset over my rejections. That’s just the name of the game. You put your heart and soul into something, and although you know it’d be healthier to be dispassionate, it’s hard to see exactly how that dispassion is to be achieved.

After awhile, you get to be less sensitive (I am rarely upset by  short story rejection, even one where I came really close), but tender spots do still remain, and I am pretty sure that this Tu Books thing is one of them.

Oh well. The only thing to do is to manage the fear of rejection. I try not to worry about my submissions while they’re out (and, this post aside, I’ve done a pretty good job of not worrying about this contest) and I try not to let the fear of being rejected prevent me from submitting things.

But still, it’s odd to think that there’s this fairly painful thing coming for me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.