What can I say, other than I faced the realization that I would have to leave my current agent behind and start the search for a new one. His non-fiction sales were spectacular, including several celeb clients and some pretty big deals--movies, TV. But in five years of repping about 27 fiction authors, he'd made only three sales, two of them major. Which was abysmal. But you know how writers can be, we look the othe way or pray for the tide to turn, even convince ourselves that it's a fluke or just a run of bad luck. Until reality sets in and you've gone to other agent websites and see that some agents are making three to five sales per month! In fact, I couldn't find any other agents who had such a poor showing for fiction sales unless they were outright scammers. What the heck was going on here? He had a PHD in literature--surely he knew what he was doing. Uh, not quite. He didn't have the connections. That was the problem. He was too new to the business, a business that takes years, sometimes decads to cultivate relationships, particularly in the spec fiction markets. Another factor was that he had no real agency or editing experience in the book world. That was another stroke against him. I didn't see this in the beginning, nor did I want to--turned a blind eye to it. I was grateful that some agent, any agent, "got me" and took me in out of the cold.
It got to the point where he removed his entire fiction list from his website, erasing all of us authors and our excerpts. I suppose, from embarassment. Being with him just under three years, a few of my books caught his fancy and he did submit them to the major publishers. He kept me up-to-date on the rejections, even supplying the names of the editors and comments. Those two books never sold. In hindsight I would have to say that the books were not a good fit, in combination with his lack of experience. But what really got me was his indifference to the last five books I wrote and presented to him, with the hopes that one or two of them would rock his boat. None did. Had my writing changed? No, not really. It might have even gotten better. I think my voice/style did, anyway. But he made it a point to find fault with one element after another on all of those books, until it wore me down. He never gave specifics. His messages and comments became shorter, more stark. It was as though he'd lost interest in fiction entirely--wasn't anything personal against me. He was just worn out. Note, I never made a pest of myself--never called, always asked for time slots.
The day came when I drafted that short letter to part company with him. I felt terrible and hoped he wouldn't take it the wrong way. I also felt alone, devastated that I would never find representation again, seeing how hard it was to snag an agent in the first place. I was facing a move from Californai to Alabama in the next 45 days, and it was doubtful that I would have internet capability when I got to the new destination. I had to move on the agent search and I had to do it real fast, gathering up all potential prospects--researching every aspect of the massive campaign I was about to embark on. It took me nearly all fort-five days to amass my list then draft personal letters to each and every one of them. I had a thriller, which had very high numbers as far as interest went, but I also included the sub-catagories military, espionage, suspense, active adventure and commercial fiction. All said and done, on the last day, I sent my 408th submission. Not a snail mail query in the bunch! I had left myself just hours to pack and board my flight. I was off.
I landed in Alabama and spent the first two weeks traveling between libraries, community colleges, cafes, and friends houses to accumulate all those, you guessed it, rejections. I finally got wired up with a cheap satalite service called Wild Blue, and then really started to amass the misery in the forms of dozens and dozens of rejection emails. Oh I got the happy-happy fuzzy comments, the platitudes, the wonderful exclaimations about my talent, but I wasn't taking any solace in those perks. I even got numerous referrals, which I followed up on. Still, 142 straight rejections was enough to make anybody bust all their pencils and heave their computer in the trash. Then...one week, in the same week, three offers came in. And this was about two weeks before Christmas. I was stunned. They were solid B-list agents, not the uber NYC giants, but I was pleased nevertheless. Vidication. I politely asked each to give me a little time to think the matter over and I would get back to them ASAP. One agent got all huffy, and cut and run. The other two never got back to me, but I did send them appreciative updates.
Where am I at now? Well, it's between these two agents now and I haven't heard back from either. Probably because we're smack in the middle of the Christmas and New Years vacation slot. I don't know what the new year will bring for me. I've decided to give these agents some breathing room, with a promise to myself that I will give them a buzz a week after the new year. It's frustrating--the wait is painful and uncertain. I feel just as neglected and alone as I did in the beginning of the search. But I do know that I went all out to recapture that dream again. I hope it works this time. I'm pretty sure it will. I don't think I could ever go through that again.
A Writer is…
A humble, receptive student and negotiator
But the heart that beats within his breast
Is a determined savage
Unfamiliar with surrender
Causes Chris Stevenson Supports
Ophra's Literacy Program. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Absolutewrite.com.