Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve sent out about a dozen query emails in search of a literary agent. I diligently researched each agent to make sure they were a good fit for my novel. I reviewed their recent deals to make sure they place their authors with established publishing houses. I read their tweets and any mention of them on industry websites to make sure I’ll enjoy working with my dream agent for the long haul.
And just when I was gearing up to cast my net farther and wider to draw in a fresh batch of agents to query, my editor suggested I stop and wait. Better to get feedback from the agents I already queried than to keep on querying.
They say that patience is a virtue. But they also say that God helps those who help themselves. So which is it? And is it an either/or? Or is it a matter of helping yourself as far as a sensible stopping point, and then patiently waiting for the universe to do its bit?
When I attended the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference earlier this month, I asked some of the bestselling authors I met how they found representation at the start of their careers. One author told me she wrote her first novel, queried one agent, and got a deal. They say that never happens. But it happened to her, though she ended up being unhappy with her agent and they parted ways before long. Another author told me she wrote her first novel, queried about 200 agents, and didn’t hear a peep for two years. But when someone did peep, it was with the offer of a two-book deal, and all these years later she’s still happy with her agent.
There’s a lesson in there. The first agent I queried told me she’s “not into” the subgenre of crime novels I write, so I’ve already received my first rejection. And the idea of querying hundreds more agents makes me want to defenestrate. So I’m choosing the middle road. A couple dozen agents, a few weeks of waiting, and then we’ll see what happens next. But how do I make my waiting period feel more like time spent in purgatory than in hell?
Now you might be thinking that a few weeks (which could easily stretch into a few months) isn’t such a long time. But it all depends on how you look at it. One of the other people I met at Book Passage was a criminal judge. During a panel discussion, she and her fellow panelists shared examples of how books, TV shows, and movies get the process of crime and punishment wrong. So naturally, I had to ask her for an example of it done right. She told me about a seven-part HBO series called The Night Of. Off I went to my local library to check it out. In episode one, the protagonist wakes up to the bloody corpse of the woman he met just hours earlier. In episode seven, the criminal trial ends. That means that for at least five episodes, we see the protagonist in prison. Waiting. And not just any prison. He’s on Rikers Island, which is the big leagues. During that time, he distracts himself with some less-than-savory activities and balances it by pumping iron. One of those activities is getting the letters “S I N” tattooed on his fingers. Clearly, I’m not the only one who struggles with the idea that patience is a virtue.
A wise friend recently urged me to find an activity completely different from killing people on the page to distract me while I attempt to practice this virtue. This week, I start “private eye” school, which doesn’t qualify as a distraction because my goal is to learn how to kill people on the page more convincingly. (Check back for updates in the coming weeks as the program unfolds).
But then a curious thing happened, as it often does. A friend with whom I worked years ago reached out to me to find out if I wanted to dip a toe back in hi tech. That type of work exercises the other half of my brain and gives me balance. Evidently, when I spend too much time writing novels, I’m “icky to be around.” Good grief. But after working for a tech giant for over two decades, did I really want to navigate those waters again? And then this friend told me about the startup he just joined — a little fish in a big pond, as it were — that’s tackling a problem near and dear to my heart. In my experience, tech + heart is a rare combination that I find irresistible.
So what started out as a looming sense of dread for waiting (I used the words “purgatory” and “hell” to describe it, after all) has turned into a little slice of heaven. I’ve already begun sketching out my new novel (set in Lyon!). Next week I dive into my studies in private investigation. And the week after, I start my new assignment at the little fish startup. And I cannot wait to immerse myself in all three.
If you read my Sam Shepard story in my blog post, If You’re Planning to Kill Someone, Learn How to Do It Right, then you may recall my writing that if you set your intention, the universe often gives you what you need even if it doesn’t match what you think you want. I’ve done my bit to research and query a carefully curated selection of agents, and now I get to do things I love doing while my dream agent makes his or her way to my email inbox.
Big thanks this week for the pearls of wisdom shared with me by authors Kelli Stanley and Mary Kubica, and the Honorable Susan Breall. It was delightful meeting you ladies at Book Passage, and I look forward to returning with a “how I found representation” story of my own before too long!