novels / publishing / rejection / writing

Awkward Elevator Moments: Literary Agent Edition

It’s an especially auspicious start to your day at your office job when you run into a literary agent who rejected you on the elevator.

When introduced, hope he does not recognize your name, smile, and say simply, “It’s nice to meet you.” Do not say, “Why didn’t you give my novel a chance?” or “What’s wrong with me?” or “You made me cry.”

If you are lucky, the literary agent who rejected you won’t care who you are one way or the other. He will smile and nod and get off on the floor he’s visiting (which also happens to be your floor) without further conversation.

If you are not lucky, the literary agent who rejected you will remember your name, even though he rejected you at least two years ago. He will say, “Oh, yes. We corresponded.” And that verb, seeming so veiled and personal at the same time, will shoot straight to your heart. You will remember that the correspondence in question was only you sending him pages because his client recommended you do so, and him having his assistant send a “Dear Writer” form letter back. Technically, you would not call this correspondence, but it’s better not to argue with a literary agent who rejected you, especially in person, on an elevator, first thing in the morning. All you can do is nod. There is nothing more to say, really.

Expect many an awkward moment to follow. If you are lucky, the elevator will reach your floor safely. Be pleased when the doors do open. If you are not lucky, you could be trapped in an elevator with a literary agent who rejected you, a story that could not end happily, no matter who writes it.

When the elevator ride is over, the literary agent who rejected you will step off the elevator with a wave. Keep it together. Do not run after the agent. Do not ask for another chance. Feel free to walk to your desk, wondering how your life might have turned out if the so-called correspondence ended some other way. It is okay to breathe now. There is a good chance you will not run into another literary agent who rejected you for at least the rest of the day.

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Have you had an awkward moment with a literary agent lately? Do share…

11 thoughts on “Awkward Elevator Moments: Literary Agent Edition

  1. ouch, nova. i’m glad you didn’t go chasing after the agent you corresponded with, begging for another chance. i’m glad you didn’t go chasing after him with an axe, either.

    i have too many awkward agent stories, but one stands out. i was at a reading of wife’s when i started talking to an agent who was desperately trying to court her. i asked for some advice on my several-times-rejected novel and perhaps getting new representation for it, and he said, in rather impolitic terms, that i should just give up and write a new novel instead. the look of stunned despondency on my face marked the end of the conversation and his efforts to court wife.

    it also was rather crushing for me, as i played the “what if” game non-stop for a month straight.

  2. I think I’m going to have mine next Thursday. I promise you my encounter will be more awkward than yours, okay?🙂

  3. I thought I saw an Agent that we submitted a script to walk past my loading dock while I was using the pallet-jack to shove some crates around. It might have been him. I’m not sure.

    but I could TOTALLY rock the elevator story into a happy ending. If by happy you mean bloodsoaked orgy of despair.

  4. This made me laugh. All my literary agent encounters have been at the longest of arm’s length, and so i have nothing to report beyond a string of door slamming rejections (before the miracle of finding an actual agent who wants to try to sell my book, a process I am sure will lead to many humiliating — but at least arm’s length — encounters with editors at publishing housing who will turn it down, because that is Just What Happens.) I’ll tell you something though, that agent knows you’re good, and knows you’re going to keep being good and I’ll bet it’s you and other writers like you that keep him or her up at night sometimes wondering if they really do always make the right call.

    You rock. And so does oslowe, who knows exactly what to do with a pallet-jack in this and probably other similarly fraught encounters , and W who’s going to have an encounter NEXT THURSDAY, and of course Bookfraud who is the funniest man alive and really I can’t see how his books won’t be out there soon to make more people than just me and the tons of people who read his blog laugh.

  5. I wish you had told me. *I* would have chased him for you. He and I haven’t “corresponded.”

    Promise that you’ll tell me next time. I’m fast.

  6. No worries, really, I swear. I’m positive this agent wasn’t the right one for me. A lot has changed since we were in touch. The manuscript he saw is entirely different from the book that just sold, so when I look for an agent — maybe in late summer or the fall, if I can get up the courage to go through this again — the people I’ll be targeting would not have included him. I just wish he hadn’t remembered my name. Once rejected, I’d love to be forgotten so I can just move on.

    bookfraud: I feel crushed just hearing your story. I would have had the same look of stunned despondency. I’m glad that agent didn’t sign your wife.

    w: I am dying to know what’s happening next Thursday! Can I keep my fingers crossed that only good things ensue and no awkwardness whatsoever, even if you happen to ride an elevator with the agent? Well, I’m going to. Can’t wait to find out what’s happening.

    oslowe: I have very vivid images about what could have happened with that pallet-jack… is that cruel? Actually, if anyone could rock that elevator story, it would be you.

    bloglily: Your encouragement — to me, to all of us — is so wonderful, thank you! I’m absolutely thrilled with your agent success and I hope there is no awkwardness at all when it comes to sending your ms to editors! We will be hearing happy news from you shortly, I know it.

    kb: I promise to tell you next time! It’s a good thing you were out the day it happened… I was a monster grump for the entire rest of the day and I don’t even know if one of our library trips would have helped. Strike that. A trip to the library always helps! Hoping we’ll land there today…

  7. I wish. I haven’t been submitting. I feel so out of it right now.

    I get a bit annoyed that these agents hold so much power… or perceive themselves to, in any case. You’re doing well without an agent right now, it seems to me. I know of people who have/ have had an agent and the agent hasn’t sold a blind word of their writing.

    Oh – and I second what Bloglily says – he knows you’re good. He remembers you. It’s his loss.

  8. sister. all that really matters is that this man is not worthy of you. ok, you are the og and you deserve the best, which is what is slowly unfolding before you and you don’t even realize it. i will find him and give him two black eyes and if i could give him more than two i would. also, the woman who lives on mom’s road will be toilet papered this thanksgiving. because i love you endlessly.

  9. This is such a funny post, Nova. You have a great way of writing about the most awkward moments…and I’m in agreement with everybody else who knows this agent was not worthy of you! My most awkward moment with an agent was when I had a new one who INSISTED ON COMING TO MY HOUSE on her way back from a writing conference. ACK! Don’t agents know how scary they are?? Anyway, she arrived, and my normally calm, placid golden retriever BIT her.

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