confessions / fantasies / favorites / freakouts / memories / rejection / writing

This Is the Day You Get a Literary Agent

I have news. From the title of this post you can surely guess what it is.

But first let’s set the scene with some backstory. I don’t know about you, but this writer started off with a little misdirection. MFA program straight out of college before being ready, five years spent writing a novel that never should have been written, trying to fit into the box that was literary fiction while ignoring the flashing-blinking-spazzing lights over there that said, *hey! you write about teenagers all the time, maybe you should try writing YA*, writing another novel targeting the wrong audience, so throw in another three years, trying, failing, trying again, failing, feeling pretty terrible… if you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning you may remember.

Let’s just say I didn’t know what I was doing for a long time… and I have the rejection letters to prove it. I hate talking about rejections, it’s embarrassing. But we all get rejections. Some things come easy to some writers—for me, I know I got lucky with certain things like a certain writers colony and a certain award, but the one thing that was always elusive was an agent. When I was trying to write for adults, I could never get anyone to take a chance on me. It felt like, all around me, writer friends were getting literary agents, sometimes based on just short stories they’d written, but I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t. I didn’t know why.

Here, for example, a post from 2006:

I have a physical memory when it comes to rejection. Reading a writer friend’s post on her own recent rejection sent my memory soaring back to the lobby of the Loew’s Village VII movie theater, the one with the narrow staircases between floors, and of standing in a distinct spot near the water fountain on one of the upper floors, a dark, stilled popcorn machine at my back. It was my birthday; I had just seen the so-called gay cowboy movie; I had just been rejected by an agent I had been hoping on unhealthily for months. I don’t recall who the agent was now, to be honest. I am sitting here writing this post and I cannot for the life of me recall the name of the movie. I don’t know what the agent’s letter said, if it was a letter or an email, if it was nice or bland, if I agreed or didn’t agree with her critique. But I do remember the silver water fountain, its grimy nozzle and dirty basin, the hush of sound from the floors below, the buttery smell in the air, the warm sense of E’s arms around me as I tried not to cry, the warmer sense of how tightly he held me when I did cry. I remember the scarf around my neck. I remember my shoes.

I have other memories like this. My most memorable rejections are frozen in time in certain rooms all across the city. Even on street corners; I have one of those.

The first of these was back when I was still a grad student. I was in a garish cubicle with low metal walls when I was rejected by an agent for the very first time. It came via email. It started off so nice it set my heart soaring (my heart is such a big baby) and then—splat—it fell when I got to the end. I remember the glare of my computer screen. I remember the keyboard sounds across the cubicle divider. I remember the girl chattering on the phone on the other side about what flowers she wanted at her wedding. I remember the wheeled chair I sat in, how it creaked whenever I moved, the uncomfortable shape of the hard round mouse in my hand. I read that email and I did what any immature writer would do before she realized that this—rejection—would be the reoccurring theme of her life, sort of like the sing-along chorus. I made a huge deal of it. I told my boss I was sick, and I left the office early. I remember the fluorescent lights in the hallway as I headed for the elevator. I remember the uncomfortable skirt I was wearing; again I remember my shoes.

So I wonder what will be imprinted on my brain when The Happy Moment happens. I should dress for the occasion. I should redecorate my walls with promising colors so when I think back on it I will have a beautiful memory to revisit, no fluorescent lights, no creaky chairs, no greasy popcorn. I should at least get some better shoes.

Yeah, that was some years ago. That memory in the movie theater may have been the last time I went actively looking for a literary agent. I don’t know—I blocked it out.

I gave up. Not on the writing, never the writing. I just decided I would not get an agent. I started writing for younger readers—and I really feel like my voice came alive at this point and I was finally going in the right direction—and when I had that book deal on the table with Simon & Schuster and any person in their right mind would have gone out and looked for an agent I decided I wouldn’t. I’d wait, I told myself, for the “right” time. The idea of having to query agents again was too scary, I admit. I didn’t want to face the rejection.

So here we are. It’s funny how you can have a book coming out in September but still not feel like a real writer since you don’t have an agent. It weighed on me. It’s not just the symbolism of it—it’s the necessity. I have a book coming out in September and I have absolutely no idea what I should be doing right now and I knew, just knew, that if I had an agent I’d be better prepared and doing things differently.

But alas, I told myself. Oh. Well.

Then, this month, a certain adorable someone who is always brutally honest about what I’ve written read the new novel pages I’d been holding close and afraid to show anyone and went crazy over them, in the best way possible. Let’s call him E. His encouragement made all the difference. Exhibit A: Facebook status update #1: “E just read the most amazing first draft first chapter ever. my god this wife of mine!!!” Exhibit B: Facebook status update #2: “E could show you one page of Nova’s new novel-in-progress and—if you were able—you’d bankroll her so she could quit her job to write full time. Seriously.” He makes me blush. He also makes me keep writing. So I did.

Then, last week, an angel read my chapters and flipped and set some things into motion that motivated me beyond all sense of motivation and got me so excited and so hyped up I actually found the courage for the first time in years to query agents. Let’s call her K. She said it would happen. She said it was time to try. Then, another someone helped me decide on which agents would be good to try and actually took the time after I sent in my queries to call them and vouch for me and let them know to look out for me. Let’s call her M. She, too, said it would happen. She said it was time to try.

So I did it. I sent out some queries. Insanity, I told myself. All you have written are 25 pages. Calm down. Be sensible.

But no. I did want to try. The things set in motion were still in motion and if anything actually came of that, I’d need an agent. It couldn’t hurt to try.

(Actually, it could. I didn’t want to think about this, but it could hurt A LOT to try and then you spend months recovering from trying and you don’t want to try again for at least two years.)

Whatever. I needed thicker skin. Still, I got a little insecure and maybe sent out more queries than I should have.

And then, on Wednesday, something happened. I don’t know what was up with the universe that day—maybe all this time it had been holding in any and all literary-agent-related goodness until I least expected it so it could completely and totally soak me. You know, for fun or something.

While I was at work, the agents started responding. They answered my queries and were willing to read, so I sent my pages and I sent DANI and I crossed my fingers and I hoped. Then suddenly, very suddenly: Phone call after email after email after phone call. Multiple offers to rep me in one day. The next day, more. I am absolutely not joking. This sounds like one of those fantasies you have on the subway on the way to your dayjob when you wish life would put a hand out and save you from the elbow someone just stuck in your face. It’s the daydream in the shower. It’s what you’ve wanted for so long, you don’t even know what it feels like when it’s actually happening because you’ve gone numb.

I am in shock. Still.

There was a moment, that Wednesday, when I went into my boss’s office, told him what was going on, got dizzy, sat on the floor in front of his desk, and said, “I think I’m going to faint.” (He’s been so supportive through all this, I’m really grateful. I also think he found me very, very amusing.)

There was a moment, on Thursday, when I was rising on an escalator through the glass lobby of what had been for the past decade my Dream Agency, dazzled by the fact that I was even allowed in the building.

There was another moment, on Thursday, when I sat on a couch in an agent’s office and was listening to this agent describe a vision for my career and I saw it take shape, and loved it, and wanted it more than anything in the world.

There were many moments when I didn’t know which agent to choose and was very confused and couldn’t think straight, which probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I had barely slept and was too anxious to eat and had a bunch of blood drawn at the doctor’s office.

There was the moment when I knew which one to pick. This happened on Friday. Something was going on that needed immediate attention, and I had absolutely no idea what to do. So I thought, Who would know what to do? Who would handle this the best way? I’d woken up thinking I knew which agent to choose, but I was waiting because I had another meeting, and I was taking my time, trying to breathe. But there was no more time. It was that moment in my office Friday that cemented everything. I knew the decision was the right one. In my gut, where it counts. I just knew.

And that’s when I called and accepted representation.


(Sorry for the above, but can you blame me?)

No details about who I chose for now. This is all I want to say: Sometimes it is possible. Sometimes, after years of struggling and thinking something would never happen, it does.

But you don’t care about that. You want to know what shoes I was wearing when it happened, don’t you? Plain, black sensible shoes. Because even though I just snagged me a great agent, I now have a novel to finish writing. I have a ton of work to do.

[ETA: If you’re curious about the agent I picked and don’t know yet, see here.🙂 )

35 thoughts on “This Is the Day You Get a Literary Agent

  1. I am so thrilled for you and proud of you! I knew this would happen, from that first walk to the library when you confessed (that’s what it felt like at the time) about your book deal and your dreams.

    You are awesome. In the truest sense of the word.

  2. Oh thanks, kb. I remember that walk well (and it did feel like a confession!) and my god I just miss you so so so much.

  3. This is an incredible blog entry.

    I’m so delighted the universe had a Nova day (or two) and you ended up with the Dream Agent and will write Dream Books!!

  4. Congrats. It sounds like you did everything the right way. And to be honest, right now YA is one of the few markets making any money. Lots of adult fiction authors are jealous of YA sales.

  5. you are incredible.

    the best part is this new book you’re writing that got everyone calling you. it’s that good! amazing!

    and like jadepark said: this is just the beginning of many things to come.


  6. So happy for you!! What an incredible journey. I hope you and your new agent have many, many successful years together!

  7. Yes, I’m one of those many you’ve never met but who is so sincerely cheering and applauding you – huge congrats!!! We won’t bother you – you go ahead and write. And bllack sensible (city) shoes, ones that last forever, are always the way to go!!!

  8. !!! Nova, I am SO happy for you. So freaking happy. This has honestly made my whole weekend. You have inspired me like mad in the time I’ve known you. You work SO hard and you deserve this. This part of your journey has been an honour to follow and I am so looking forward to following the next part. As it’s been said, this is just the beginning for you.

    And CONGRATS to your new agent!!!

  9. Amazing post. Amazing turn of events. Not surprising though. I never expected any less. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart.

  10. Thanks so much, everyone! I’m so EXCITED! And I picked the exact right agent for me. I haven’t felt so confident about a choice in… I can’t even remember!

  11. Congratulations! – I am so happy for you and loved reading your story! I found my way to your blog via another blog but I recognize you from the blueboards and just wanted to say YAY FOR YOU!

  12. This post was amazing. I was so moved reading it. ((hugs)) HUGE congrats to you. Relish this moment!!

  13. Awesome! I personally know one of the agents who you were considering.🙂 You must be amazing to have so many wonderful agents wanting to work with you. A big, huge congrats to you and may you and your new agent have a long, wonderful relationship together.

    Was it hard telling all the other agents no?

  14. Lisa!🙂

    It was so hard. I had the most difficult time writing the letters, especially after some of the connections I felt. And then getting the responses, where they were so kind and encouraging… just… very hard, yes.

  15. And Annika🙂

    Oh, I’ve been sure of him since way back in Willet Hall… Best moments ever. Better even than this!

  16. YOU ARE THE BEST!!!!! I said it once, twice, thrice, and many times before, this is well deserved (and not at all surprising to me, don’t you know?🙂 ). Go, Nova!

  17. Congratulations, Nova! This is just TOO AWESOME FOR WORDS! WOW!

    Looking forward to reading your book in the fall!

    This is so inspiring. I just have to repeat: WOW!

  18. Congrats, Nova. I’m so happy for you. And, in addition to the wonderfulness of this news, this post is amazing. Can’t wait to read your book when it’s released.

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