I met my first agent, a few years back, at a writer’s conference in Maui.
She was young and blond and beautiful and straight.
I was not.
At the time, the Maui Writer’s Conference did this brilliant thing: they’d have you post the first 10 pages of your book online, and the various agents and editors who were attending would read the submissions in advance and let you know if they were interested. (They later stopped doing that, probably because, for the agents and editors, that’s a shit ton of work just to snag a free trip to Maui.)
But I was thrilled: two agents had already requested the full manuscript of my memoir before I got to the conference. And I was determined to meet both of them and win them over with my charm enthusiasm desperation.
One of the agents, Becka, who was with William Morris Endeavor (WME, as they’re known), was speaking on a panel on the first day of the conference. After the panel, I crept up nervously to introduce myself. She took one look at my name tag, and before I could say a word, she threw her arms around me.
“I love your book!”
These words were, to me, the equivalent of saying, “Move over, Chris Hemsworth, there’s a new hunk in town!”
I never even bothered to meet the second agent.
Becka sold my first book to Penguin. The brilliant Amy Einhorn (The Help and lots of other bestsellers) was my editor. The book got a 4-star review in People Magazine and was featured on the Today Show. Various celebrities blurbed it.
Then WME’s TV division took over, and it was optioned by Sony Pictures Television and Adam Sandler’s production company. My book was being developed as a sitcom.
It was everything I had ever wanted.
And it all was about to fall apart.
After the book was optioned, they sold the pitch to ABC, and a pilot script was written.
But the elements that made the book unique (an OCD, temperamental mother, a son who pretends to be Endora from Bewitched) had been removed or toned way down. (This criticism is, incidentally, NO disrespect to the very talented people involved. I’m sure there were reasons.)
So, ABC picked up The Goldbergs instead.
The TV series was dead.
Then book sales stalled.
Then Becka decided to quit the agent business and move out of New York. And I was passed along to another agent at WME, for whom I was the ugly stepchild. And I don’t mind being a stepchild, but I draw the line at ugly.
We had lunch in New York, and I pitched him on a follow-up memoir I was working on.
“Nah,” he said. “What else you got?”
What. Else. You. Got.
Those four words sent me staggering off into the wilderness. For a long time. I felt just like Jesus, but without the sandals and bad hair.
Nobody wanted what I was selling.
“Well,” I reassured myself, trying to find a bright side, “at least I have my day job.” Which was reasonably creative and didn’t, on most days, make me want to gouge my eyes out with a fork.
You can probably guess what happened next.
After 15 years, the department I managed was shut down and I was laid off.
I was now out of work, with no literary agent and no future in publishing. I had not only struck out, I had lost the entire game. (Yes, I’m using a sports analogy and I can barely swing a bat. Sue me.)
Fortunately, even though I had decided nobody wanted another book from me, I had continued to write, and finished the second memoir.
I had also written a handful of children’s books, which resided in the metaphorical “drawer” next to the memoir.
Then, one day, something happened.
My favorite way to take a lunch break was to eat at my desk, and then go lay down and read for a while. So I decided to pull out the second memoir and re-read it.
And as I did, a little voice inside me said, “Send this out”.
So, I queried several agents.
And within a few weeks, I had a new agent, at Curtis Brown.
This wonderful woman is, essentially, a brunette Becka – adorable and smart and has such great bedside manner I’d let her operate on me.
And now, that second memoir is set to come out in May.
I guess the moral of the story is, when it comes to diligence, be like me. I never, ever stopped writing.
But when it comes to taking criticism, DON’T BE LIKE ME. One guy who doesn’t get you does not mean nobody will.
And really, don’t you want your own phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes story to tell at high school reunions? Talk about a backdoor brag.