How the Agent Querying Process Feels a Lot Like High School

One time I joked with my husband that he’d basically ruined me as a poet. The writer in me had always thrived on the crushing disappointment of failed romance.  And pain!  And unrequited love! What was I supposed to write about now that I was in a secure and loving relationship? No one wants to read about stability and mutual respect.

Of course, that’s silly. Being in a strong relationship has made me a better person and given me so many gifts, including the confidence to more seriously pursue being a writer. But, as I worked on my YA novel,  I worried that one day I’d have trouble remembering that uncertainty that’s so specific to high school.

You know – those stomach knots you’d get trying to work up the courage to talk to THE guy. The conversations (the ones that barely qualified as conversations) that you’d go over in your head a million times so you could analyze every detail. (“He said ‘hey’ instead of ‘hi’ this time…I wonder what that means…”) And that moment when you finally accept that he just doesn’t feel the same way…

I mean, as a 30-something committed gal, how would I ever really stay in touch with such intense feelings of angst and disappointment?

I didn’t yet realize the answer was right in front of me.

Ways the Agent Querying Process Will Keep you in Touch with your Inner Teenager

Or

Oh yeah, I remember…

  1. Existing in a fairly consistent state of humiliation and having to just be ok with it. There was always something.  You got your period unexpectedly. Or you tripped in front of everyone. Or you didn’t have enough money to buy the right clothes. The levels of mortification varied by person and circumstance. But, overall, you were exposed, and you had to just deal with it. The query process can leave you feeling just as vulnerable. You’re basically baring your soul and asking for someone to find value in it. And not “showing up” isn’t an option if you want to be a writer.  You have to suck it up and deal. Unless you’ve already got representation, which brings me to the next item…
  2. Being a little jealous. Or a lot jealous. Unless you were them, there was some version of the “cool kids” and you wanted in. You thought about what it would be like to casually trade witticisms and joke together in the hallway. Update: the “cool kids” are published authors and their agents. And the “hallways” is Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is an awesome resource for researching the querying process, but reading the abbreviated, giddy, Agent/Author banter about new deals/interviews/book tours can be tortuous when you’ve got a fresh rejection email in your inbox.
  3. Rejection. Really, is there a more common theme for High School? I don’t think I need to explain what rejection looks/feels like in High School. Even if you’re not like me and don’t spend a lot of time trying to get in touch with your inner teen, that feeling is pretty close to the surface for most adults. Well, it’s just as accessible for debut authors. The comforting thing is that it’s also something that published authors talk about, too. Everyone from Jennifer Weiner to Stephen King has written about how much rejection they experienced trying to get published.
  4. But does he like like me?” Ok, so this was maybe even WORSE than straightforward rejection. The not knowing and second guessing and “what iffing.” Hope tempered with self-doubt – is there anything more excruciating? Yes, there is! Except now it’s typically more like “Does she like like me?”  When you get a little nibble and suddenly, before you can help yourself, you are imagining yourself as full time writer. But, then you have to reign in your hopes and dreams and remind yourself that it was just a manuscript request. You have a long way to go…But, then again, maybe she really does like you and your manuscript…and it will all work out…and you’ll be together forever…
  5. Hearing “Don’t listen to them – you’re beautiful and funny and smart!” This always came from the people who are too blinded by their unconditional love and support to be objective about anything. And not much has changed. Your family and friends still think you are awesome and can’t believe anyone would think differently. And you still feel half comforted and half frustrated because they “need to say that – you’re my mom/friend/husband.”
  6. Giggle-inducing excitement. I’ve talked about this a bit in other posts, but there is an intensity that comes with being a teenager. People like to blame it on hormones, but I think it’s also just the fact that you’re experiencing things for the first time ever. You still have the capacity to be completely surprised. You’re a little scared, but also excited about all the “firsts” you have in front of you. So excited that you often find yourself involuntarily jumping up and down . Or giggling for so long or laughing so hard that experience physical pain.

Despite everything else on this angst-ridden list, I do feel that. Every little inch of progress has me texting my friends and using way to many exclamation points for a grown person. I’m both scared and excited about the unknown. I have something to day dream about.

There are so few good surprises in life, that I guess I’m willing to deal with all the other stuff if it means I’ve got a few more “firsts” ahead of me. And, I know that when I do finally achieve my first big first,  there will be lots of giggling and jumping up and down.

Question: When’s the last time you felt high school level humiliation, rejection or excitement?

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Cool Girls: Tina, Sarah and Amy

The other day my husband glanced at our bookshelf and said something to the effect of “I see that we’re dedicating a shelf to the contemporary work of female comedians.”

I’ll admit there is a bit of a trend:

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Funny ladies.

I don’t buy many memoirs (and hardly ever hardcovers – too much $$ and just not as comfortable to curl up with), but I always feel inspired after reading about smart, funny women finding success doing what they love. And, at the risk of sounding a bit sexist and gender stereotype-y, I don’t get the same thing from funny dudes, even if they’re super funny and successful. And, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE David Sedaris. Mike Birbiglia is incredibly endearing, and Craig Fergusson, I was totally rooting for you even when you were falling asleep in puddles of your own vomit on the lower east side.

I think that may be part of it. If your present comedic success is a stark contrast to your wild past of binge drinking and general irresponsibility, I can’t relate. Tina Fey actually touched on this a bit in Bossypants. She wrote about how most of the women she’d worked with were responsible people. The most rebellious thing that most of them had ever done was pursue a career in sketch comedy.

So, as someone who votes, pays her taxes and wants to be full time writer, theses gals are my heroes. As someone who values employer-provided health insurance, a less predictable career choice seems daunting and scary. I may be over 30, but I still need role models and guidance from the pros. These books are my version of Chicken Soup for the Lady Person or 237 Ways to Ignite Your Inner Diva.

These ladies help me help myself. All in different ways.

And now I’ll pretend I’ve won some kind of award and am delivering my acceptance speech to a roomful of well-dressed strangers. I’ve already thanked my parents and my husband, so there’s time to acknowledge a few of the ladies on my bookshelf.

Amy Sedaris: Most people love that you are delightfully bizarre, and I love that too. But I’m even more impressed with your versatility and entreprenerial spirit. You’ve made a career out of acting, writing, crafting, cooking and advocating for house rabbits. You really can do anything… and people will want to watch you do it.

Sarah Silverman: I only ever saw you as sassy and fearless before I read your book. Thank you for also talking about bedwetting and depression and sharing scans of your Hello Kitty diary from 1985… all the while still being sassy and fearless.

Tina Fey: Sometimes I pretend you’re my fairy godmother. Or you’re Glenda and I’m Dorothy. Or you’re Marlon Brando and I’m Al Pacino. In any case, you’re a great writer. You make things happen and lots of people report to you. Thank you for being my inspiration. Thank you for writing the foreward for my most recent best-seller, always reading my first drafts…and for being my best friend.

Hey, it’s my award acceptance fantasy…

Question: Who’s your inspiration?