I had a whole plan, at least for the next week. My bags were packed for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle, WA. I had spent time researching the workshop presenters, the agents, and the publishers who would be there. Even designed new business cards (and I really like those business cards. They could be our trading cards). Knew every workshop I wanted to go to, every event I would attend… then late last night, the Snot Goblins (and just try to get that phrase out of your head now) pounced and I was sick. By early this morning, I had the sore throat and the whole thing. Trip cancelled, and me with extra ballpoint pens and undies packed and ready to go.
Really disappointed, sure. Would have been my first PNWA event (I joined earlier this year). I had my pitch ready for the agent meetings (more about that in a second). Having worked out the logistics, I was ready to go, in mind if not, as in turns out, in body. Next year, I hope. This year?
I’m having my own mini-con. Writers Who Live At My House. Spent part of the morning forcing fluids and watching videos about writing and publishing. Lindsay Ellis has a whole series on Youtube from three years ago on her journey to create and publish a lurid novel (in the Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey vein). Not only is it a fun series (if you haven’t checked out Lindsay Ellis on Youtube, you’re missing out. Her film analysis alone is worth it), but inspirational for an aspiring author. I’ll read books about writing. I’ll read books, period, and figure out what I like (or don’t) about them. I’ll talk about writing, to Mark, to friends online. I’ll write about writing (here, for example).
The big difference, I think, about being a professional in the arts is that you have to develop a thicker skin, and some resiliency. I’ve been published both as a freelancer and a staff writer in print and produced on radio. Once you put your work out there, you will hear from people at every stage of the process, from the receptionist to the readers. TIP: I was a receptionist, back inna day. Always be nice to receptionists and assistants, both because you’ll like yourself better if you’re not an asshole, and because they are the Gatekeepers and have ways, subtle and overt, of rewarding or punishing you.
Once I listened to a reporter moan about not being able to get through to someone he needed to interview. I asked him for the name of that person’s receptionist. He had no idea, looked at me like I was nuts for asking. I explained that it is good business to treat people with respect, the receptionist is a Gatekeeper, and if he wanted her help, he should treat her with more courtesy. He tried it, and got the interview. Doesn’t always work, but often, it does. And even when it doesn’t — you feel better about yourself.
Agents… I’m prepared for it to take a lot of effort to find an Agent who gets our work, likes it, and with whom we would likely have a good working relationship. I’ve set a target of 150 rejections to find our agent. One is looking at the first few chapters now. I met this person and really enjoyed it. We had one of those great conversations where you go back and forth quickly, finishing each others’ sentences. A promising sign. We didn’t agree about everything, which would be freakish and not very interesting or maybe even beneficial, but we agreed about enough and more importantly, we communicated well. So fingers crossed.
I want someone who can, and will, be honest — this is a business relationship, after all — but can do it with basic courtesy. So honest, and direct, but not “brutally honest,” a term I’ve always hated — honesty is useful, but brutality is not. I don’t need my hand held (well, rarely need it, professionally). An architect and a construction foreman need to communicate clearly what is needed or the building will fall over. Criticism aimed at making the work better? That’s fine. But there’s no need for insults. So I’m looking for a balance. A true professional.
Speaking of Brutal Honesty: Had another meeting with a potential agent. These were timed meetings (ten minutes, I think). I’d spoken with the moderator, tasked with telling people when the time was up, and we’d laughed about it being like speed dating, those events where you talk to someone until a timer goes off, then talk to someone else. I took my seat, and… that agent and I just didn’t hit it off. I don’t mean we disliked each other — I didn’t take it personally and I have no idea what she thought of me as a person based on that limited exposure. We just did not click. At all.
She didn’t get the book’s premise, clearly didn’t like my pitch, had not one positive thing to say and lots of negative stuff to say based on assumptions of what the book, which she hasn’t seen, would be like. I tried to answer the issues she raised, which are dealt with in the book, but we kept talking past each other, never connecting. It was very evident that we were not a match, not meant to work together. It didn’t bother me. I did try to reword things in an effort to communicate, but by that point, it was an intellectual exercise.
At some point, I laughed, “Well, clearly this is not for you. Nor am I.” She stared at me like I had three heads, and two were drooling. A friend explained that people are usually desperate in these meetings. She might have been prepared for me to try to argue her around, or, I don’t know, fall to the floor, clutch the hem of her garment, and beg? Not that I’m above that, mind you, but I couldn’t see it helping. Just for the record, when it’s really necessary, I can beg with the best of them. I once held an airplane at the gate because my mother-in-law didn’t realize that when she went in search of the ladies’ room, she walked back through the TSA security screening area. Without her purse. Or her phone. So she couldn’t get back in and had no way to tell us. As the staff at that Alaska Airlines desk can tell you, I can beg, baby, and beg hard.
There was no point in going on. I wouldn’t enjoy working with her, nor she with me. Humor is subjective and while lots of people do get my sense of humor, there is no such thing as “universally funny.” And if you have to explain a joke to someone, he isn’t going to suddenly get it and laugh. If the joke doesn’t land for that person, let it fly away. We weren’t for each other. No harm, no foul. I wasn’t angry. As mom used to say, “Not everyone takes to everyone else, and that’s a good thing. Several billion people would have trouble going through life hand in hand.” But it didn’t seem polite to just leave, so we made very awkward conversation, the sort where you just know if the first people to talk had that sort of conversation, humans would never have bothered to talk again. Then I spotted the moderator. Hooray! Saved! I bent to scoop up my stuff. Aaaand he told me we still had three minutes left.
Three minutes can be an eternity in Hell’s waiting room for two people who just don’t click. We stumbled around pointlessly, two social animals trying to make some sort of human connection. Anything? Nope. I could feel the individual seconds limping by like Tiny Tim trying to run a marathon. When the moderator announced our time was up, I grabbed my gear and came as close to a sprint as I could manage.
Even so, I didn’t take it personally and I wasn’t upset. Everyone is not for everyone else. Mom was right. It’s like dating. Sure, it’s more fun to be wanted than not, but you’re not looking for “someone.” You’re looking for “my one.” My quest is not to find “an agent,” but “our agent.”
I ran into her a couple of times over the next few hours and it was fine. She was supposed to be at this conference, and I admit I was looking forward to running into her again. I never remembered to tell her that I really enjoyed the presentation she gave at that other conference.
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