The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

My niece and I were talking about the movie Jurassic Park, which I told her I saw when I was in college. With a confused look on her face she asked, “You were alive with the dinosaurs?” (I wish I was making this up.)

They say “old” is always ten years older than you are right now, so given that she was about eight at the time, I guess her question was fitting. I also mentioned that some of my friends ended up going to a different movie theater by mistake and we didn’t realize what had happened to them until we reconvened at home later. The situation was incomprehensible to her until I explained that this was a very special period in prehistoric time known as BCP – Before Cell Phones.

It was around this time that humans took part in an odd activity that appeared sedentary but was filled with anxiety, known as “waiting by the phone.” Now, of course, we don’t have to wait by the phone because we can wait with our phone. But the waiting part doesn’t go away, nor does the anxiety.

I have now been waiting for months. It seems like an eternity. I stare at my cell phone at all hours of the day, willing it to ring. When it does, a well of hope surges in my heart until I see the caller id. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m frustrated. Sometimes I feel only resignation. Sometimes I feel defeated. And sometimes it’s all four at once. In a nutshell, my agent seems to be MIA.

The agent-author relationship is an odd one. At its most basic premise, the author is hiring the agent to represent his manuscript to editors. If the novel sells the author pays the agent a commission – a portion of the royalties and advances. So it would stand to reason that the author is like a client or customer whom the agent wants to make happy. But the balance of power is most definitely on the agent’s side, unless you happen to be Stephen King. The agent chooses you; you don’t choose the agent. I am the one doing a soft shoe, trying to be polite, trying to keep my temper in check, trying to be flexible and accommodating, trying not to sound desperate. But I am.

It seems that my agent has had a variety of personal things going on.   In the ten months that my manuscript has been out in the world, we have heard back from two editors. What happened to the other six? Any feedback? This seems unusual for responses to be taking so long to come in. But I get the dodge and deflect. I recognize the maneuver. Heck, I invented it.  I understand how hard it can be to compartmentalize your personal and professional lives when one is threatening to drown you. I am sympathetic because I’ve been there. But at one of my earliest full-time jobs, a colleague said something I took to heart. “Even if you don’t like this place, it’s your responsibility to give 100% while you’re here. Other people are counting on you.”

It’s hard to turn the control of your novel – your baby, your most vulnerable thoughts and feelings, the thing that you poured your heart and soul into and labored over every word – over to someone you barely know and expect that person to care about it as much as you do. You are counting on that person to shepherd it with care and attention to the next stage. Instead you are left calling and emailing, begging and pleading for someone to listen to you.

And so I wait with my phone. When I started writing this novel ten years ago, I remember looking ahead and thinking by now I would be old.

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12 comments

  1. isn’t it so frustrating when people neglect the common courtesy of responding? how much time does it take to say “hi jacquelin, thanks for submitting your manuscript. we’re backed up right now and it’s taking us months to get through submissions, but you will hear back from us after we have had a chance to review your work. thanks!”
    two seconds? five?

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    1. It certainly is frustrating! I try to remind myself to be patient and understanding, but some days, like today, it’s hard! Thanks for sympathizing. I needed that!

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  2. Jacquelin, I am so often reminded in this age of writers who query via email and didn’t know the lovely days of snail mail–you want to talk about wait, right? Knowing you were looking at at least three or four days on delivery and then God only knew how low before response AND THEN the return mail schedule…Nowadays if you email a query at midnight on a Sunday, there’s a good chance you could hear back before dawn. It really is a brave new world.

    But it doesn’t change the fundemental truth that waiting is the hardest part, does it?

    (Have I mentioned before how much your pup’s face makes me smile everytime I see it? So precious.)

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    1. You are so right, Erika. I remember those days! The SASE. Licking all of those envelopes. Buying a copy of the Writers’ Market only for it to be obsolete by the time you get it home. LOL! I suppose I have as short a memory as my niece. 🙂

      Reggie graciously accepts all compliments and treats. Not necessarily in that order. And as luck would have it, he’s a wonderful writing dog.

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  3. I have a question, and I really hope you won’t hate me or decide you want to slap me, so please chalk this up to my own ignorance, since I’ve never been through the publishing process before. But: would you consider trying to find a new agent? It seems to me that he/she should really be hitting the pavement. Your words deserve that.

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    1. Not at all Maura! Thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t be afraid. I have been thinking along the same lines even though it would be hard to start from square one again. Now if I could only get a return phone call…

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  4. Can’t imagine what you’re going through! Maybe this agent doesn’t communicate if there’s no news? I’m not overly familiar with the publishing process, but have heard it can take some time. I hope you get “the call” soon.

    Carole

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  5. This must be so frustrating! Doesn’t sound like your agent is doing much to help. Also was thinking that maybe you should get a new agent.

    How has electronic publishing (e.g. Kindle) changed the publishing world? Surely it must be easier and less expensive for them to launch a new author?

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    1. It certainly is! Thanks for the vote of confidence.

      E-books are certainly changing the face of publishing. I don’t think most people feel that the traditional book will go the way of the 8-track tape, but e-book sales are growing at a record pace.

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    1. It’s so funny that you mention getting unstuck, Amanda. Several writers in my class had mentioned they were experiencing some form of writer’s block, so I offered them some tips on getting “unstuck.” I think it’s time to take my own advice!

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