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.