How I Did (Not) Get a Literary Agent

Hey. It’s been a while since I last posted here. Sorry about that. Anyway, it’s nice to see this blog seems to have entertained a few people. Thanks a lot for all the likes and follows—I suppose I should have done this way earlier, but I’ve never been great at these social niceties that keep the world going round.

That being said, I guess it’s never late to try and learn. As much as I primarily write to sort out stuff in my head while having a bit of wicked fun, I certainly won’t despair if my scribbles stir up something in other people, too. So thanks again. Your attention is much appreciated. Bring it on. Or don’t. Whatever suits.

Now, what’s the point of getting back after I ground out the whole gruesome story of reinventing my sanity? Another story, of course.

However, I decided I won’t wait until it’s more or less over. This particular story of mine is only beginning for all I know, and even that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Chances are the tale will never really take off at all. But my trying to make it could be a story of sorts, too, one that keeps biting its own tail as it goes like the good old Ouroboros up there. So I may as well start talking right away.

Perhaps you remember I wrote a novel. At least that’s what I thought back in October 2019. Apparently it’s quite normal, you see, but I fear I was still deluding myself a little when I first submitted the “finished” book to a select group of literary agents, those fabled gatekeepers of the traditional publishing realm.

As to the specific nature of my artistic delusion, it was the classic stuff. Even after about half a dozen revisions, I knew my novel wasn’t perfect. A good thing to notice, and not so terribly delusional, one might say. Only I didn’t have the slightest idea about what exactly might be wrong, which obviously made the task of fixing it rather hard.

There are people who can help with that, as any seasoned professional in the publishing industry would expressly confirm. Writing groups, literary consultants and what not. Unfortunately, I’m pretty shy, especially when it comes to breaking into a new social niche entirely. The less strangers I have to talk to while doing so the better. Moreover, I prefer learning things my own way, stupid and slow as it may be.

So I sent the book straight off to agents. I naively hoped someone would see the brilliant potential through my flaws, whatever they were, and take me on so we could make the story shine together. I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it and yet I did it, telling myself lies about me being somehow different from all those writer wannabes who keep ramming their heads against the stone-cold reality of traditional publishing.

The thing is, this industry doesn’t care about half-baked products that may or may not shine. Partly it’s because people are busy, but it’s also about the indisputable fact that very few writers who have the ambition to make it actually also do make it. And that’s just as well, since the world would be full of pompous geniuses otherwise, which would make it a pretty horrible place to live in, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, the result of my first submission round was that most of the agents wouldn’t even bother to paste my name into a boilerplate “sorry but no” email. Yeah, my novel and its pitch were that bad.

Never mind, I told myself. I took a good long break from the book, much to the delight of my family and my team at work, I suppose. Then I tried to check again what had been wrong. And—surprise, surprise—I immediately found a host of flaws in the novel, its synopsis and the cover letter that was supposed to sell the whole package.

I will entertain you with analysing all the fuck-ups I could find later on in these series. For now, let me just say that those mistakes weren’t perhaps outright catastrophic, but they made me cringe all the same. And if I felt that way, how about the poor agents? Very embarrassing.

Still, I recovered eventually. Or perhaps I fell sick again, depending on how you look at it. I worked on the book some more, updated the pitch and sent it off for the second time in November 2019.

I still had a vague feeling I hadn’t quite nailed it yet, but I was stuck again. Some lessons take real long to sink in, apparently.

Funnily enough, though, this time I got away with my arrogant assumption that I can expect someone biting on a bait that’s basically rotten. An agent came back to me and requested the full manuscript.

That was pretty baffling. Just days before that surreal email landed in my inbox, I had decided to dump the novel and focus on the next project. But my confusion didn’t prevent me from sending the whole thing to the agent as soon as I could.

When she got around to reading it some weeks later, she bewildered me some more by saying great many unbelievably nice words about my writing. She also offered me representation.

Once I sobered up, it made me think, well, now that there’s a professional saying the story may not be a complete bullshit, I might as well have a look at it again. And somehow it worked this time.

Due to a headfirst dive into this other writing project that happened in the meantime, I’d finally gained a proper distance from the mystifying cripple of my first novel. What also helped a lot was my studious re-reading of a few great books so I could try and decipher their magic.

And then, over a couple of chilly predawn mornings, I covered the whiteboard in my office with an analysis of nine crucial problems in the plot, character and theme departments.

After a few more days of witless staring at that mortifying autopsy of what I used to call a finished novel, I scribbled down a quick and dirty outline for putting it back together, and I rewrote the thing once again.

To my elated embarrassment, the agent was amazed. We signed a contract in March 2020. I couldn’t quite believe it, but it was real. My lofty goal of becoming an actual published author just became a tiny bit less unreasonable. And then the Covid-19 shit hit the fan proper.

Stuck at home with her young kids for the foreseeable future, my agent sadly decided to close down the shop so that she could focus on more important things than helping others realise their futile dreams. It was of course a perfectly understandable and highly respectable decision, what with the pandemic raging around. But it also had the nasty little effect of sending me straight back to the starting line.

Or did it?

Frustrating as it may be, there’s no way I can know at the moment. But at least I’ve got more confident about the story I’m trying to tell in my book. It might even be about right this time. And thus, encouraged by my now former agent, I lustily rewrote the whole submission package from scratch and sent it off for the third time.

That was last Tuesday. The first rejection arrived on Wednesday. I’m sure more will follow over the next weeks, like beacons of harsh certainty rationing out the expectant, foggy silence out there. But maybe I’ll get lucky. Who knows.

In any case, checking my mailbox gives me these achingly intense anxious tickles once again. I feel quite like the thirteen year old me, lurking by his parents’ bakelite landline box for days on end and mooning over the memory of his pen, scribbling shaky numbers down on the peach-haired forearm of that daunting girl from the other class.

The girl never called, just in case you wonder. But the fact I can still feel that way decades later probably means I’m doing something right with this whole writing thing. The actual “result” of all my wildly unreasonable efforts may as well be secondary to that.

All right, that’s about it for now. Hard as I’ve been trying lately, I can’t guarantee any sort of happy ending to my writer’s story. It’s perfectly possible that this blog will end up as a pathetic study of one lifelong failure. But here’s the funny part. It can always flip into an awkward recollection of a journey towards worldwide fame. I mean, however unlikely the latter outcome is, stranger things happen in a world where the “greatest country ever” is led by a guy whose powers of self-delusion seem so immense that even the pretentious little dick in me feels quite humbled.

If there is one lesson I can take from that most intriguing stable genius, it’s an adamant conviction that remorseless digging into all I may have ever screwed up as a writer could eventually make me a better one, quite the same way I came to terms with my madness. And if someone else finds the stuff useful, for whatever reason, it’ll make me all the happier for that.

So stay tuned. More confessions on delusions of grandeur are to come soon.


The feature image is a public domain reproduction of a medieval Ouroboros painting, originally uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Carlos Adanero. See here for the original image and more info on the source.

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