I’ve always wondered if the people in grand romantic movies, when they’re off screen and sitting on the toilet or something, ever go back and read their old love letters. Do they cringe at the terrible prose and cheesy, heavy-handed imagery? Maybe I’m just weird, but we very rarely get the chance to see creatives looking back at their former work and blushing so hard they burst into flames.
Not that every writer has to hate their early work. Even though many do, there’s no guarantee that as time passes, writing will improve. There is however a strong possibility that as time grows, so goes wisdom, experience, and knowledge.
Which is what led me to bolting upright in my chair one afternoon, while reading a blog post from a literary agent (because I’m dumb, thoroughly researching literary agents wasn’t something I did when querying my first book.)
This blog post was explaining things agents do and do not care about, when it came to potential clients. A pertinent post for me, as I’m actively querying and submitting my second novel/third book. It was when I read her sentence on “negative opinions on agents/agenting” that I felt my lunch drop.
Shit. shit. shit. Have I said stupid stuff online about the query process? Maybe when I was just trying to vent?
As someone born without much of a filter (but who worked really hard to grow one as an adult) I’m well versed with apologies. I honestly have no problem telling someone “sorry” to their face, and meaning it. But that only counts if I know who I offended, and with what. And more importantly, if I knew how to remedy it. But this was the internet we were talking about. A vast treasure trove of dumb shit I possibly tweeted while crying into a bag of M&Ms.
Thus was the beginning of my embarkation down the most embarrassing, enlightening, and strangely uplifting electronic rabbit hole of my career.
I did something that, truthfully, all querying writers should do. Starting with Twitter, then moving onto Google, I searched for “Emily Timbol” combined with the words “Agent” and “Query”, or some variations of the terms. Secretly, I hoped I wouldn’t find much. Surely I wasn’t dumb enough to say anything too negative, because how would that help me? My whole goal has been to get an agent. No way I’d be stupid enough to fire off a senseless tweet pissing on the process.
But stupid I was!
Admittedly, nothing I said was that bad. Most of the tweets I found were 2-3 years old, and more whiny and self-pitying than anything. But taken together, along with the handful of blog posts I found in my archives, it made the picture clearer. In the past, I saw agents as something they were most certainly not; obstacles or “gatekeepers” trying to keep me from my goal of being traditionally published. Which, as I know NOW, after actually spending some time getting to “know” a lot of agents, I realize is patently false. Agents are not out there batting down manuscripts like roided up goalies smacking down pucks. They get zero pleasure from rejecting aspiring writers. What they are, are professionals who love books, but because of limited time and resources can only represent the best sent to them, that they are passionate about.
Looking back, it makes total sense to me that I didn’t get an agent my first two querying go-rounds. And both times, it actually had little to do with my writing. The first time I spent so long perfecting my writing, I paid no attention to the market. I didn’t realize how many books were out, or soon to be out, saying almost the exact same thing mine did. Also, I hadn’t realized yet that as much as I enjoyed telling my story, I didn’t want to be a non-fiction writer. My passion was more for characters I would invent, than people I’d already met.
The next book I queried, my first novel, failed to connect for a variety of reasons, but none I blame the agents who read it for. The painful truth is that, for most writers, there comes a time when a book has to be shelved, and something else worked on instead. It hurts and it sucks, but that’s just the business side of writing. That’s why it’s so important for writers to not view publishing as a path for one book, but a long term career. There should always be, and will always be, a next book. Working on my fourth book has made the query process for my third that much easier, because of this. It took me way too long to realize that a quick remedy for feeling down about the hard parts of being a writer was to keep writing. A-Duh.
During the trip down memory lane, I had the opportunity to read through writing of mine I hadn’t seen in three, four, sometimes five years. I expected to be embarrassed and cringe through most of it, but was pleasantly surprised to still identify with a lot of it. Most of it actually. I still liked my writing. Huzzah. With that said, there were at least two articles so cringe worthy and awful that I actually emailed the site they were published on, to ask if they could be taken down. The site said no, which means I learned another grand lesson on this journey.
The internet is forever. So writers, before you fire off that whiny tweet that will make you feel better for 3-5 seconds, imagine how you’d feel three years from now reading it while sitting next to your dream agent. If it’s not “great” then send it as a text to your CP instead. Or better yet, write it down in your journal. That way, you’ll have something to read a few years down the road, when you’re querying the next book.