I received a phone call last night about my Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood post. " 'I remembered my D.A.R.E. instructor's words and refused it, all while lecturing him on just how bad it is for a developing brain'--Really?!” she said.
“Really,” I said. “People send manuscripts like that.”
She didn’t seem convinced.
Listen. If you’re pretending that your competition is doing brilliant things—writing amazing works that should be adopted into the literary canons, composing perfect pitch letters with 100 percent success rates, exploring new and exciting literary terrain that would blow the mind of even the most jaded New York reader, all on a daily basis—while you’re just, you know, human—you’re wrong.
I don’t want to say bad things about the members of the slush pile.
But (perhaps, as my friend likes to say, I had a big bowl of snark for breakfast) here are some things your competition did this week. Yes. Really:
- Calling me by a name similar to mine, but decidedly not mine. Four times. Twice, I wrote back signing my own name. No hint taken.
- Offering double the commission, since surely my decision not to represent him was a financial one. Then writing the next day to say, "Sorry, that offer is off the table." Uh-huh.
- Using "U" in the place of "you." Within an argument about her professionalism.
- Writing to say that he'd like to know where I am with his manuscript, because he has "a lot more coming down the pike." I write back, reject it (I'd already decided to do so), and emphasize that there are a lot of agents out there who could be a better fit. Has he seen the Jeff Herman? Yeah. Lots of agents there. Who are not me. His response: Great! I'll send you the new one as soon as it's ready! "Don't worry," he adds, "I'll keep trying you!" Trying indeed.
- One writer met me at a party in June, and just emailed today. I told her she was writing in a genre we don't generally represent. "Oh, but I just need some pointers about the publishing process," she said then, already grating. "I'll send it as soon as I'm ready!" Today she writes, apologizing for not sending her work sooner--I know you were excited to see this, she says; I'm sorry to keep you waiting! To her credit, I knew who she was immediately. And I'm really bad with faces and names.
- One writer mistook my form rejection for a revise-and-resubmit. I'm still not quite sure how that happened--and yes, the confusion seems genuine. And now I get to write a really awkward email.
I can’t repeat it enough: we’re human. Granted, we’re humans with a seemingly supernatural power over what people read next.
But we also spend evenings acting like total dorks. At least, I do.
Now, I'm going to admit this, because I think the world would be a better place if dentists admitted to going to bed (on occasion) without brushing, math teachers were frank about freaking out while learning the unit circle, prima ballerinas confessed to clumsiness, and astronauts spoke about fears of heights, aliens, black holes and/or supernovae.
So. What did I do last night?
Well. I made some cous cous, with pretty much everything I found in the kitchen. (I’m catsitting for a friend, so the ingredients were strange, varied and delicious. I have an unnatural fondness for capers; at least a few tablespoons—okay, about a quarter cup—went in.) I went to Starbucks to use their free internet, sending off a truly weird story to my writing group. I had a glass of Two Buck Chuck chardonnay, left over from a guest, which isn’t so bad if you add ice cubes (yes…I did) and serve it very, very cold—cold enough that your taste buds are numbed and then relieved to return to room temperature. Then I watched a certain reality television show involving a supposedly reformed suitor--all two hours of it. (For any fellow fans—my goodness, Michelle seems totally nuts.)
And then I took advantage of something rare in New York: a floor above nobody.
See, we spend so much time in the city trying to take up less space: there’s very little for us on rush hour trains, particularly in Manhattan; things are built smaller (this Upper East Side one-bedroom is probably about 350 square feet), and—no matter where we go—there are always, always, always people within ten feet of us, even if it’s through walls and (particularly) floors. If you live above someone, you know it may annoy them if you run, jump, move furniture, drop things, do cartwheels, or let the tea kettle go too long after eleven. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it rarely is, but it's always in the back of your mind: someone may hear every single step. Weird, right?
Knowing that this borrowed apartment—which comes with two kitties, one tuxedo-printed and one charcoal grey and fluffy and rather like a powder puff—is above a financial institution that closes at six, rather than, say, people—I spent a good portion of my evening blasting my ipod and jumping around. Mostly because I could.
And I do mean that literally, the jumping. I won’t tell you what I’m listening to—my taste in music is even worse than my taste in television, if that tells you anything—but I assure you, I looked like a total dork. I know, because there’s a big mirror on the wall. And yes, I sang along.
I'm sure some agents spend their evenings with box seats at the opera, tasting menus and floors that are part of luxury buildings and therefore designed to silently withstand the dropping of anvils. But not all.
So, don’t think of (all of) us as rulers of the universe. Think of us as humans who happen to have a particular fondness for fabulous work (and, yes, the power to help bring it into book form).
No need to be intimidated.
Just learn as much as you can, and then do your best.