Category Archives: Agent

Memo to Younger Writing-Self

Me and My Literary Agent

I will never be able to go back in time to visit earlier versions of my writing-self, but if I could, I would offer my younger writing-self a firm pat on the back and tell her that the endless rejection and setbacks would eventually result in a published book. 

Last weekend, I got to do the next best thing.  As a speaker at the Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, Texas, I was able to tell my story to an audience of aspiring writers who occupied the same seat I occupied four, six, and nine years ago.  In addition to advising them How to Solve Their Soggy Middle Problem and What to Do After Landing an Agent, they got a healthy dose of reassurance from me that, although it might seem as if they took a wrong turn and got sidetracked in rejection and setback, the same path leads to publication, and they are indeed on the right track.  I told them that if they exercised patience and continued to persist through countless revisions, pushed their imaginations two generations beyond capacity, and actually did what the Writer’s League of Texas told them to do, they would one day return to the very same hotel ballroom to sign copies of their published book and deliver their own Craft of Writing Talk. 

But that’s not all.  If they would stand in line to pitch their idea to agents now, they would someday find themselves leaving the Pitching Session early to meet their literary agent for a long conversation about their writing career–over a glass of wine in a quiet corner of the hotel lobby.  And if they would network diligently now, they would someday be invited to mingle among agents and editors at the Conference Faculty Party, not your usual cocktail party chitchat.  And I can witness that the glow from spending a weekend among people who get to work in the publishing industry would persist even after they returned home to a refrigerator full of The Colonel’s leftovers and a kibble bin refitted as a feeding trough by two enterprising dogs. 

I wonder if there is anything my future-self would like to tell my present-self about raising teenagers through structure-free summers.

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Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers, The Writer's League of Texas

Earth to Cindy

Calling Cindy...

My family was hopeful that after the launch of my debut novel, things would return to normal.  And ideally, I would have dropped everything and gone back to matching socks, if only my novel-in-progress had not been weighing on me like a term paper for a class I’d stopped attending.  Since I was already short-listed for Space Cadet of The Year, and considering how little time remained before summer, it hardly seemed worthwhile to switch gears.  If I could just take the momentum from my book launch and apply it to finishing next novel, I could be present for an earthling summer and sort socks in time for camp.  Unfortunately, over the previous year I’d only demonstrated ability to focus on next novel while in solitary confinement, at least 450 miles from home.  Sacrifices would be required to replicate the intensity.  Earth would have to go.  

I printed the existing draft and read it aloud, plunging deep into the world of my characters, maintaining an iron grip on the narrative line while my grasp of reality flirted with black holes.  I solved literary problems while driving the car, but my passengers rolled their eyes as I passed destinations, again and again.  I rallied for the dinner hour, but was no good for conversation, and relied on the puppy for homework patrol.  At the very moment it seemed our household chaos could not possibly get worse, oldest son arrived home for the summer and unloaded a year’s worth of dorm life just inside the back door.  He left a narrow path to the kitchen but that hardly mattered for obvious reasons.

For the record, I entered a grocery store during all this, but the minute I tossed the first item into my cart, a distressed text message originating from afterschool sports screamed:  WHERE R U??  I had to ditch.      

Yes, I managed to finish the novel, but for the first time in my life, I truly understand my late grandfather.  I laughed at the absent-minded professor stories, but now I know why he backed out of the garage before opening the garage door and why he sometimes wore his pyjama bottoms to work.  And I’m with him on driving to the university and taking the bus home.  At the most distracted point of this episode, I hauled three teenagers out of bed for a very early morning obligation at church and then had to explain to them, and the assembly of church people whose morning I disrupted, that I was operating in a different week of the month.  If they had flipped their calendars ahead one week they would have understood exactly where I was coming from, or where I was at that moment.  Someday it will seem funny.    

And then I reached the end.  I pressed send, launching new novel through cyberspace and into my agent’s orbit.  After a brief personal celebration, I reorganized The Sock Department of our Laundry Room, patronized three grocery stores, and relieved the puppy of command.  At one point a teenager grumbled, “don’t you have a book to write?”  It’s nice to be back.   

THE END

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Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, hazards of writing, launching things, teenagers

My Author Photo

Taking a picture of myself that is worthy of a book cover is nearly impossible.  The only other process that comes close to requiring perfect sync of so many variables is the miracle of conception.  Yet the world is full of author photos, and agent and editor both neeeded mine yesterday.  On a day when hair, weight, and attitude were momentarily aligned, I called husband and invited him to lunch at the arboretum.  We took 200 pictures.  Upon review, not one was a keeper.  In case we were being too picky, I sent a batch to my good friend for her honest advice.  She said, “Do you have any shots that look like you?”  

We tried again and again, always with the same results.  We took turns making a case for improbable shots where half of my face was in shadow, for instance.  Under pressure, I sent a selection of the best to my agent.  “Do you have any shots that look warm and inviting?” she asked.

We sought the expert skills of a fashion photographer we know, and although his pictures were museum quality, he could do only so much with the subject (me).  On a photo shoot, overcome with the pressure to look warm and inviting, to be a face that sells books and still look like myself, and wondering what any of this had to do with writing, I sat on a picnic table and cried.  Those are the very worst pictures of all.

Then, one evening, husband had an idea.  “Let’s just think of this as practise,” he said.  We took our wineglasses onto the deck and, in the waning light of a summer evening, took pictures until it grew dark.  This time, we got an angle that seemed to work.  The only problem was the background:  two wineglasses in plain view and a blue mini-van emerging from my left temporal lobe.    

Time was running out.  Two more sessions and absolutely no good shots later, my editor requested a picture.  ASAP.  I pulled out the practise shot and turned on the photo editing tools.  I cropped as close as I could to take out the wineglasses, and painted green foliage over everything that didn’t belong in an author photo.  Then I braced myself and hit send.    

My editor wrote, “Do you have any shots where you look less startled?”  

I envy photogenic authors who do what comes naturally and get a great photo in one session.  I sent her my other shots and she opted for startled.

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Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, Editor, First Reader (aka Husband), My Jane Austen Summer, The business of writing...

How I Found My Literary Agent

First Reader/Husband on Boat (Filed under: Important Writing Relationships)

 Five years ago, I listened with 500 unpublished writers in a huge hotel ballroom as a panel of literary agents introduced themselves to the Writer’s League of Texas.  We were there because we all wanted one thing:  a literary agent.  But who among us had what it took to be signed by one of these?  Even newbies understood the supply side of this dynamic.  But I wasn’t a newbie anymore.  I’d been around long enough to ditch my first novel in a drawer along with a pile of rejection: thankful agents stepping aside so that other agents who will feel differently about my manuscript can wish me all the best with my writing.     

 Agent representation had begun to seem like an impossible dream.

 In the hotel ballroom, the last agent stood to speak.  As she introduced herself, she carefully placed her authors’ books upright on the table in front of her.  Her manner reminded me why I was there: because I love books.  I read books and write books and would live in books if I could.  I wanted to be one of her books.  She looked into 500 pairs of eyes and told us slowly and clearly what she was looking for:  a compelling narrative voice.  During the happy hour I stood in line to pitch my novel to this agent.  I’d practiced my pitch on fellow writers, in front of the mirror, and in my head.  It was late and she was tired.  She accepted a glass of wine from an enterprising fellow pitcher, and turned to me.  She listened carefully to my pitch then looked at me apologetically.  The room was very noisy and she had to lean in to tell me—she’d run out of business cards.  But she wanted to see ten pages when the book was ready. 

 I did not go straight home and send her 10 pages.  Instead, I resolved to do what published friends, teachers, agents, and people paid to give writing advice had been telling me to do for five years, none of which is a secret, all of which required effort outside of my comfort zone, and felt a lot like doing sit-ups and eating right.  First, I finished my novel.  Then I researched the market, honed my query package, and polished the compelling narrative voice until it said, “one of us has to go.”  Almost two years had passed.  I sent my materials to the agent I’d met in the hotel ballroom, as well as nine other agents. 

 The first rejection came within two minutes of my email submission.  Three more rejections came later.  But that was all the rejection it got.  Three agents never responded, and three agents asked to see the whole book.  Two of those offered representation, one being the agent from the conference.  I signed with her. 

 This is not to be confused with happily-ever-after or the end of the story, just a really good day in my writing life.

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Filed under Agent, First Reader (aka Husband), The business of writing...

I Met Jane Austen’s Writing Table

  

My Son, Upstaging Jane Austen's Writing Chair

This time, last year, I went to England to meet Jane Austen.  I was nervous, and with good reason since I’d taken the liberty of writing about our relationship, even though we’d never met.  I ran the terrible risk of discovering I’d based my book on a deep misunderstanding .  Five years of my life could go down the drain.  

Not to mention what Agent would say.   

Flying to England, I’d considered myself in the same league as Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price.  Upon landing, it occurred to me that neither Elinor nor Fanny would presume to write first, ask questions later.  I could already feel the sharp end of Jane Austen’s pen, and imagine myself exiled to Portsmouth.   Driving on the wrong side I asked myself how a lowly Mature Debut Author like me could presume to be freinds (I know) with a Sustained Supernova whose immortal blaze cuts across languages, centuries, and planets for all we know.  What was I thinking?       

I met Jane Austen’s front door.  She was not there.  

Jane Austen's Front Door in Bath (trash day)

I met Jane Austen’s crowded museum.  She was not there, either.  

The Jane Austen Centre

I visited Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral.  Oh, dear.   

But then we drove to Chawton. 

Everything in Jane Austen’s village is life-size or smaller.    

Standing in the simple room where the modest writing-table occupied a spot near the window, I felt My Jane Austen’s presence.  Not the celebrity icon, but the unaffected woman reined in by class, money, and gender.  The writer who nailed Aunt Norris while Mrs. Austen and Cassandra did chores.  Jane Austen was the person I had imagined: physically present at the little table, yet mentally far away, working in a universe of her own creation.  And this is what we both understand:  being stranded on a desert island is not a problem as long as you have paper, pen, and writing-table.    

Her writing-table is the most unassuming piece of furniture with the most impressive back-story I’ve ever met.

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Filed under Agent, Everyone else's Jane Austen, Living in a novel, moment of clarity, My Jane Austen, My Jane Austen Summer

Inside Story: The Title Diet

 

Teenager Not Playing Video Games

 

My Writing Teacher warned us not to waste calories worrying about titles for our books.  Editors replace working titles–in a heartbeat–at the appropriate time.  Nonetheless, I secretly wasted calories worrying about titles.  I burned calories I could have used writing a sequel.  

FYI:  Title Worry consumes the same number of calories as enforcing time limits on Xbox players.          

I descended into title madness between 3 and 4 am on select nights, generating a vast graveyard of titles too embarrassing to exhume.  Example:  DITCHED BY JANE AUSTEN which I submitted to Editor before First Reader was awake one morning.  Sadly, some of my working titles came within a mere word of the winning title but I couldn’t close the gap, as if my synapses weren’t quite up to the challenge.  Was this a symptom of a deeper affliction?  An inability to grasp the meaning of the 90,000 words I’d spent five years writing?    

Both Agent and Editor referred to my book by randomly choosing a word from the working title collection and writing it in ALL CAPS.  Sometimes Agent called it MANSFIELD PARK.  Sometimes Editor simply called it JANE.  And then one day Editor said, “I keep thinking of this book as THE SUMMER OF MY JANE AUSTEN.”  Taught by my Writing Teacher to eliminate excess articles and needless words, I regrouped and said, “What about MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER?”  High concept with a hint of irony.   

I burned exactly .0395 calories fueling the two heartbeats that helped nail the title.  About the same caloric demand of shooting one video game zombie.  But the calories I wasted on Title Worry would feed an Xbox party of four for the rest of the summer.  I guess I shouldn’t worry about it.  

NEXT BLOG:  My Novel Picks Up a Subtitle

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Filed under Agent, aging synapses, Editor, First Reader (aka Husband), My Jane Austen Summer, My Writing Teacher said..., teenagers, Writing Nightmares