As a lot of you know, I attended the OWFI writer’s conference in Oklahoma City a little over a month ago. In case you aren’t familiar, authors attend writing conferences hoping to pique the interest of an agent or editor through one-on-one interview sessions. If successful, the agent/editor will enter a contract to represent the author and go out into the market and sell their novel.
I signed up to meet with a New York based agent who had a reputation for taking on authors with unique and unconventional characters. With my protagonist being a female pilot/corporate risk officer, I considered we might be a good match. Friday afternoon from two-fifteen until two twenty-two was my allowed time to sell “Risk”.
Seven minutes. That’s right, I estimated the window of opportunity to summarize my four hundred page novel lasted no longer than a prime time commercial break. Well aware of the fact that eight years in the south had slowed my speech patterns into a lethargic crawl, I called up to Chicago and enlisted reinforcements to help reignite my native tongue.
Blame the pilot in me, but I spent most waking hours for the better part of a week rehearsing. (people always say if you want to reinvent the wheel, talk to an engineer, but if you want to put your design to the test, lend the better bicycle to a pilot and they won’t return until the rubber is worn from the rims) By the day before the conference, I’d stream lined my story into a seven minute compelling pitch.
As the second hand on my Swiss Army watch hacked quarter past two, the double doors into the ballroom swung open. Inside, ten or so linen clothed tables provided an area for each literary interview. I weaved my way to around the banquet-style chairs and hovered while my potential agent finished with her previous appointment.
“Time,” the women with a stopwatch called out. The author in front of me, got up and walked away.
When the agent made eye contact, I slid into the seat across from her and gave my spiel.
About half-way through my pitch (roughly three minutes in) she interrupted with a stream of questions. Oh no. My heart started to race. I haven’t even got to the good part. Quickly shifting gears, I abandoned my prepared summary and listened. Then, out of no where, the most curious words spilled from her lips.
“Send me your whole novel.”
My thoughts spun. Did she just say send the whole thing?
Before I go any further, you need to understand a few things:
first–all the publishing books and the experienced authors I’d spoken to said that if I was lucky, (I’m talking odds as close to the chance of being hit by lighting, which, just as a sidebar, in Oklahoma is not nearly as rare as you might think) the agent may ask for one to three pages.
second-if I was exceptionally fortunate, (maybe like the odds of seeing some once in a lifetime celestial event) they might ask for fifty pages.
third–all of the above circumstances are very rare, so be prepared to hear, “Not interested.”
*disclaimer–despite the fact that I knew my chances were a hair above a grasshopper’s kneecap, especially being a first time author, I still carried the first fifty pages in my tote bag. (call it a well wish)
I’m sure I stared at the agent with a incredibly inept look on my face because when I didn’t answer she said, “You do have the novel finished don’t you?”
I nodded my head.
The time tyrant yelled, “Warning.”
I shook off my surprise and reached in my bag. “Here’s my outline,” I pushed the paper in her direction. “My pitch sheet.” (a summary of the tirelessly prepared speech I didn’t even use) “And here…” I looked her in the eyes. “My first fifty pages.”
She scooped up the stack just as the keeper called, “Time.”
Wednesday, June 29th (five weeks later)
When I got home from the OWFI conference, I packaged up my novel, printed “requested material” on the UPS box and sent my story to the New York.
And then I waited. I waited and worked on my next two novels.
One week, two weeks, three…
Everyone asked if I was anxious, sleeping okay and if the days were dragging. When I sat with myself and thought about their questions, I came up with the most honest answer I could.
No. Actually, I felt incredibly calm.
The days flew by as I worked on my new outlines, developed multi-dimensional characters and cooked up intense plot details.
Anxious, you ask? Not yet.
I waited some more.
Four weeks, five weeks and then…
I came home late on a hot afternoon. Even though Wednesday was the fourth consecutive day over 100 degrees, a strong northwest wind enticed me to sit out on the side porch. Propped up on my favorite chaise (my brainstorming chair) I stared at the sky and created shapes in the passing clouds. My neighbor’s cat, Socks, crept up beside me and meowed adjacent to the door. I ignored him, as I do, because if I pay him attention straight away, he runs off. (a game we like to play) But when he kept on, I turned my head to field his complaint.
There he stood, six inches taller than usual, pacing on an UPS envelope big enough to hold a very large document.
My novel. My chest sunk. In an instant, I knew her answer.
I brushed Socks to the side and stared at the UPS label. The self-addressed sicker matched the one I’d sent to the agent from New York.
She wouldn’t be offering me representation.
Leaning back in my chaise, I tore open the envelope. The letter read:
“although you developed a intricate and multi-layered plot, we feel your writing
just isn’t strong enough to support the story–at times a little technical”
Okay, has anyone ever seen one of those movies where the villain pushes his fist through the hero’s breast, tears his heart from his flesh and squeezes the pumping organ in his hand? That’s the sort of pain I felt in my chest.
For a minute.
Then the most interesting experience flashed into my head. My United Airlines interview, Denver, Co. I was twenty-two.
The short version of a very long interview story is I didn’t get the job. Up until the moment when I dialed the number to a recording listing the names of new hires, I thought I wanted to be a commercial pilot. But my name wasn’t on the list.
Thank goodness. (my feelings in retrospect of course; at the time I was wrecked)
Older and more seasoned, I considered the unthinkable. I just wasn’t ready that day at United Airlines training center. I thought about all the experiences and the opportunities I would have skipped if I’d gotten the flight officer position. All the jets I flew, the trials, hard lessons I had the luxury of learning and the talented people I met who helped push me to be the competent pilot I am today. Not getting the thing I thought I wanted was the ultimate gift. The missed opportunity drove me to exactly where I needed to be.
This letter, the rejection was the exact same circumstance. The agent and I weren’t a good match. By not accepting my work, she gave me a gift I’ve learned to treasure. Opportunity. Another chance to go out and connect with the agent who will be perfect for me and passionate about my stories.
How lucky am I? Pain free, (with my heart comfortably inside my chest) I drafted a sincere thank you note.
Next week I’m off to New York for “ThrillerFest.” Sixty-five suspense/thriller literary agents will be available for pitch sessions. I’ve target twenty or so who have interest in my area of expertise.
Maybe I’ll meet my agent.