Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Agents want me, want me not

I’m one of those writers who spends a little time trying to find an agent for his unpublished novel and an extravagant amount of time daydreaming about how much more successful he’d be if he had one.

The acknowledged disparity explains a lot.

It’s been about seven years since I finished my novel that at the time I called “Boomer Rang.” I think back then when I tortured my poor, pregnant wife into reading it it was something like 12,500 pages long.

Yep, that’s pages.

And she thought giving birth was tough. Yeah, not only was it long, but it really sucked. Still, I clung to its merits because the first agent I ever sent the book's proposal to called immediately to say, “It’s a great idea and we’d love to see the rest. Right away!”

I remember setting down the phone and thinking, “Hmmm . . . Should the Cadillac be black or red?”

Then came gushes of rejections in Biblical torrents. I saved about every one of them and today have a footstool sized stack of them sitting in my office providing grim inspiration.

But with every rejection came a little wisdom. The book had to get better. I’d spend hours honing it, polishing and cutting, cutting and cutting.

I’d set it aside for sometimes as much as year at a time. Discouraged, sure, but constant in my belief that it was good and would someday find an enthusiastic audience.

Found a small publisher for it in 2003, but then an agent came along and assured me she could find me a bigger publisher. Bigger publishers proved her wrong and then she vanished from my life, and it was back to square one.

The satirical book, now called “The Last Baby Boomer,” is about the life and death of, duh, the last baby boomer. Because his impending death will symbolically tombstone a generation known for selfish excess, the 117-year-old senior agrees to be part of a lottery ghoul pool. Contestants pay $25 to be in a museum suite with him for 15 minutes. If they are present when he expires, they win the multimillion dollar jackpot. One problem: the old SOB won't die.

I close all my proposal letters with the nugget that the now 201-page novel is “a coming of old, old, age story. Because we all have to die, but only one of us gets to die last.”

Clever, huh.

I began this year by making a real push to get it published. And good news started flowing in. Nearly a dozen agents responded to my query letters favorably with half of those requesting to see the full manuscript.

But each one eventually said, sorry. It’s great. There’s an agent out there that can’t wait to get a hold of this. Just not right for me.

One said, “I’d wish you best of luck, but I know you’re not going to need luck with a story this strong and well-told.”

Each fresh rejection provided its own form of exquisite heartbreak.

All but one.

They said they wanted to represent me and the book and sent me a contract. They didn’t say the loved the book or me. That we were about to embark on a fun journey together. No praise. No plans.

Just a contract.

My literary daydreams often involve powerful New York agents who’ll invite me to pricey three-hour lunches to tell me how great I am.

This was a Houston-based group. And, strangely, their website says most of their clients are hip hop artists.

There’s no picture of me here, yet, but I swear that’s not me. I’m not hip and I can barely hop.

So I sat on the contract and polished the book some more and hoped someone else would respond to one of the other queries that were still floating around out there.

None did.

So two months later I sent back the signed contract with a note saying, “Hey, I can’t wait to hear from someone who’ll tell me how we’re going to sell this thing.” Instead, they sent back a note saying, “Sorry, but we didn’t hear back from you promptly enough. We’ve moved on. Good luck.”

Now I’m left to laugh at the numbskulled way I’ve approached another step in avoiding any success that may be due to me.

I figure I could write a really funny book about a blissful idiot who skates through life with little talent, no drive and a perpetually unbalanced checkbook, but figure no one would buy that either.

Too sci-fi to sell, I’m sure they’d say.

I only wish it were true.

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