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Friday, May 13, 2011

Unagented Again

I hate to make people wait. The thought that someone has put some aspect of their life on hold for me, while I do whatever it is they're waiting for me to do, feels burdensome. I realized last week that I've been carrying that feeling around with me for a long time and it was getting heavy. Maybe I didn't know it then, but now that it's gone, I feel lighter.

I've had an agent for many years. I remember the day he took me on as a client. I couldn't believe it. I was ecstatic. It was the next best thing to selling a manuscript. And I bought into the myth that landing an agent is almost harder than landing a publishing contract, something that agented (but unpublished) writers like to believe. I loved that myth, too. It made me feel better, somehow, like all I had to do now was back-pedal a little, the hardest part was over. I don't know how many times I said to people, "Oh, yeah, it's actually harder to get an agent." It was a cocky thing to say. But it fit the way I was feeling. And then, to top it off, I would add, "He's in New York.". I think I said it so many times over the years that I started to convince myself I was almost done.

After a third rewrite of a third novel my agent began waiting. He was waiting for the fourth novel that I promised him I was half finished with. I've been half finished with it for years. And I knew he was waiting for me to be done because I was waiting for me to be done. Every week that I didn't write, I knew we were both waiting. I guess he finally decided he'd waited long enough. I don't blame him. I know how he felt.

We had some success. My rejections were, for the most part, great. I had a few requested rewrites of a few novels and each time really believed I'd nailed it. And, although editors "really enjoyed reading Mrs. McDowell's story" and thanked us for letting them, no one ever actually bought it. It takes more than liking, loving, enjoying, admiring to sell your work. It takes something special, at a special point in time. And it's all hard.

So, my life as an agented writer is over. Though I'd expected to be as devastated at the end as I was ecstatic at the beginning, I'm actually fine with it. I have the freedom to do with my work as I please, which may be something fun and exciting or nothing at all. But at least I know no one is waiting. And that feels good.

Fran McDowell


  1. Well, I'm still waiting for you, Fran. Not for the fourth novel necessarily - though I'm sure I'll love it whenever you finish it - but for someone to finally fall in love with Dusty. As I have. And readers will.

    And I'm waiting for everything else you write. Because you create such honest, funny, heart-moving stories, whether they're blog posts, essays or novels. Your work is always worth waiting for, however long it might be.

  2. I can definitely sympathize with the "good" rejection frustration. I've only started submitting my first novel (14 submissions thus far), and of the personalized rejections I've received, I've gotten numerous compliments: "You've done a great job with the story." "Great title!" "Pages move at a fast clip." "Well-written." "Great hook."

    And yet, there's always that line at the end that reads something akin to: "the story just didn't grab me like I wanted it to." It's so much more frustrating than getting solid feedback that your characters need work or the plot doesn't seem feasible - those are things I can fix. But how do you fix a story that's not grabbing people? And do you need to? Is it just that I haven't found the right reader yet?

    I'm hoping that's the case, and I'll keep trying. But I do wonder at what point you step back and re-evaluate whether the piece that's garnering all sorts of compliments is perhaps still not ready for the market. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this.