I blogged a while ago about the excitement of getting an agent and getting off the query-mill. But what happens when the other side of the coin happens, and an agent and you decide to part ways? I thought I’d capture it here, on Millymollymo’s blog, because we’ve talked a few times about how I deal with rejection and, generally, keep going like some sort of force I can’t control.
So, here goes. How I lost my agent. Something that happens more often than we perhaps think, through market reasons, and circumsances, and just bad luck. In my case, the process was amicable and profession, and was about what I write and the need to find the right agent, which made the whole thing a little easier, I think.
Now, I’m going to put my hands up and say I could have approached things differently, early on. That maybe I made a wrong choice in terms of what I did with my manuscript at the agent-seeking time. But I don’t like that term, wrong choice – I made the choice that seemed right at the time. I’ve learned loads since and I think, perhaps, I would make a different choice now. A more confident choice. But, frankly, at the first-agent seeking stage we writers aren’t quite rational. It’s the holy grail, the be-all-and-end-all, the first validation we need. That sends a lot of common sense hurtling out the window.
First, though – let’s look at the connundrum that is my writing. I don’t fit into a neat box. I’d like to be able to sit down, flex my fingers and say, right here we go, I’ll write another space opera. I’d end up writing a fantasy, instead – I am, in fact – just because my mind is contrary like that. In terms of a range of writing, I do fantasy, science fiction, the odd little bit of horror. I write for adults and new adults, and some of my characters are young adults. In short, I straddle a lot of definable, easy to market areas into a zone that’s not just so easy to define.
With my second book, the one-wot-got-me-an-agent it was written to be a cross-over. More accurately, the two people who turned up in my head were a 30-odd year old police officer and the 15 year old boy he arrested for xenocide. I’d like to say one of them agreed to sit down and shut up and let the other tell the story, but they didn’t want to. And it was difficult for them to – each knew their part of the story, and each added their own voice.
So, I ended up subbing a book which was neither adult nor young adult and feedback quickly told me I had to choose. I chose to turn it into a Young Adult book and focus on the teen storyline. This is, perhaps, where I made the wrong choice (but the only place I did, I think). The older voice was the one I was more confident writing and, crucially, held the tension when the story went quiet in the middle. He was also the character I probably held more of a candle for (always hard to know, though – I love all my characters.)
I rewrote the book into a young adult book, and I got an agent. A wonderful agent, with great editorial knowledge and guidance, who I get on well with. In the meantime I sold my adult space opera trilogy to a small publisher, changing my market focus a little. And then I presented my next book. The characters aren’t quite adult, and they’re not quite young adult. And the story isn’t quite fantasy, or contemporary, and there might be a bit of romance in there. In short, I did it again…
At which point my agent was the one to say that maybe I needed someone different, who could rep all my work. Which, with distance, I’ve found I agree with. In fact, it’s something I should have seen at that early I-must-get-an-agent-stage (I did say writers are often a bit crazy then, didn’t I?)
Anyway, the point of the blog – rejection. This was the ultimate rejection, no matter how kindly it was done, or how much I agree now. Hell, it hurt. I emailed my closest cps in a bit of a daze. I stared at my wip and wondered what the point of it was (not a thought that lasted long, that). And then, slowly, I let the word out. Like air out of a balloon – into corners I could face first.
After a week or so, it stopped hurting. In fact, it stopped being such a big issue. And that, I think, was because I knew it was the right thing. I stopped working on the YA new thing I’d been plugging at (I’ll go back to it one day, I love it still, but not yet.) I was free to ask what did I want to write. It turns out, surprisingly, it’s another trilogy, this time a fantasy, steampunky, mash-up thing. And I don’t care if it has a market, because trying to write to a market didn’t work for me before.
But I do want an agent. I want a career at this gig and that means seeking someone to work with me, to advise me and keep me right. So I’m back querying, which should be soul destroying, right? This time, it isn’t. It’s just a process that will take its own course and time. It’s not the validation of who I am as a writer. I have a book coming out. Hell, I have a trilogy coming out. That’s the validation of me. Not how big a publisher it’s with, or how much money I get from it, but that it’s coming out and I’m proud of it. And that there will be many, many more from me in the future.
And that, in a nutshell, is how I keep going. By seeing it as a journey. A process, leading to a longer-term goal. Along the way there will be hurdles andd set backs but, somehow, they’re tied up in the bigger picture of what my writing means, and that’s less about the signs and trappings of what a writer is, and more about the picture of what I am.
Suddenly, it’s existential and not about how I lost my agent, but instead about how I found the writer I wanted to be again. That, surely, is the gift of a bit of time and space, and a good long, hard look at yourself. And, sadly – it’s often the rejections that give us the mirror to do that in.