There is something big I haven’t told you.
I told you how I almost missed my flight to Curacao because of a spicy chicken sandwich, but I didn’t tell you about the possibly life-changing thing that happened to me at the airport on the way home.
First, some backstory.
Last July, I wrote a post about how I was giving up on finding a literary agent to represent my manuscript. I had come to terms with the fact that my first book simply would not be published, at least not anytime soon, and I was moving on.
Well, maybe I lied. I guess it wasn’t quite over for me yet. Persistence is the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished one, as they say.
Two things happened to me the third week of August. The first is that I was listening to the John Tesh radio show and heard about a study that found that people are more likely to respond positively to requests in emails if you use a colored font.
The second is that I received my monthly issue of Writer’s Digest, the last one before I allowed my subscription to lapse. It featured a list of agents who were actively seeking new clients.
“Okay,” I told myself. “You can query ten more agents. Only ten though, and then you really do have to move on.”
So I chose the ten agents from the article who seemed like the best fit for my book, revised my query letter for the umpteenth time, changed my font color to dark purple, and hit send. Then I tried my best to forget about it, as a writer must do. (Although I did bolt up in the middle of the night thinking, “OMG what was I thinking with the purple font? What am I—a seventh grader?!”)
Three of those agents responded with requests to read my book. With the tempered expectations that come from years of rejection, I mailed them each my manuscript.
One of the agents read the book extremely quickly and requested to talk to me on the phone—a rarity in agent world, and a definite first for me.
She had a lot of nice things to say and was impressed it was my first book. She said she absolutely loved the first 75% of it, and found the scenes with my sophomore year boyfriend to be especially hilarious. (It’s very surreal, by the way, to be having a professional conversation with a literary agent about the boy you dated when you were sixteen.) But she said the last 25% was too dark, and that she therefore could not offer representation. She was kind enough to offer constructive feedback, which I diligently wrote down.
When we got off the phone, I took a long walk and called my critique partner, Nic.
“Why couldn’t loving 75% of it be enough?” I lamented to him, feeling all kinds of torn up over what a close call it had been. “If I love 75% of my day, that’s a good freakin’ day. If I fold 75% of my laundry, that’s success. When does anything in life ever really clock in at a full one hundred?”
And then Nic told me about something he heard Anne Rice say in a YouTube video. She said you shouldn’t listen to feedback from an agent who rejects you, because that person doesn’t get it. You should wait to make changes for the agent who makes an offer. That’s the one who truly gets your book.
I got home and put that agent’s feedback in a drawer. I haven’t looked at it since.
Then I really did move on.
I finished my Christmas shopping early. I went to Texas. I booked a wedding photographer. I received another agent rejection. I kept writing my second book. I tried and quit Zumba. I published an article about masturbation. I started going to therapy. I almost missed a flight to Curacao because I really, really wanted a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.
And then, on February 10th, I was flying home from Curacao. Noemi and I landed at the Miami airport that morning (coincidentally, the same airport that nearly ruined my life the year before), and I pulled out my phone to check my email. I had an email from the remaining agent who had requested my manuscript months ago—who I’d assumed had silently rejected me—and it said this:
Hi Julia – I’m sorry it’s taken me such a horrifically long time to get back to you, but I FINALLY had a chance to read your book this week and, well, I just love it. I think you’re a fantastic writer with a really fresh voice and so I’m very pleased to officially offer you representation. Any chance you’re available to speak this afternoon? Just let me know what time and number works best for you and I’ll give you a ring! Looking forward to it.
I freaked out. For as long as I’ve been striving for this exact outcome, I didn’t realize how much I had stopped expecting it until that very moment, when the emotion I felt most strongly was shock. Also, Stacy is from Writers House which is kind of a really big deal. I threw the phone at Noemi and made her read it out loud to me three times to make sure I wasn’t making it up as I rocked back and forth, biting my lower lip and grabbing my boobs. (A spectacle that every traveler at the gate enjoyed, I’m sure.)
The next thing I did was call Nic, who—as I told him just last week—is the only thing that has made the trying-to-get-published journey not a complete, joyless suckfest. We wrote and revised our first books together. We queried together, forwarding each other every agent request and rejection along with our own quippy commentary. We mutually declared that we were ready to quit every few months or so. I’ve always believed that we would both eventually get our agents and book deals, yet I’d also always felt a bit uneasy imagining the day when one of us would move onto that next step slightly ahead of the other one.
But my fears of awkwardness were immediately dropped the second I told him the news. There is no overstating Nic’s support.
“OH MY GOD!” he squealed as I paced the terminal. “I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked so hard and nobody deserves this more than you do! Wait how old are you?!”
“OH MY GOD YOU ARE TWENTY-EIGHT—THIS IS YOUR SATURN RETURNS!”
“My what?” I asked. “I didn’t see that movie!”
“It’s not a movie! It’s an astrological thing. When you enter your late twenties, Saturn returns to the same spot in the sky it was in when you were born. And then a big transition happens in your career or personal life! My brother turned twenty-eight last year and got married and—oh my God YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED TOO!”
“OH MY GOD I’M GETTING MARRIED TOO! MY SATURN IS RETURNING!”
After freaking out with Nic for several more minutes, I calmly returned to my gate and typed an email to Stacy explaining that I’d be free to talk at my next (six hour) layover. I made Noemi read it three times to make sure it didn’t sound stupid.
Stacy replied quickly saying she’d call within that six-hour timeframe.
As our next flight descended into O’Hare, I suddenly felt sick with the very particular type of dread you feel only when you start to get everything you ever wanted. (I only remember feeling it once before: in ninth grade when I IMed my crush and confessed my love and then he asked me out—the only outcome even more terrifying than rejection!)
“What if I talk to Stacy and she thinks I’m dumb?” I asked Noemi as we de-boarded the plane. “What if I publish my book and the world thinks I’m dumb? DO YOU THINK I SHOULD NOT EVEN GO THROUGH WITH THIS SO I CAN ALWAYS KEEP DREAMING OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?!”
Noemi said I should go through with it. So we parted ways at O’Hare and I tried to stake out a quiet spot to await Stacy’s call.
Turns out there are no quiet spots at O’Hare! Every time I found one it would eventually become loud, and then I’d find a new spot that would eventually become loud, and if anyone had been observing me sprinting and squatting and crawling my way throughout the terminal, they probably would have thought I was playing hide-and-go-seek with myself.
And then I started to get really, really hungry. A hunger so intense I hadn’t felt it since the last time I was at an airport. But I was reluctant to get in line for food. What if Stacy called when I was in the middle of ordering Chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce? Would I just walk away from the register mid-order? Agent… or food… agent… or food… agent… or food…
“Could you please seat me at a quiet table?” I asked the hostess at Macaroni Grill.
“Hah!” she laughed in my face. “There are no quiet tables.”
So instead she sat me at a loud table surrounded by loud people and I ordered bruschetta.
As soon as I placed that first serving of sweet, sweet bruschetta in my mouth… Stacy called.
Oh my God, you guys. She was so nice and easy to talk to! She said wonderful things about my book and my writing voice. I could feel my anxieties subside as I realized how right this felt. It was exactly the next step that I’d been ready for. I happily accepted her offer.
There are still several steps to go, of course. An agent is not a book deal. First we will work together to get my book in the best possible shape before she sends it to publishers. She was very upfront about the challenges involved in that process, but those are challenges we are both willing and ready to face. And though nothing is guaranteed, it’s safe to say that my chances of seeing my book in print just went way, way up.
So, I guess you could say a lot can change between bites of bruschetta.
Which is exactly why you should never give up on your dreams; you never know how close they are to coming true.