Earlier today, I put the last few words of revision into the manuscript for Project Macaroni and sent it off through the ether to my agent. For the foreseeable future I will try to forget about it while she reads through and determines which parts of it are decent—potentially even saleable, one hopes—and which parts of it need to be stripped out and pasted to the underside of sea-going vessels as barnacle fodder.
Regardless of whether it’s more the former or the latter, it’s time to start work on the next one. Because it’s what I do. And also because if I don’t I’ll end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and Cheetos dust.
I think we can all agree that should probably be avoided. You know, for the kids. Although, admittedly, I will probably take a night off to watch World War Z and enjoy a leisurely beer or two.
Still, while contemplating my Next Move™, I did what any normal person would do and enlisted some opinions. Specifically, I asked my agents which of my brilliant , mind-shattering, universe-ending novel concepts might produce the biggest splash in the publishing market these days.
Turns out, neither of them were too impressed with my fictionalized memoir idea, Software Guy Writes All Day and Eats Doritos While Fending Off International Opossum-faced Spy Ninja.
So, um, probably going to have to brainstorm for a bit.
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. I did, though, send them an email that was a touch on the silly side (because that’s what I do), and they were okay with that because they understand that I’m sometimes the silly sort. It works for them. We work together. Kumbaya and all that.
The point is, it made me realize how lucky I was that I found the right agents.
You might recall, of course, that I rambled on about this topic last year, just about this time. And I stand by that post completely. Sure, there were times when I thought to myself, “Um, whatever, self. I need rep, yo. I’d sign with Genghis Khan or Hannibal Lector as my agent, thanks, if they know the right editors for my work.”
In fairness, though, those thoughts were usually predicated on frustration, struggle, losing at Super Mario Bros, and bourbon.
What I didn’t understand at the time, though, was that I’d earned ever drop of that frustration by sending out FAMINE. I’d earned it by writing FAMINE first, and by not doing the one thing more important than all the rest of the advice you’ll every find about catching an agent’s eye put together.
See, all those times I sent out my query letter and the associated sample pages, I was begging for someone to love my book. But agents don’t just want books. They want clients. They want people. They want the author they hear whispering, scurrying within the pages of a novel like rats behind the walls of a church.
How do they find that? How do they pick clients, then, when they have only the books to judge?
Well, sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s a hunch. But the easiest, most sure way is to put yourself into your work.
And no, I don’t mean write yourself in as a character. After all, we’ve already covered that my fictionalized computer guy memoir above probably isn’t Best Seller List material. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even toilet-roll material. But that’s a different post.
No, the way an author puts him or herself into the book is by use of Voice.
For a long time, what I didn’t understand was that FAMINE, while a story I’m very proud of, filled with characters I love and want to write again, wasn’t written in my Voice. It has a Voice, certainly. But it’s a dark, heavy, and atmospheric. I wrote it that way on purpose because the story demanded it.
My own Voice, however, the one I’m most comfortable writing with, is quicker and sharper, lighter, tinged with a sense of immaturity with a hint of acerbic wit. It’s very close to the same one I use here, which is perfect for blog posts because it works here and I like to feel like I’m being myself.
But you don’t get but barely a whiff of it in FAMINE until the book is two-thirds of the way finished. And there’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. That’s how it had to be to serve the story. LONGSHOTS, on the other hand, is my Voice from page one. I poured myself into that story, left not just a trail of breadcrumbs, but huge flashing neon signs that screamed the way to me on nearly every page.
I sent out queries for FAMINE for nearly a year, begging, wishing, hoping that someone would love that one book enough to learn to love all of my work. But that’s a lot to ask when I’m barely in there anywhere. Sure, there are whispers of me hidden throughout, subtle hints of my real Voice, but it’s like asking for instant love from an arranged marriage after a five minute interview.
Why am I going on about all of this now? Well, because in everything I read two years ago about finding the right agent, about how to write the perfect query to snag the agent you dream about, I don’t think I ever once saw any advice about what you should put into that book. So, with NaNoWriMo coming up and thousands of writers taking up their various pens, quills, typing monkeys, and word processors, I thought it might be a good time offer anyone having midday fantasies of finding their “Dream Agent” this bit of advice: your dream agent is the one who will be the biggest fan of your work, not the one you’re the biggest fan of. And you’re selling yourself to that agent, not your book. So leave yourself on every page of any story you hope to query.
Use the Voice that’s really you and the agent that’s meant for you—that’s best for you—will find you.
And they won’t want to let go once they have.