Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding a literary agent is like buying a house

Dan and I first started looking at a house to buy in 2006 (you know, BEFORE the market crashed and there were a thousand properties for sale and you had to jump on everything, or at least that's what the realtor said because it would be gone tomorrow).

My mom was encouraging us to buy a townhouse because that seemed like a good place for a mid-twenties couple to start.  We looked at a row of light yellow townhouses that sat near the river, the Greenbelt, and the newly opened Bown Crossing with two of our favorite restaurants in Boise.  My step-mom had owned one of these units a few years earlier, and the price the owner of the unit I wanted to buy was asking a bit more than she had sold hers for.  And my step-mom had a hard time getting it appraised for even that.  My dad told me not to buy, but I loved it, and I placed an offer, an offer that was less than the asking price.

And then I waited.

I jumped every time the phone rung.  I checked in with my Realtor every ten minutes.  I envisioned my life in this townhouse and started mentally placing furniture in every room.  I even talked to Dan about how cool the nursery would be (even though we weren't married yet and didn't have kids).

And then our real estate agent called us and said the offer was rejected (not even a counter offer!!).  They had a likely full-price cash offer coming in.  I begged the agent to let us know if the deal fell through.  I had already made plans to live there, and now I was having to start all over.  My dad had warned me not to fall in love with a house too soon and promised me that even if one deal fell through I would find another house to love.

We looked at several more houses, each one complete with an imaginary scenario of my life in that house, my kids in the backyard, the renovations, holidays.  When I walked in the door to the house on Sweetwater Drive, I knew I was home.  I loved it even more than the townhouse I had been so pained to lose.  We placed an offer.  And we waited.  And then waited.  The sellers accepted our offer, threw in some extras.  We held our breath through the inspection.  And finally, finally, the realtor handed us our keys to our new home.

Getting published is a bit like that.

You research agents, trying to find one that looks like a good fit.  QueryTracker is a bit like the literary equivalent of the MLS.  Instead of examining the neighborhood and schools, you are looking at their location, contacts, and book lists.

When you find an agent you love, you send off a query, an offer if you will (though we have to stretch that metaphor a bit).  And you wait, checking email obsessively, heart quickening each time the red light on the Blackberry flashes.  Some queries are immediately rejected (like my lovely townhouse).  Some times an agent comes back and says "I like it, but..." and encourages you to make revisions and resubmit (it's the counter-offer stage).  And if you're really lucky, the agent you love comes back and says, "I'll take it."

I have a proposal out to an agent at the moment, an agent I have known for a whole three days.  I've done my research.  I've envisioned my book in her hands, my future as her client.  She has been amazing about keeping me informed of the process and giving me concrete deadlines when she'll get back to me.  For those who've been waiting for an update, you'll have to wait until Wednesday to hear more.  You can obsess with me.  Ultimately, this process is about finding someone who is the right fit for both of us.  You don't just want to buy any house that's available, right?  You want the one where you feel at home.  I want an agent who love my stuff as much as I do.  And just like buying a house, I'm reminded that even if ultimately this agent rejects me, I will fall in love with another one, will be able to envision my book in their hands, and I will find myself at home there just as I did with my house on Sweetwater Drive.

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