From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.
My partner and I were recently watching Hidden Figures. We got to the scene near the end when Katherine is getting ready for her wedding to Jim Johnson—her second marriage, after her first husband passed away several years before. “I don’t think I felt a thing the first time I did this,” Katherine says, adjusting her veil. “I was so nervous.”
“Huh,” said my partner. “I guess that’s the silver lining of getting married twice.”
Finding an agent is often compared to finding a spouse, and it’s an apt analogy: you must both be there for the right reasons, must have matching communication styles, must put in the same level of effort even if the chores you each take on are slightly different.
The thing people don’t really like to talk about—both in the dating circuit and in the query trenches—is that sometimes you’ll get married twice. Me personally? I’m brushing off my shoulders for my third literary “I do.”
My second agent and I parted ways about a month ago when she decided to pursue a career in education—even though she loved agenting and will always love books. I knew her personally before she represented me, and I’ve always known about her passion for education, so when she told me about her decision to leave the publishing industry, my first thought was, “Oh God, I’m so happy for her.”
My next thought, as you might expect, was, “Well, shoot.”
This post isn’t meant to send currently agented writers into an existential tailspin. Many, many authors and agents maintain a happy relationship for their entire careers.
It is meant, though, to assure those newly no-longer-agented writers that they are not pariahs and that this moment is not a reset.
Finding an agent is hard. You must write the book, revise and revise and revise it and then let others examine the thing, poking and prodding and making notes about its merits and faults so that you can revise it again. You must polish your query, make your agent list, send out your little beating heart and get rejections out of hand and “revise and resubmits” and, most crushing of all, the notes that start, “I loved X and Y, but…”
And then you get a request for a phone call and your stomach metamorphoses into butterflies and it all feels worth it: a victory that fades into a haze of good feelings as the months and years roll on.
The thing is, finding an agent is hard, but none of the truths from last time are invalidated by having to do it over again. You are really and truly not starting over.
This time around, you know that someone (other than your best friend or critique partner) has already fallen in love with your words and characters and stories. Someone has already said “yes.” You must remember that they were not an aberration, and when you dive back into the trenches you should do so with the knowledge that someone else will say “yes” again.
This time around, you’ll be able to take it a little slower: you’ll get to revisit the You who queried that original agent and compare it to the You who’s on the market now. You’ll get to see where careers have gone since you signed and get to see what new faces and wish lists exist. You’ll get to put all the skills you learned the first time—and all the practice you’ve had in your writing since then—into this new manuscript and fresh round of queries. You’ll know both yourself and your writing better, and that will come through in your outreach. You’ll get to write a new list of questions to ask during The Call, and you’ll underline the ones you forgot to bring up the first time around because your heart was doing backflips.
It’s true that you’ll have to do the hard parts all over again too. Write the book. Polish the query. Do the research. Make the list. It will suck. You might feel alone. You will likely collect new rejections and wonder whether your book and writing career are both garbage.
But here’s the silver lining: In the end, you’ll get asked to hop on the phone. You’ll get to hear all the nice things someone thinks about your work and you’ll get to feel all those butterflies again. In the end, it will be worth it. And this time, you won’t be so nervous you forget.