Close Encounters of the Agent Kind, Part 3

We left my conference story at the point where I’m supposed to introduce myself to a complete stranger (Ms. Super Agent), tell what happened at my critique session, and ask for a fifteen minute appointment with this woman who’s been a fiction editor for years and years, authored books which got endorsements from people like Karen Kingsbury and Francine Rivers, and is now an agent at a well-respected agency.

Uh, no, I’m not intimidated at all.


I don’t see Karen at dinner, nor after. But I do see Steve Laube, head wrangler at The Steve Laube Agency, where Karen is an agent. Since I know him, and he’s given me advice on projects in the past, I tell him the story of my critique session and ask if he’d be offended if I go to Karen. He proceeds to tell me how great she’d be for me if I were going to write fiction.

Okey dokey. No worries about Steve being offended. For all I know, he’s trying to get rid of me in a nice way. He certainly knows Karen will shoot me down if my writing doesn’t cha cha across her funny bone.

One piece of data I have about Karen—She loves words. So do I. But I don’t know if she’ll love my words.

I finally track her down, tell her the story without looking too stupid (mostly), and she gives me an appointment time for the last night of the conference. I have two whole days to stew. Yay.

Meanwhile, there’s still another agent there—Mr. NY Times Agent—who’s interested in my nonfiction dog book. I fill him in on what’s going on, because suddenly I feel like I might just become a legitimate fiction writer as well as a nonfiction writer. Is that cool with him?

He says he’s okay with it, but acknowledges that his skills and interest lean more toward nonfiction. Then, because he’s a sincerely great guy, he tells me how amazing Karen would be for someone who writes fiction. Yoda, I think he called her.

Later, the gal who critiqued my novel finds me and asks if I’ve talked to Karen yet. I tell her we’ve got a meeting set up, and she proceeds to tell me what a great agent Karen would be for me.

All righty then. God is clubbing me on the head. (He knows I need that type of instruction).

I finally meet with Karen. It’s late, we’re both tired, but she gives me her full attention. I’m honored, and I try not to ramble or forget what I’m saying halfway through a word.

Then she starts reading my novel.

She laughs.

Or possibly her asthma is kicking in.

No. It’s laughter. Good sign.

She really busts out at my very favorite line seven pages in. There’s a click of rightness in my soul. She gets me.

Then she looks up at me and says, “Okay, I love it. Now let me see the nonfiction.”

That goes just as well, and she asks about the manuscript status of each.

“The dog book is written,” I say. “But it needs a serious revision. The novel is more than half done. The trouble is, I don’t know which one to finish first.” Naturally, agents want a completed manuscript before they’ll consider whether to offer representation.

I also tell her about Mr. NY Times Agent. He knows about her, after all.

“Well, I’m very interested in you,” she says. “Email me and keep me posted.”

We walk outside to go our separate ways.

“You know,” I say,  “I’m really encouraged. I keep asking God for signs to make sure he wants me to stay on this writing path. I guess this is a sign.”

She looks me right in the eye. “Humor is hard. Few people can do it well. You have a gift.”

That moment freezes in time for me. It’s like a message from God.


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Close Encounters of the Agent Kind, Part 2

While I’m at the writers conference where I get interest from a fabulous agent about my nonfiction dog book proposal, I also take the opportunity to get feedback on my novel. After all, that’s fun writing too.

My previous contest results for the novel tell me the first chapter isn’t half bad, but so what? I’ve gotta make every chapter sing to the sweet symphony of story. So I go to a walk-in critique with a gal who’d been very encouraging about my writing at the previous year’s conference, and I tell her the storyline. She gives it not only her approval, but some cool tweaks to make it better. Yay!

Then she reads a few pages of the chapter and starts laughing (in a good way). She keeps on reading and chuckling, and every now and again, points out something I can improve.

I’m loving this, but other people are waiting for their turn. I feel a little bad about taking up so much time. I tell the gal it’s fine, she doesn’t have to read it all, but she just says, “No, no. I’m enjoying this.”

All righty then.

She reads more, then finally stops and says nice things to me, but no words could top the compliment of her reading as much of that chapter as she did. I’ve got a big woohoo inside, but I cork it. It’s never cool to shriek weirdly in front of a whole room of people.

I thank her (probably my eyeballs are bulging with that suppressed yippee) and gather my things. Then she asks if I’ve shown it to any editors or agents yet.

“Well, no,” I say. “I didn’t know if it was ready.”

“It’s ready,” she says. “Show it to Karen Ball.”

I blink. Karen Ball? Editor, author, and now an agent with The Steve Laube agency? “I heard she wasn’t taking any new clients.” It’s a conference grapevine thing.

“I didn’t hear that. She wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t taking new clients.”

Huh. This feels like a knuckleball or something. I know of Karen, but I don’t know her personally. “I have a pretty good relationship with Steve. Won’t he feel slighted if I send this to another agent in his agency instead of him?”

“I know Karen, and I really think she’d like this. I would be willing to tell her I’ve sent you.” She says the last sentence slowly, like I’m five.

Ah. Someone is kind enough to give me a coveted referral to an amazing agent, and I argue. Obviously I really am simpleminded. “I’ll definitely talk to her,” I say, because my new super power is stupid-impervious, where I’m incapable of acting on idiotic impulses. “Thank you.”

I walk away still shaking my head. Karen Ball? Never saw that coming.

And what about that grapevine rumor that she isn’t taking clients?


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Close Encounters of the Agent Kind, Part 1

So I’ve been taking the latest rejection of my nonfiction manuscript as a redirection, and I’m having a jolly time writing humorous fiction. I sit on my couch and giggle. Really, I have to be careful I don’t make myself spew coffee from my nose.

I know, I know. I’m clearly too easily entertained. Or possibly simpleminded.

Just because the book tickles me, doesn’t mean the rest of the world will think it’s any better than toilet paper.

Seeing as how I’m devoting a huge amount of time to this novel, I figure I better get some feedback. I enter the first few pages in a contest and, glory be, I make the finals.

Better yet, my judges admit to laughing. So there. I’m not a half-baked, cackling moron after all. Well, not totally.

I take my feedback, tidy up the first chapter, and send it off to another contest. This one bigger yet. Then I wait.

In the meantime, I don’t forget about my dog book, I just let it sit while I write the novel.

A few months later, I go to a writers conference. This gives me a chance to get my nonfiction book proposal—I’m titling it Surviving Henry: Trial by Dog—into the hands of two other agents through a pre-conference submission system.

You know the routine—send, pray, wait. This time my prayer is that God will give me specific guidance on what I need to be writing, and as always, I ask him to tell me whether to keep going down the writing path.

When I get to the conference and get my submissions back from the agents, one says it’s great writing but she doesn’t know where she can sell it. Then she says I ought to write fiction. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

The other agent, who likes to represent nonfiction, loves my dog-book proposal and wants to discuss it with me. (Ha. Take that, Cat Guy!) Though I’ve never met this agent before, he seems like a neat guy, and I’m immediately comfortable with him. And he just happens to be the agent for a current NY Times bestseller. Yowza.

We have a great chat.

We might just be heading for that agent/client relationship.

Stay tuned.


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So a really good thing happened. I got rejected again.

I should clarify. My manuscript got rejected, not me personally.

It’s been the best thing that’s happened so far for my writing career.

I’d worked hard on my manuscript. I had a good relationship with the agent I planned to send it to. He was expecting my proposal. This time it felt so close, so right.

I stuck my envelope in the mail, and then spent eight long weeks praying—no, begging—for God to make the agent reject me if we weren’t supposed to work together.

Odd, I know. Maybe backwards, too. I mean, I truly wanted to work with that agent. I have the highest respect for him. But the agent of God’s plan was what I wanted, not my plan.

Eight weeks later, the agent sent me the most encouraging rejection letter you ever want to read and suggested I pursue other agents since my proposal was not quite connecting with him. He said he still thought I had something with the book, but he didn’t know quite what to tell me to do to change it.

I took that as God’s answer, disappointing as that was.

Later it occurred to me that my prayer didn’t have the most intelligent word choice. I mean, what if I got rejected because the book sucked, instead of because it was the wrong agent?

Or maybe it was because the agent I sent my dog book to was a confirmed cat guy?

In any case, I decided to let that manuscript sit, then come at it with a fresh revision in a few weeks and send it out to different agents. In the meantime, I worked on some articles.

Then one day a funny first line for a novel randomly popped into my head. It intrigued me so much I had to write the next line. And the next. Before I knew it, I had a whole scene, then a chapter.

Funny fiction from Erin. Who knew?

Well, actually, a gal whom I consider a mentor knew. She’d encouraged me several times to write comedic fiction, but honestly, I didn’t think I was all that creative. My humor is born out of stupid, true things that happen to me. I couldn’t make up stuff like that.

Or so I thought. Until my latest rejection.

Make that redirection.

And guess what? Writing funny fiction is a total blast.


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Writing Buddies

One of the cool things about being a writer is that there are a plethora of other like-minded writers to support you in your weirdness. You just have to find them.

Say you’re talking about some poor fellow you know, and lamenting all his struggles for like, half an hour, and everybody’s feeling bad for the guy and getting ready to call some hotline, and then you suddenly go, “Oh, wait. He’s just my character. I forgot.”

Normal people, it seems, find this intensely irritating. Sheesh, people. Picky, picky.

But when this same scenario happens amongst a group of writers, we all just nod sympathetically. Maybe buy a card for the poor guy, even if he isn’t real.

So you can see the importance of connecting with other folks in our world of blurred realities.

An excellent place to find such people is at writers conferences. Just hanging around is like a vacation at the creative pool, but frequently you make connections on an even deeper level.

One conversation can start a friendship that lasts a lifetime of books, or a critique partnership that boosts your writing to the next level. Or an editorial or mentor relationship, even. It’s all good. We’re on the same team, working for the same goal—better writing.

Another place to find writing buddies is—get this—writers groups. Who’da thunk it?

Honestly, when I first started writing, I had no idea these organizations existed. I just happened to notice a listing for writers groups in a writers market guide. I gathered my courage and emailed a total stranger who was the contact person in the guide. I mean, for all I know, it could’ve been some nutcase who couldn’t find a date in the want ads. But since he sounded nice in his reply and the meeting was held in a public place, I gave it a shot.

And there they were. A whole group of weirdo writers just like me.

I haven’t been the same since.

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Here’s an unfortunate chain of events.

Publishers no longer have the money to pay some poor soul to wade through all the manuscripts we wanna-be authors send—otherwise known as the slush pile. Some of those tomes are, well, drivel you wouldn’t want to wallpaper your doghouse with, let alone read. So publishers have simply quit taking unsolicited manuscripts. They accept submissions only from agents.

This means they’ve effectively dumped said slush pile—which I’m pretty sure is one of Dante’s seven levels of hell—onto agents.

Agents don’t want to spend every waking moment drowning in Dante’s nightmare, so they’ve banned unsolicited manuscripts too. Instead, they request query letters—short little pleas that basically say, “Here’s my great idea wouldn’t you like to see it?” The query pile is more tolerable to agents, as it is only a nasty side room of hell, rather than a full-fledged level.

Now we writers have to sell our epic genius in two hundred words or less. Preferably much less. Aim for a rap lyric.

As client rosters fill, an agent’s time for reading queries shrivels into nothingness, yet they’re expected to read through the pile anyway. Is it any wonder they resort to reading queries on their phones in twenty second chunks of time?

The end result for writers? Our dream agent is at the grocery store with a cart full of frozen food (she doesn’t have time to cook). There’s twenty people ahead of her in line, one register open, and she has to pick up her kids from school in ten minutes. Then toddler triplets directly behind her launch a screeching wingding of a tantrum that just might split her head in two. I have to hand it to her for keeping her sanity.

Ms. Agent, a multi-tasking whiz by necessity, whips out her phone to catch up on queries. Do I really want to be the first one up?

And people ask me why it’s so hard to get published.


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The Plague of Unpleasant Wildlife part II

Lousy stick figure cartoon by Erin. This is why my college art degree is best left unmentioned.

You always have high hopes for a normal day, until the kids come home from school and shout, “Hey, Mom, there’s a snake in the garage.”


It’s not that I’m against snakes or nature in general. I just think slithering creatures with cold beady eyes belong in the woods, plains, hills, or pretty much anywhere that isn’t co-habiting with my family. Or my cars, for that matter. Now I’ve gotta figure out how to rid my garage of a legless freeloader. Why did it pick my garage anyway? As if there’s something good in there for it?

Oh, crud. I had to go there. Now I’m worried little brown mice are running around my garage, too.

Jonathan tosses his backpack on the bench. “It’s caught on that sticky patch trap.”

I blink at the boys. “We have a sticky patch trap?” What exactly is that? And why do I know nothing of its existence?

“There’s a dead frog on it too,” Jacob says.

“And a dead cricket,” Jonathan says.

I blink again. “On the patch thingy?”

“You know,” Jacob says. “It’s that paper square with sticky stuff on it so when an animal runs across it, it gets stuck.”

Since when do we have a sticky patch? Apparently it works well, seeing as how we’ve collected a menagerie of pasted creatures. Swell. “Where exactly is this thing?”

“In the garage, by the water heater closet,” Jonathan says.

Now I’m thoroughly perplexed. I walk right by that closet everyday when I take the dog for a walk. Shoot, even if I didn’t notice a sticky patch thingy, for sure Henry would. He couldn’t possibly pass it without getting some part of his body plastered to it. Most likely his nose. “You say it’s outside the closet, not in?”

“Yes!” they both say.

All right, I’m prepared to believe there’s some sort of a trap in a corner of the garage I’ve just never noticed. The boys probably don’t even know where the water heater is, let alone it’s closet. And I’ve seen tiny snakes all of three inches long in the yard. That’s probably what we were dealing with here. After all, how much can one sticky pad hold? “Okay, so there’s a snake on the pad. How big?”

“Big,” Jacob says.

“Like two feet,” Jonathan adds.

“TWO FEET? Stuck on a piece of paper?”

“Yeah. And it’s still alive,” Jonathan says.

The news just gets better and better. Still, boys are prone to exaggerate. I step into the garage to investigate.

Um, big icky snake all curled up stuck to an eight by eight square of paper.

Twitching. Why does all the unpleasant wildlife I encounter today have to be twitching?

Make that thrashing. Apparently only half the snake is stuck. It chooses that moment to wing it’s body around—sticky pad, dead cricket, dead frog and all. I jump well out of range. Who knows if it’s trying to free itself, eat the frog, or both?

With a last flailing twist, it seems to wear itself out.

It’s still stuck. I venture closer, and it forks its tongue at me. Eeew.

Worse news—I can now see a good chunk of its neck practically melted to the sticky pad. I cannot fathom how to free him without tearing up his neck.

As if I would touch it.

But it was so helpless, and it’s skin looked horrible. An unexpected ache of sorrow forms in my chest. Poor thing. For a moment I actually consider whether I could make myself try to pull it free.

Right. I’d find my fingers stuck to a pad with a writhing snake, a dead frog, and a dead cricket.

Now what?

Punt. I pick up the phone and speed dial Alan.

He answers, and I pour out the story, ending with, “How exactly did we get a sticky pad thingy in the garage anyway?”

“Oh, yeah, I meant to get rid of that.”

“Pardon me?” How am I the only one who doesn’t know about the goo of doom?

“A couple months ago, I told the pest control guy we’d seen animal droppings under the water heater,” he said. “They didn’t have any of their regular traps, so they put a sticky pad down. Last month they came with the regular enclosed traps. I forgot to get that pad out and throw it away.”

“Well there’s a big snake stuck to it now. It’s thrashed his way under the crack of the closet door and is currently flipping its way around the garage. Poor thing. Its neck looks like it’s decomposing. What am I supposed to do?”

“I think you’re going to have to kill it.”

“Me? Not a chance.”

“But it’s the kindest thing at this point,” Alan says.

“Right. Can’t do it. I have trouble killing a spider, for Pete’s sake.”

“Then you’ll have to leave it until I get home.”

Swell. “Hurry.”

When Alan arrived, he did the sad deed. I think a shovel was involved.

I felt horrible. And there was nothing funny about it.

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The Plague of Unpleasant Wildlife part I

Lousy stick figure cartoon by Erin. This is why my college art degree is best left unmentioned.

When your son is supposed to be at the bus stop, but instead he’s crouching three houses away, looking intently at the curb, you know something disgusting has caught his eye.

“You’d better get to the bus stop,” I call.

He doesn’t move. “Eeew. It’s alive!”

Perhaps you can see why I habitually walk the dog at bus time.

Henry and I trot down the street to my son. “Sweetheart, the bus ought to be—eeew!”

My gaze is pinned to a giant creepy thing with sixty-kabillion legs. I wish I could turn away, but the critter is horridly captivating. It’s as thick as my finger and easily longer than my hand. Its body is completely black with a bright orange head. Or maybe that’s the tail. Honestly, both ends are twitching so how can I tell?

A shiver laces its way down my back. I know exactly what this looks like.

Fish bait—the ugly plastic thingies that my dad and I sometimes use. I love to fish, but touching live creepy-crawly bait has always been out of the question. The fake creepy crawlies are gross but doable because they’re too preposterous to be real.

Right. I will never fish again. At least not with fake crawly things that are apparently swell imitations of real life and will ever after make me think I’m touching this loathsome wiggler.

What I want to know is how did it come to exist? And why, if it must exist somewhere in the world, does it have to be in my neighborhood, twitching on my curb?

I whip out my cell phone to take a picture. Yes, it’s morbid but no one is going to believe this otherwise.

As a camera, the phone lacks, um, let’s call it engineering finesse. When I look through the viewfinder, the bug looks ten feet away. I’ll need to move in.

Right about then, Henry does a little dance of anticipation at the end of his leash.

What am I, nuts or something? I’m going let Henry’s big, sharp, pointy teeth get in range of a mutant centipede while I squat down and snap a close up? That’d be a photo the world could live without.

I back away, pulling Henry with me, and then turn to my son. “You’d better get along to the bus stop.”

He’s still fascinated, albeit entirely grossed out, by our disturbing, orange-headed discovery. “Do you think it’s dying?”

What am I, an expert in creepy bugs?

“I don’t know. But I think I hear the bus. I’ve seen enough horrible critters for one day.”

Yeah, that was before the snake came along…

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Bright Idea

Here’s an economically unsound idea. Spend months and months writing a book that no one may want to publish.

Uh, yeah, let’s look for the economic winner plan. How ‘bout while I’m spending months and months writing a book no one may publish, I trickle off a little time to write a few articles about my funny experiences? All right, I mean humiliating experiences, but they’re funny to other people.

There appears to be a market for humor, and sheesh, I live in a comedy. It’s about time I started capitalizing on my parade of absurd events. After all, writing is expensive–workshops, dues for professional organizations, conferences, how-to-books, printer paper and ink, and so on. Sooner or later you have to recoup some of those expenses or resign yourself to having a really expensive hobby.

I’m shooting for job, not hobby. Articles it is.

The beauty part is I really like writing humor. If I can give people a good chuckle over something that happened to me, well, maybe they can giggle over their own predicaments too. We’ll call it laugh therapy and endeavor to make the whole world just a little bit happier.

Rats. I’d do that for free. I’m going to need another get rich quick scheme…

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Eight Weeks to the Day

So I’ve got great news. My novel writing career is starting just like J. K. Rowling’s.

With rejection.


But hey, all the biggies suffer it. I’m in good company. The point is, I’m no longer a wannabe writer. I’ve moved up to being a real live rejected writer. That’s someone who’s trying, as opposed to someone who’s still thinking about trying.

I can’t say it didn’t feel crummy, getting that SASE back exactly eight weeks from the day I sent it. I’m not really sure how Mr. Big Agent hit the date with such precision, especially given the frequent bouts of imprecision our local delivery system seems to experience.

Still, it could have been worse. The message, casting suspicious shades a form letter, stated that the agency didn’t feel there was a sufficient market for my novel. That’s so much nicer than a “You don’t have any talent so give it up” letter.

As rejection reasons go, the sufficient market thing is legit. Not that the assessment is always correct. Nobody thought there’d be a market for George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or Stephen King’s Carrie either.

So what then? Give up writing? Never.

I went to another conference, talked with some people, showed my work around a bit, and prayed for God’s guidance. I’d started dabbling more in humor writing– couldn’t help it, the dog we have is nuts. Maybe I needed a course correction. Then I got a chance to speak to another agent–Mr. Big Agent II, we’ll call him. He really liked the dog stuff. Now I’m off and running with a new project.

So I haven’t abandoned my novel, exactly. But I have laid it aside to explore a new path. Who knows? Maybe it’ll turn out to be a key destination. Either way, I’m going where I think God is leading. Odd how that never seems to be a straight line.

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