It was time to move on. I’d been with a small publisher for over a decade and loved my time there, but something had shifted, both in me and in the industry. The stories I felt compelled to tell no longer fit the audience of my small publisher.
On top of that, I’d been researching a subject near and dear to my heart for a novel that scared me in that awesome and almost paralyzing way that tells you it’s something you have to write.
Tackling that book meant getting a New York agent. I’ve been writing seriously for over two decades and publishing almost as long, but to New York publishers, I’m brand new.
But I knew what to do. First things first: I had to write that scary book and polish it.
Then I’d research agents, write the dreaded query letter, and start querying.
My oldest child was about to leave for two years of volunteer work. I made a goal to have an agent for the book by the time he got home. He left on October 30, 2013. I began drafting the book November 1 for NaNoWriMo (and won). I finished the manuscript in July. I still had to do revisions, but I had over a year to get an agent for the book. Totally doable.
I did a big revision, which, thanks to another responsibility I’d taken on, took several months. In between all of that writing, I had other publication deadlines for my own work and editorial deadlines for clients.
I’d crossed the halfway mark on my son’s two years, and the manuscript still hadn’t gone to beta readers. It didn’t get out until January. My son would be returning late October. I received all of the beta feedback in February, and it was immensely helpful, but the clock was ticking; I had to hurry.
I worked as hard as I could whenever I could in between all of my other deadlines. Then in mid July, it was ready for querying. To my delight, I received several requests for full manuscripts right away. I sent more queries. I got rejections. I sent more queries.
October arrived. We got my son’s flight information: he’d arrive on the 28th. Deep breaths. I still had a few weeks. I sent out more queries.
But the morning of the 28th dawned, and instead of having an agent, I got another rejection, which sent a cloud over my excitement about my son’s return. It felt like a nail in the coffin of my goal.
I’d tried so hard. I’d set a timeline, as the experts advise. I’d done everything I could. But I hadn’t reached my goal.
Later that day, as the family drove to the airport, I stared out the window, thinking about my goal. Had I given it my all? Absolutely. I’d done everything I could to get an agent for that book in two years. Delays appeared that had been out of my control, but I was proud of that book and how I’d grown as a writer while writing it.
More than that, an agent’s decision to offer representation was entirely out of my hands. In the end, reaching my goal wasn’t something I could definitively do on my own. So I decided to be satisfied with my efforts. No, I wouldn’t have an agent when the plane landed, but not because I hadn’t worked hard enough.
A few miles from the airport, I checked my phone and found an email from another agent. I groaned. Of course, when agents offer representation, they call. I’d already gotten one rejection that day; I wasn’t sure I was up to dealing with another only minutes from seeing my son again.
I opened the email anyway because
I’m a masochist it was from a rock-star of an agent, one of the first who requested a full. She loved my work, she said, but had recently taken on a book too similar in time period.
However, she’d given it to a colleague named Heather at her agency (the very large and highly respected ICM Partners) who loved it and wanted to represent it.
Would I mind if she called me?
I might have screamed. Loudly.
First things first: I texted Luisa, my best friend and accountability partner, telling her the news and asking her to please do a quick bit of internet stalking to learn what she could about this agent I would be speaking to. I couldn’t do that myself yet; I sort of needed to get my head on straight so I could welcome my son home.
Heather and I exchanged a couple of emails and set up a time to chat on the phone. When we talked, I could not have been happier. Heather got my book. She was passionate about it. She could see what I was trying to do with it and had some ideas to make it even better, things I totally agreed with. I had a few hard questions, and she gave me the answers I needed. Shortly after, we signed the contract to make it official.
I was understandably thrilled, but a little part of me thought it would have been even better to have found my agent before my official goal expired.
Then I realized that my call with Heather was on October 30—exactly two years to the day after my son left. And the wheels that brought us together were already in motion when he was on the plane.
In my twenty-three years of writing seriously, I’ve had so much frustration and heartache. I’ve hit dead ends. I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. I’ve tried again. Failed again. Hit roadblocks. I’ve dusted myself off. Eaten my body weight in chocolate.
Most importantly, I’ve kept working. That could be because I’m crazy and don’t know when to call it quits, but I think it’s because I’m a writer. Therefore, I write.
I have an awesome agent now. I did reach that goal, though my list still has many to strive for. The journey is far from over. Heather and I have already had some ups and downs as a team; that’s the nature of this roller-coaster industry. At times, it’s tempting to demand that the universe give me what I “deserve” for all of the work I’ve done.
But not one of those things is in my control.
I have to keep reminding myself as I research, write, and revise the next manuscript (wash, rinse repeat) that all I can do is my best. I can work hard so that my best is always getting better. It’s a lesson I’ve learned in a variety of ways, again and again over nearly a quarter of a century.
When the path gets rocky and steep, I have to consciously remind myself to sit back and breathe. To let go of what I cannot control. To acknowledge that I did my best.
That I’ll keep doing my best.
And that somehow, some way, things will fall into place.
Annette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, Whitney Award winner for Band of Sisters, and League of Utah Writers winner of several publication awards, including the Silver Quill for The Newport Ladies Book Club: Paige. She has won Utah’s Best of State medal for literary arts in fiction five times, twice for novels and three times for short fiction. She’s had success as a professional editor and in newspaper, magazine, and technical writing, but her first love has always been fiction. She’s a member of WFWA because women’s fiction speaks to her soul. She is a regular contributor to and was the original editor of the Timeless Romance Anthology series. In addition to her novels and novellas, she’s published a chocolate cookbook, a grammar guide, and over 120 articles. Annette is represented by the utterly awesome Heather Karpas at ICM Partners.