Friday, December 11, 2009

Call Me Chum

I'm taking a break from my usual programming to participate in a day of recognition for literary agents, because I have more reason than most to appreciate what a dedicated agent can do for a writer.

Approximately ten years ago I was an athletic trainer in eastern Oregon. Ten months out of the year I taped ankles, passed out ice bags, rehabbed shoulders and knees and elbows and generally did my best to keep the Buckaroos of Pendleton High School on the fields and the courts.

The other two months were mine.

We rodeoed as much as we could afford to, but that still left me three or four days a week to hang around the house while my husband worked. I was bored. I had a computer. So I decided to write a book. It seemed to make sense at the time. If I'd known what I was getting myself into, I'd have tossed the computer out the window and went to the bar instead.

That first book was a wandering, convoluted mess with a cast of thousands. I had a blast writing it. My husband thought it was cool because it was about a calf roper. I was hooked.

I decided maybe I should try doing it right. I checked out every book the local library had on writing, studied them carefully, and sat down to write book number two. It was still messy, but better. By the third book, I figured I had this writing deal down pat, so I signed up to pitch the book at a writers conference in August in Portland. From the list of available editors and agents, I chose three to bless with my brilliant prose.

That is how I met Janet Reid.

At the time, she and a partner were busting their butts to get their new Pacific Northwest Literary Agency off the ground. She sat patiently (and without bursting into hysterical laughter) through what I'm sure was a horrible pitch and asked me to send her the first three chapters of my book anyway. I did. A few weeks later, I got a letter asking me to send the rest. I did a happy dance and sent it. More weeks passed. I got busy with basketball season and stopped chewing my nails, wondering if I'd ever hear another word.

The State 2B basketball tournament is held in Pendleton every year around the first week of March. I was part of the sports medicine crew, parked at the scorers' table on the sideline, watching my thirty-seventh consecutive hour of hoops and debating the wisdom of ear plugs to block out the sound of a truly frightful high school band and even more frightful fans. I almost didn't hear my cell phone ring. I had to get up and go out in the lobby to hear over the screaming.

Some person I barely remembered said, "I love your book and I want to be your agent."

I'm pretty sure I screamed so loud the fans and the band had to plug their ears.

That was the spring of 2003. We polished up the manuscript and Janet sent the book out to every editor who might possibly be interested. We got some nice comments, helpful feedback, but no offers. I wrote another, better book. We got better comments, more helpful feedback, but still no contract. I started another book that fell apart three fourths of the way through and couldn't be patched up. Janet lost a partner, changed the name of her agency to Jet Reid Literary. I changed jobs, went to more rodeos, and started yet another book.

Then I got pregnant.

My son was born eleven weeks premature. He came through like a champ, but suffice to say, I didn't get much writing done that year. Then we decided, while home for Christmas in 2006, to move back to Montana and set in motion a two year plan to get it done.

I started what I hoped would be a home-based business I could run from the ranch. Most of another year passed with nothing new to send to Janet. Occasionally I would get an email, asking if I was still alive and capable of poking computer keys. I would reply with vague promises and a boatload of excuses. When I got a letter explaining Jet Reid Literary was becoming a part of Fine Print Literary Management, I was surprised to find a new contract enclosed. It had been so long since I'd submitted anything, I expected to be left in a dusty corner of the old office.

Then one day, after we had packed up and hauled ten years of accumulated baggage and horses from Oregon to Montana and got ourselves settled in, I got another email from Janet. How were things going? Was I working on anything? She'd really love to see something new from me.

That email is probably the only reason I'm still writing. I sat there looking at my computer and I thought, You are an idiot.

At any given time, there are several thousand writers who would donate their left eye to science if they thought it would get their work read by an honest to goodness New York literary agent. And I was twiddling it away.

I emailed her back, said yes, I was working on something new...and I did. It wasn't the best thing I've ever written. It will, in fact, never been seen in public. But it got me going again. Then I started a blog because Janet said I should, and I discovered a whole new side to my writing. I started another book. For the first time, I really tapped into who I am and where I came from. It's the most fun I've ever had with a computer, including the stupid Elf Bowling game that was all the rage many Christmases ago.

Last week, for the first time in four years, a book of mine ventured out into the cold cruel world of publishing houses. Maybe it will sell. Maybe it won't. But neither that book or this blog would exist if I hadn't gotten a nudge from the right person at the right time, so I guess as long as she's willing to read them, I'll keep writing them.

My agent is Janet Reid, aka The Shark, and I am honored that she considers me her chum.


Susan at Stony River said...

Wow, what a story--and what an agent! I'm glad she told you to blog, just saying that for the record.
Good luck to the book, this round!

Tara Parker said...

Awesome story - and good luck with the book!!

Being Beth said...

If your latest book is anything like your blog, with your unique voice and perspective, then that's a book I want to read. Good luck, lady!

Bill Cameron said...

Yo, Fellow Chum, good tale!

Carol said...

Good for her and you! Your Montana voice needs to be heard above the wanna-be cowboy drivel. I'll read your book anytime!

Susan Adrian said...

She really is pretty cool, isn't she? :)

Anonymous said...

You are one lucky piece of Chum. Don't forget that and for heavens sake, DON'T waste the opportunity. I'd query Janet in a nanosecond if she handle romance.

Leona said...

That is an awesome tale and one that I think should be posted on her site! She likes to pretend she's a tough nut and maybe on the outside she is. Inside, she cares about writers, books and keeping people reading!

Leona said...

I'm going to post your link on her site LOL maybe my blog to (like 10 people follow publicly and ten more read it, but hey, maybe one of them will see this and buy your book!)

MitMoi said...

I love how she "stuck to the saddle" if you will. I didn't think agents would be that determined. Another reason to appreciate her straightforward approach.

And yay you! For also sticking with it, being diligent and doing your homework. Good lessons for any writer to read and remember.

Lisa Desrochers said...

I love that we're agency cousins and also both Athletic Trainers. (got sick of smelling feet and stick to my PT clinic now)

It's so great to hear everyone spreading the love for their agent today. I know mine's awesome!

Hardygirl said...

So great!

Sarah Frances Hardy

Bill Kirton said...

Refreshing to hear that there are still agents who care about writers and are proactive in their caring. I think Janet's name is a byword nowadays for what agents ought to be. I know another of her authors and he can't praise her highly enough. I'd offer to give my left eye to be on her list but that's my good one. Would the right eye do?

Linda G. said...

Great story -- you are an inspiration for stick-to-it-iveness! I can't wait to see one of your books on the shelf at my local bookstore. And it WILL happen. I get feelings about these things. :)

Deb Vlock said...

GOOD LUCK! Mine's out there on submission now too. If anyone can sell them, our agent can!