Sunday, April 27, 2014

I've Been Traded


Many years ago, when we still lived in Oregon and I was still working as a high school athletic trainer, I had summers off. Since I had nothing better to do with my time, I decided I might as well write a book.

Yeah, I was that clueless.

I wrote that book. And then I decided I'd like to try my hand at a mystery, so I wrote another one. And I read a lot of books on how to write books and I took a writing class at Blue Mt Community College, and finally after I finished the third book, my husband said, "So are you ever going to, like, try to make money at this?"

Huh. Now there was a thought. So I hunted up the closest writing conference that offered a chance to pitch your work to agents and editors, signed up for a couple of slots, tucked my book under my arm and marched into the Willamette Writers Conference with only slightly more of a clue than when I sat down at my computer to write for the first time. I pitched to one editor and one agent, and miracle of miracles, they both asked to see the whole manuscript.

And then....nothing. This was my first introduction to the speed at which the publishing industry moves, which is slightly slower than a snail in molasses on one of our sub-zero Montana days.

Finally, a couple months later I got a polite note from the editor saying Thanks, but no. And then one day, as I sat on the sidelines of a regional championship basketball game with approximately six hundred high school kids shrieking in my ears and a pep band mutilating Centerfold over in the corner, my cell phone rang.

The woman on the other end said, "Hi, this is Janet Reid."

And I yelled, "Who?" over the din.

And she said, "Where in God's name ARE you?"

That was the beginning of my relationship with the woman who has been my literary agent ever since. She has stuck by me through three unsaleable attempts at being a mystery writer and one she sent straight back with a note that said, "Uh, no. Private detective stories really aren't your thing." When I gave birth to a boy and changed careers and started a business and moved from Oregon back to Montana and didn't write anything for almost three years, she sent a baby gift and checked in periodically and finally said, "Okay, you've given reality more than its due, it's time you started writing again."

So I did, because writing a novel might be like sucking your brain out through your ear with an eye dropper and smearing it on a page, but it's still easier than saying no to Janet.

She hung tough after we decided mystery and suspense in general weren't my thing and I should try writing straight women's fiction and romance, even though by that point it specifically stated on her website she didn't represent either. In the process of writing my first non-suspense novel we both got so frustrated I bought a plane ticket, flew to New York and she locked us both in a conference room for two days with a poor intern named Ryan who probably went straight out afterward and got a job in something that was NOT PUBLISHING.

As we shopped that book to publishing companies, it became increasingly apparent we had evolved in different directions. When she signed me, Janet had novelists from several genres under her wing. Over the years, she has honed her stable of novelists to mainly crime, suspense and literary fiction writers.

And me.

The book industry is all about who you know, and what you know about them. Editors have preferences, and when an agent sends a book out they are, in essence, attempting to set up a blind date between two friends, hoping they'll fall in love with each other. Trouble is, most of Janet's friends wanted to fall in love with someone who commits murder and mayhem in their books, and I was writing love stories.

To find a match for me meant doing all kinds of extra work to learn about a whole different genre then develop contacts with those editors, who had no interest in any of her other clients. From my side, it meant I had an agent who wasn't fully in tune with my segment of the publishing industry. Not an ideal situation for either of us.

This is the point when most agents would throw in the towel. Actually, that point for most agents would've been about three books ago, but Janet isn't good at giving up. I began to fear opening her emails or answering her calls because I was sure any day now I'd be getting the one that said, "I'm sorry, but this just isn't working any more..." 

This week I got that call. Except she didn't cut me loose. Unknown to me, over the past few months she has gone out and hunted up the best possible agent for the books I'm writing and persuaded her to take me on.

If this were baseball, you'd say I'd been traded. I've cleaned out my locker at Fine Print Literary Agency, stuffed all my tattered manuscripts in a duffle bag and caught the red-eye to the west coast, where I've been picked up by the amazing Holly Root with Waxman-Leavell Literary Agency , in exchange for undisclosed amounts of scotch and, I assume, a writer to be named later.

It's gonna take a while for the jet lag to wear off, but I am convinced this change is for the best, and not just because Janet told me so. She also told me I'll be buying all the drinks next time we meet up.

I will be honored.



Laurie Lamb said...

Aww...but also yay! Good luck with everything. I know I'll be reading a book you've written one day!

Anonymous said...

Holly is fabulous! I admire your perseverance on this long road you've been on (and Janet's, too!), and can't wait to see it pay off. Welcome to Team Root! :)


Anonymous said...

Your words are a tribute to Janet Reid - for sticking with you that long, and then finding you someone more suitable.

Best of luck with the new agent.


Deb Vlock said...

Best of luck, Kari -- I'll miss you around the Reef! Can't wait to read your book...and I'm sure I will!

MK McClintock said...

Congrats, Kari!

MitMoi said...


You've confirmed what I've long suspected. Both you and Janet are class acts! You for continuing to try - and her for sticking with you and finding you a new home.

We read so many uncomplimentary things about agents and the business - it's nice to hear about the good guys!

Here's wishing years of productive writing at your new home - and Janet shark infested waters filled with amazing mayhem writers!

Benjamin L Clark said...

Wow. That's an amazing, encouraging story. I know it's far from the norm, but ... wow. It says a lot about *everyone*. Thanks for sharing!

DeadlyAccurate said...

This is awesome! Janet is simply top notch. She may not be my agent any more, but I have nothing but the highest respect for her.


Wow, what a roller coaster ride you've had! I can relate to a lot of it myself, so I know this new development is a sign of great things to come. I've heard awesome things about Holly, so you're in very good hands. Best of luck to you on this new part of your adventure!


Darlene Underdahl said...

Reading and enjoying Konrath, Crouch, Eisler and others, I was struck at how much they knew about violent crime and how I knew next to nothing. But I know a lot of other things, and you know a lot of other things.
I will buy your books. Don’t give up.

Tanmoy Roy said...

Congratulations Kari!