In which I sign with a literary agent

The short version for anyone who hasn’t yet seen my crowing about this in social media: I am now a client of Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary Agency. Calloo callay!

I must say it has been lovely to get all the welcoming messages from my fellow Red Sofa authors.


The three-decade synopsis:

The most common advice to writers is “just write. Bum in chair.” I’ve had my bum in this here metaphorical chair since I was in elementary school. I’ve been working on one novel or another for almost as long as I can remember being alive. Sad but true. I am now 37 years old.

(What do people who don’t write novels think about all day? I honestly don’t know.)

Ask me how many novels I’ve written and I’ll stare at you blankly, because the answer depends on whether you count the really bad and/or unfinished ones. I have three complete novels in the trunk that I wrote in my 20s and 30s, two of which are not horrible, but not publishable in their current state. I have one vaguely novel-shaped thing I wrote when I was 18, which should be burned if it is ever found.

(This is to say nothing of the juvenilia: the false starts, the epic outlines in earnest cursive in ruled notebooks, the early vignettes posing as stories, the poems. Oh dear god the poems.)

I’ve been querying agents since… oh gosh. About a decade now, on and off, on various novels.

A few years ago, I started writing a lot of short fiction, which is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. (Yes, I know that this is very common advice to writers but I didn’t follow it until I was about 34 because I am stubborn.) I joined writers’ groups and tried to learn as much as I could.

I had a novel at the very beginnings of the query stage at that point, and I had some agent interest in that one, but I felt it just wasn’t representative of the work I could do. I trunked it. I applied my slowly improving craft to a new novel, The Humours of Grub Street, and revised and revised until I was ready to query.

This spring, Jennie read The Humours of Grub Street and liked it, but thought it wasn’t quite there. She noted a structural issue with the way I’d chosen to tell the story.

As I read her email, I thought, That’s lovely, thoughtful feedback and possibly bang on but I am not going to rewrite this whole manuscript, no way, thank you, moving on.

About two minutes later I thought, Well, I suppose I could.

Another two minutes and I’d realized that the book would be much, much better if I tried Jennie’s advice. I knew that one way or another, I’d be a better writer by the end of it.

It took me, hmm, about four or five more months. I ripped the book apart and put it back together. It was awful. In the end, there is probably more new material in the rewrite than old. By the time I was done, I had changed something about almost everything: every character and plot thread and motivation. But it’s now the book it ought to be, or close to it, anyway.

I’ve had a few extremely-close-but-not-quite moments with other agents on previous novels, and even some long phone conversations with agents, so I didn’t get my hopes up when Jennie called earlier this month. But I knew by that point that if she did offer to represent me, I’d say yes. I knew she was the agent for me. She is a writer herself and a historian. And we had clicked in previous conversations, and she gets me and my book.

And now she’s my agent, and I am thrilled. Onward!