This letter is meant to give advice to my newbie writing self from my older, wiser self. To shake my head about all the mistakes I made and gently chastise my naivete for the stupid decisions my young, writer self will go on to make.
Oh I feel so unqualified to write this letter.
I've only been writing for three years.
Wait, can that be right??
I went back and looked at the dates, searched my emails, even checked my Amazon.com "How to Write a Novel" order. (Yeah, really.) And yep. Three whoooooole years. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that--like I don't deserve to be here.
So most of the huge mistakes I'll make, I have yet to make. The incredible highs and lows of my writing career are probably mostly yet to come. Deep breath.
Here's what I know so far...
Dear Piper Trace,
Yes, that's your name--surprise! Not that other name you chose originally. I think Piper fits you much better.
You will think big, setting your sights on your dream publisher, Ellora's Cave. Believe in it--you'll get there. And you'll get there without anyone else's help except an editor who saw something in you, no matter how inexperienced and overwhelmed you are with your book when you meet her.
But take note--you can avoid a six-month period of heartache if you slow down, do your research, and understand that you don't NEED an agent to get where you will go.
You won't tell anyone you've decided to "become a writer", not even your husband. You won't research agents because you'll know you're not ready yet--you haven't even written one book! You will just write secretly in stolen moments and at night after everyone has gone to bed.
You'll marvel at what you've found in writing. It's your favorite thing. You'd rather write than do almost anything. There are reasons you'll have to leave the house--work, kids, errands--but you'll rush home from every outing, needing to get back to your computer like a junkie needing a fix. You'll pull more all-nighters writing "Come When Called" than you pulled in college. Only because you love writing it so much.
But when you finally approach a writer looking for advice, things go wrong. She will try to help you because she believes in your writing. This will sound amazing to you. You might actually have what it takes! But you won't do your research (future self is shaking my head at you). Instead you just jump in, thrilled to discover you have a connection with someone who's already in the erotic romance writing business! Someone multi-published! Someone agented! What harm could there be in contacting her, right?
Multi-Published Author (MPA) will love your work. She will send an email to her agent recommending you! She'll tell you to send the agent your stuff!
You will cry and jump up and down. It will be one of the happiest moments of your life--but hey, this is future me warning you--DON'T GET ATTACHED TO THIS HAPPINESS. You will come crashing back to Earth very soon. On your face. It will hurt.
Afraid to miss out on any of this intoxicating momentum, you will, of course, send your query. THEN you will do your research. Do you see the problem here? You will leap before you look. Tsk tsk. And you'll pay for it.
You are a researcher, and you have a VERY specific career path in mind. You are normally EXTREMELY careful and cautious, and you would (in any other situation) research the hell out of this before you act. But in this case, during your high of excitement, you won't. Your inner practical voice will be drowned out by the angels singing.
Your research (after it's too late) will reveal that this agent is not right for you. I won't go into the details publically because she is an active agent for many other successful authors, but you will know in your heart that she is not right for YOU. She's a nice person--extremely professional and connected with the folks in publishing--but you will know quickly that she's not "Your Agent".
Please understand this--not every agent is right for every writer simply because he or she is an agent. Do your research before you ask for help--you are putting your career in the hands of this person. You are getting into bed with him or her for a long time--do not just "give it up" to the first agent who expresses interest!
And do your research on other authors before you ask for help! Trust me--it's a bad situation to be offered help from someone only to find that you don't actually want their help. It's bad for all parties and it's not fair to said author who spends her time helping your naive ass.
Take your time and make sure when you find an agent, if you find an agent, that he or she is right for you. You don't actually need an agent--which you'll discover six months later when you've "finished" Come When Called and it's accepted by Ellora's Cave, unagented. (Only to be completely re-written and still not out yet...) But don't worry. You'll have four other books published by EC that contain your work before Come When Called finally sees the light of day. Yeah, pretty cool, right?
Agents serve a very valuable purpose--have you SEEN a publishing contract?? But I'm a lawyer who negotiates contracts for a living, so I have less of a need for an agent than the average person. What I will need from an agent is an expert advocate who believes in my work and has the contacts to sell it. And I need a CAREER ARCHITECT. Agents are experts at those things.
I liken it to needing a lawyer to write a will. If you have an extremely simple estate, you can probably DIY it. But as your estate becomes more complex--kids, maybe a business, inheritance, home ownership, etc--that's when it's time to call in an expert. I look at my writing career the same way. Right now I own a stereo, an iPhone and a used Chevy. And I rent. Metaphorically speaking. I'll look for an expert when things get more complicated, or when I am ready to make the leap to things becoming more complicated.
That time is not now. I'm not prolific enough for the relationship to make sense. Agents sell books and I don't have any books to sell right now. When and if the time comes that I want to branch out from Ellora's Cave, then maybe I'll consider querying agents, but not now.
Back to my tale of woe to my past self...
You'll write to MPA and spout effusively about how much you appreciate her help and belief in you. Because you really do! And you're really grateful! She didn't need to try to help you, but she did. You will be heartbroken to have to write this motherfucking email, but you'll explain that her suggested agent just isn't right for you, as much as you appreciate her help. You explain that you're going to pull your query from agent's consideration (thinking the situation will only be WORSE if agent accepts you and you turn her down). You'll send this email to MPA with dread, knowing there's no way in hell to get out of this smoothly and that the shit's about to hit the fan.
It will. She's offended that her agent isn't good enough for you (this is not why you don't want said agent, but it's how MPA interprets your message). She will excoriate you via email, tell you how stupid you are to throw this chance she gave you back in her face. She'll wish you luck in the slush pile because that's where you're going back to, having stomped on the opportunity she gift-wrapped for you.
Every word will sting your conscious and bring tears, but you will read her response anyway, like penance, over and over. She will block you over email and Facebook, tell you she's already written to the agent and told her you've decided you don't need her and that you're no longer recommended.
You will cry for three days straight, sad for the drama and sure you have burned your bridges in the publishing industry before you've even crossed one. But you'll keep going back over the situation in your head, knowing there was nothing else you could have done differently, short of researching this author ahead of time and been wise enough to steer clear of any discussion of agents with her. But how were you to know she'd offer to refer you to her agent? This author was your one and only contact that you actually knew in the publishing industry, and your only option in hindsight was to never have contacted her, or to somehow make it clear from the beginning that you weren't interested in agency, though you'd love to discuss writing with her.
So look before you leap, young Piper, and you will avoid a lot of heartache and drama.
Have any of you ever found yourself at the receiving end of an incredible "favor" that you didn't want? How did you handle it? What could I have done differently to have avoided this awful situation?
And by the way.... IT'S FRIDAY BITCHES!!!! Go get some this weekend!