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Writing My Memoir #2: Selling Out For An Agent Too Soon

For the next six months after the initial idea, I wrote whenever I could. None of the stories was organized and I didn’t try to tame them. I was still just coaxing the muse. I was gently prodding my memories out, hoping they could be captured well on the page. I was writing a book, although I didn’t talk about that to anyone really except my husband. I knew where I was headed, but the idea was still so young and fragile, I felt the need to protect it.

And then I went to a writers conference. It was a fun and challenging experience and I made several friends I keep in touch with to this day. I also met an agent who was seriously interested in my book.

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I told him I had barely a few chapters; he said that was OK, that he wanted to have a hand in shaping the book anyhow.

I was enthralled with the possibility of getting an agent so soon. I saw all the things first-time authors dream at once: book deals, book tours, advances, my name in print. I was dazzled and enthusiastically agreed to keep in touch with the agent.

From then on, I was writing for him. (Cue the chorus of Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do I Do It For You). He was my ticket to getting published and my validation for what I had done so far.

I wrote to the deadline he gave me. He didn’t sign me. I made all the changes he suggested. He didn’t sign me. I wrote a proposal, complete with chapter summaries. He said he loved it. He didn’t sign me. I did a conference call with him, his boss, and the other agents at the agency and they told me I needed to change one major thing. I changed the major thing, even though it didn’t sit well with me.

Months went by. He didn’t sign me.

This would be the first of many let downs in my pursuit of traditional publishing. I say it not to knock the industry as much as admonish myself for getting too caught up in the hype of publishing when my baby idea was still growing inside me. My book didn’t know who she was yet, and I was forcing an identity on her based on the demands of a single agent.

I don’t suffer from my choices, however. Those conversations with that agent helped me work to a deadline and organize my book into chapters, something I may have never done otherwise. The chapters have since shifted around like teeth under braces, but the core structure has remained the same. I also was forced to write a proposal, which made me think about my platform and audience for the first time ever.

The bottom line is I knew my book would never fit with his agency, and yet I was so desperate to get my big break, I was stuffing my poor book into this tiny shoe. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing the book you know can get published. We all have to eat. But I chased that direction too soon in the process. I should have listened to my intuition and continued to focus on the craft of writing as I had been doing before. There’d be plenty of time to try way too hard to impress agents.

Because as they say, this wasn’t a sprint. This was the beginning of a marathon…

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