I found Peter’s email address online and emailed him. “I’d love to read your manuscript if Ian’s recommending it,” he replied minutes later. “But I can’t get to it for several weeks. We’re busy getting ready for the Frankfurt Book Fair.”
Weeks? I’d waited to hear from some agents for months. That was early Friday morning. On Monday morning, I came downstairs to find an email from Peter:
“I read the novel over the weekend and quite literally couldn’t put it down. I love it and on the strength of this would love to represent the book and you.”
Over the past year I’ve alluded to the fact that I’m trying to find a home for my own manuscript. Everyone will tell you this process is slow going, but seriously, people: it is slow going. I am in month 14—that’s since I declared the book completely finished and ready to go—and counting. The reason I haven’t talked about it much here is because I don’t have much good news to report. There’s been some interest, and some careful readers, but nothing concrete. (A piece of it was published, but that was before I’d even finished a first draft.) More than fifty agents have turned it down. I have a few good leads at the moment, but I think they may be the last ones open to me.
All in all, it’s been a slow fizzle. Crushing, sure, but manageably so.
Then along comes a piece like the one quoted above, and it all stings a little bit more—not because Peggy Blair was handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s all so unfair, but because I’ve had good luck, too. I didn’t study creative writing, and I’m not super well-connected or anything, but I do know a few people. And as a result, I got in a few doors I probably shouldn’t have. Nothing mind-blowing, but very real opportunities nonetheless. I’d like to think mine is an underdog story, but at some point that just stopped being true.
The worst part? All of those shortcuts didn’t even work. So now I feel doubly bad: guilty for queue-jumping, ahead of all the people who’ve worked even longer and harder than I have—plus I still have the exact same episodes of blind envy-panic, aimed at writers like Blair, who don’t even deserve it, that I did before any of this started.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right to think it. My book must not be very good at all, to have such a head start and then still brick. I go back and forth on this. Sometimes I love it and would defend it to the nth; sometimes I think it might be best to quietly forget it exists and just recycle the ten best jokes into the next one.
One thing I have learned for sure is that things like platforms don’t really matter. You can tell people you’re an active national book reviewer, or that you have a literary Tumblr with subscribers in the quadruple digits. None of that will convince an agent or publisher to love a book that they don’t already. Platforms, in other words, are icing; they aren’t cake.
This is starting to sound like a eulogy, which it isn’t. It’s not a pity party. And it also feels a little like a subconscious hail mary, like I’m putting all of this out there in the hopes that Sonny Mehta is going to read it and cut me a novelty-sized golf cheque. I don’t mean it to be that, either. Or do I? I can’t tell.
Anyway. The truth is I try not to think about the manuscript that much these days. I’m spending my time on a few new projects. A few might even be book-length. But none of them are novels. I haven’t been able to work up the energy to start all over again.
So, since my dirty laundry is already being aired, what can I tell you about the one that I have finished? Well, it’s a comedy. It’s ~76,000 words long. It’s set in Canada. It’s, according to my query letter, “The Imperfectionists meets Lucky Jim.” A t-shirt cannon is involved. So is a fake celebrity’s full-length iMDB page. It took me three years to write. Its original title, which stuck around for much longer than it should have, was Collected Poems: A Novel.
And in a month or two, for better or for worse, it’s going to live in a drawer. Which is definitely not Peggy Blair’s fault.