by PJ McIlvaine
In two words: it sucks.
You want an agent.
You want to be published.
Here’s a secret for you: WE ALL DO.
This isn’t like sending wind mills to Mars.
No one wants to write just for the sake of writing. Oh, writers may say they do (ahem) but the cold, hard truth is, we’re not writing for posterity or just for the sake of storing stuff on our hard drive.
When I’ve been rejected and passed over like a week old monkfish, I’ll rant and say I don’t care, as long as I like it, who gives a motherclucker.
But when I calm down, and I always do, I realize it’s just me blowing off steam.
My computer hard drive is slow enough. I don’t need to add more stuff to it that no one will ever read.
We all get anxious, frustrated, antsy, depressed, down in the mouth, about our writing, our progress, or our lack of it. And a writer who says they never have a moment of doubt, isn’t being honest.
I freely admit that I’m my own worst enemy. But I’ve been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something. I’m still standing, warts and all.
Which leads me to my next rant, uh, musings.
Lately on various writer blogs, a hot topic has been when to accept an agent’s or publishing offer. No, I don’t mean you, or you. Just general observations on my part. Unfortunately, some of these posts have the whiff of desperation, and it clings like cheap after shave. And since I’ve been stuck in that valley of low self-esteem, I can sympathize.
But I can’t emphasize enough: a bad agent is worse than no agent. And re publishing, money goes to the writer, it’s not the other way around.
This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating every millennium.
If a publisher asks you to pay for publication, RUN.
If a publisher says you need to pay an illustration fee, SKEDADDLE.
If a publisher looks sketchy, their online presence is minimal, they have no track record, their website looks like something a toddler threw together at nap time while their caregivers were busy on their cell phones, SCOOT.
And as for agents…please, I implore you, my fellow writers, don’t sell yourselves short.
Take this from the voice of experience. Don’t accept the first agent offer that comes along out of fear you’ll never get another or some misguided sense of well, this was a huge fluke so I should say yes before they find out I’m a big, fat fake.
And don’t accept onerous terms because you’re a lowly nobody and agent person is a big somebody.
We all have our demons. Mine is being thought “mediocre”, as I was told early on. Even now, as a mature writer, I still have to slap myself upside the head fighting against feeling like I’m a fraud and a failure.
And if you’re a baby writer, it’s just as crucial to take a step back and do your research.
This is your career. Your life. But it’s business, plain and simple. Don’t make it personal—well, it is, but you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. But you’re not being a nerd or a nudge not to hop on the first streetcar that swings by.
Some writers seem afraid to ask questions, like it’s offensive. It’s just the opposite. Beware the agent, agency or publisher who doesn’t welcome questions and lots of them.
If you were advised that you needed brain surgery, wouldn’t you ask for a second opinion and find out as much as you could about the surgeons, hospital, your condition, etc.? Or would you pounce on the first car mechanic who came around the corner to perform the operation simply because they were handy with tools?
And listen, take it from me, if you get liked at pitch contests, as exciting as it is, you must do your due diligence to avoid disaster.
I’ve turned down publishing offers from pitch contests. It was a new outfit that made a big splash on social media and was liking everything under the Tuscan sun. I was suspicious, and when they offered me contracts on two picture books in a matter of days, it didn’t take me all of two minutes to decline and withdraw. My gut told me that this was fishy as all get out, for many reasons, and I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months later that it all blew up. Whew. I’d dodged a bullet on that one.
Same thing with agents. You think they hold all the cards, the power? In fact, it’s just the opposite. They need YOU. They need your stories, your vision, your voice, your passion. They need fresh meat, I mean, new clients.
I get that it’s scary and overwhelming and sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because on this journey it’s going to happen. No one’s perfect, not even me. And you learn from those missteps, and sometimes you cry and take solace in a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.
You fasten your seatbelt and put on your big pants.
The saddest book is the one that is never written.
Don’t let your book be a sad book.
Pj McIlvaine is a prolific writer/author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. She has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, and a host of other places. Her Showtime movie, My Horrible Year (with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen and Eric Stoltz) was nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Find out more about Ms. McIlvaine HERE. This article first appeared in her most magical blog.