If you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant with me, you know how long it takes for me to order. No sooner than I’ve finally made my choice when your selection suddenly sounds more appetizing. “I’ll have what she’s having” was my trademark long before it became fashionable.
I’m not like this about every decision, I swear. But bookstores do confound (and bankrupt) me. And two years ago when three agents offered me representation I found myself in a pickle.
One emailed me after reading an article I’d written. The other two – including Jenny – I’d cold-queried. All three had amazing track records. When we met, I felt at ease with all of them and sensed that each also had the one essential quality that I would never bargain away – integrity.
I know how lucky I was to be facing such a dilemma. My round of querying, however, was preceded by a decade of writing classes, folders of rejections and drawers full of not-yet-ready drafts penned at mid-life while reinventing myself from lawyer to stay-at-home mom to a word that literally got stuck on my tongue often before I could say it aloud – writer. I was also going through the divorce from hell while raising two kids. (And I don’t have a signed book deal – yet.)
Jenny and I met for the first time at Connecticut Muffin. I loved her boots; she loved mine. She was smart, she was beautiful, and she’d read my manuscript two or more times already, and knew it. The wind tore through my umbrella during my mile and a half walk to meet her that day. I arrived late, drenched and, consequently, disheveled. Either the universe was conspiring to keep us apart, I recall thinking as I struggled against the wind, or we were meant to be.
Afterwards, I went back to wavering. Because when you’ve been rejected by the father of your own children and the once man of your dreams, it can make tying yourself down to anyone ever again – scary. Even an agent. Plus, I knew rejection first-hand and couldn’t imagine rejecting anyone else.
Time began to feel like it was running out, even though none of the agents pushed me. One of the notes I’d written to myself and pinned to my bulletin board during my divorce said “check your gut” and so I did. And it said “Jenny.” Just as I was about to tell her, she called me “Barbara” and every bit of my self-esteem came crashing down. All my life people have occasionally thought I looked like a Barbara – and called me that. For Jenny, it was the “BA” at the beginning of the email address I was using then (my middle name is Ann), that understandably kept throwing her. Still, I was too raw back then to let such a little thing gracefully slide.
Jenny returned my tears with such compassion though that I thought, even now, she’s the one. And suddenly I felt exactly what I needed to – safe.
That was two years and many trees ago. There was of course more to it than that. Other writers and the publisher who’d dropped Jenny’s name to me all spoke highly of her. Her editing is crisp and precise. She’s honest and straightforward and she knows just how to hold that quivering ego in a loving, yet firm, way. Thankfully she has the distance I sometimes lack, while knowing my work and my story as well as I know them myself. I’m at work on a memoir and for some, my story can be hard to digest. But Jenny gets it. She’s brave like me and isn’t afraid of controversy either.
I thought of Jenny during the Oscars this year, with all the thanks dealt out by those who have already achieved the outward earmarks of success. I wondered if their speeches would have been the same if they’d still been struggling. Oscar-less and awaiting public validation.
While no writer or agent can predict the future, I hope Jenny and I will eventually have a long successful career in books together. No matter what, though, she has the full measure of my gratitude which comes directly from my heart.
A final note to other writers: A mentor of mine, Susan Shapiro, once told me that she’d encountered many writers who found success precisely when they were about to finally give up. That advice still keeps me going whenever I’m ready to do just that. I think it’s equally true when searching for the right agent. Press on – and in the meantime keep writing (I’ve found all that paying your dues stuff to be accurate, too) – and when the right agent eventually comes along, somehow you’ll know it.