Two years ago, I was in a classroom at the New School, waiting to meet agents in what’s known as the “speed-dating” session. I was a little nervous, though maybe I shouldn’t have been—this was my third time at the Literary Writers Conference.
The first year I attended, I was pitching a crime novel that I’d been working on forever, or so it seemed. I’d spent years writing and rewriting it, replacing and adding major characters, accumulating upward of a dozen points of view. I sensed it was flawed in some essential way, yet I was unwilling to let it go. Instead, I kept trying to salvage what couldn’t be saved, digging myself deeper into a rut.
It’s one thing to suspect your novel isn’t working, and another to try to pitch it—with an understandable lack of confidence—to an agent who is sitting across from you, reviewing your query letter. The agents I met that year quickly identified my novel’s problems: it didn’t fit well into a particular genre, there were too many main characters, and it was hard to say exactly what the story was about. At the end of one of these conversations, feeling like I had little to lose, I mentioned a new idea I’d been considering, the story I hoped to write after I finally finished my crime novel. The agent’s response surprised me. This new idea, she said, sounded like the kind of book she liked to read.
A year later, I was hard at work on my new project. The manuscript was far from finished, but I met with several agents who gave me feedback on my idea and on how I could pitch it, when I was ready. And by 2015, I was. I spoke with three or four agents at that conference, including Lisa Grubka of Fletcher & Co. I left the conference feeling cautiously optimistic—which, considering how I’d felt about querying the first time around, qualifies as ecstatic.
When you’re looking for an agent, people often say it’s a matter of luck; there are countless stories of writers who sent out fifty or a hundred queries before getting a positive response. With this second attempt at a novel, I was lucky to have that happen early in the process. I don’t think I could have gotten there without first learning that it’s okay to give up, and getting some much-needed encouragement to work on something new. Still, I couldn’t have been more surprised. After so many years of writing, it can be hard to believe that your work is going out into the world—even if that’s been your goal from the very start.
Jennifer Kitses is the author of SMALL HOURS, available now from Grand Central Publishing.