Agent Monday: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

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17 thoughts on “Agent Monday: On Sticking to Things

    • Hi Janet! There are, indeed, all kinds of “riches.” Finding joy in our art is a huge one, which keeps us creating, which leads us to further refining and success. 🙂

  1. Good advice, Marie. The other thing about setting such stringent goals is that you might totally overlook opportunities that come your way if you are so tunnel-visioned on one thing. I never expected to have a book contract without first having an agent, but that’s what happened. And it happened because someone suggested I take a chance on a small press. Had I been blinkered into thinking, “Big 5 or nothing”, I still wouldn’t have a contract. It’s a path I didn’t set out to take, but it’s been an adventure so far!

  2. I have to admire the grit you displayed with your accountant, and appreciate the pep talk. When I got into writing, I thought at first “big 6 and agent,” but given my age, I’ve had to open my mind to other opportunities (book contract with small press and becoming a small press publisher myself). There’s a lot to be said about psychic benefits. Thanks for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

  3. The field of the brave and the fallen. I didn’t know how to do any of this when I started and now I know how to do almost all of it except make money. As you know, the entire field of publishing is in a flux as so much material is just given away by writers. I give away chapters to find readers. How else can we do it when agents have so little time to read new people? You have to bring your own following. So we write because writing is what we do, find out greatest joy in doing, and when we make money at it, it’s gravy. And the money people will never accept you until you’re making the kind of money that they respect, no matter how good the art is. Thanks Marie.

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