That Time I Signed With A Literary Agent

DA

I’m going to tell you a story about a girl.

Two years ago, she had a dream she was moving to London. She woke up from the dream the next morning in Texas. She had coffee. She told her husband the dream. She always forced him to listen to her dreams in case he could make any sense of them. Yes, she was one of those people. In the dream she had been nervous to go, she had been aware it was a big deal, and a part of something even bigger. Her husband played her the Third Eye Blind song “London” to irritate her. They daydreamed for a while about a reality in which they could move to London— what that would feel like, how that would ever happen.

The girl also decided to research London literary agents because she was a writer in search of a champion, and partner, for her books.

Two years ago that girl reached out to one of them.

I am telling you that story so you understand the rest. Two years ago, I — the girl — came downstairs again and told my husband the literary agent I’d queried wanted to read my book.

Today, that agent announced she’d signed me.

What happened in between?

I grew as a writer, to start. I worked hard. I learned more about craft and story. I wrote another book. I revised and revised, and then when I was done revising, I waited. I studied screenwriting and learned skills I needed to become a better writer still. I was angry, and then I was nothing for a long time, but still I believed it was worth it to keep trying.

I stayed in touch with the literary agent from London because I liked her, maybe even a little because she was from the UK and I love the UK, and also because she’d seen promise in me early on and it had helped me through the struggle.

I revised the book again.

And Clare Wallace, the literary agent from London, gave my book another look. And when she offered me representation, I knew even if I wasn’t moving to London (just yet), my book hopefully was.

I am telling you this because many of you are in the trenches. Many feel hopeless, are hearing no, are wondering when, if, that yes will ever come. If my own journey taught me anything it is this: yes comes unexpectedly, it comes in waves and it comes in whispers, and it comes when you keep going no matter what.

This is a long game. We play it as long as we have the courage to keep getting back up after we’ve been knocked down. So keep your courage, don’t be afraid to try the unusual thing on your path, or to listen to the wish your heart made when you were fast asleep. It might be the very thing you need to break out.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book that was all mine.

I had always been a reader. As a little girl, I’d read Caddie Woodlawn, and Pollyanna, and had Charlotte’s Web and A Wrinkle in Time read aloud to me. And others, of course, and more than I will name here. When I was eleven years old, I found a VHS copy of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird in my parents movie closet. I wanted to watch it, and my mom said no. Not until I read the book. She went to the store and bought a purple trade paperback edition and presented it to me that night.

I was eleven, this was a big book. An undertaking. I set about conquering that mammoth, even so. I read in the car. I read at the park. I read at church and in the tree in front of my house. I finished it on my bed, late at night, with tears in my eyes. I sunk from the edge of the bed to the ground and wept, and hugged it close, and got the edges of the pages all messed up with my salty tears.

I would never be the same.

I reread it a handful of times over the next few years. I got in fights with people in my Texas town that still used the N word because now I understood where that word came from, what that word meant, and why it was wrong. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that.

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I moved away from Texas at thirteen and started to eighth grade in a small town in Colorado nestled between the Rocky Mountains and an evergreen forest. The day before I started school — friendless, ill-equipped to navigate this new environment — I met my English teacher at the open house. Her name was Mrs. Collette. She was a tiny white woman with wisps of blonde hair and shiny blue eyes. She asked me if I was a reader. I told her my favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird, in fact I had it in my backpack to come with me to school. I felt safer with it. Like I had a friend.

Mrs. Collette, it turned out, was also friends with Scout and Jem. We had that in common. And until I was ready to make new friends, she let me sit in her classroom at lunch and grade papers, talk books, talk writing. Mrs. Collette saw potential in me, in the way I put words together, and even though I was terrified, she encouraged me to be brave.

To Kill a Mockingbird made that happen.

Harper Lee made that happen.

Today, Harper Lee left this world. She moved on to the next adventure, a greater adventure than this one. She changed my life with her words, and forever, I’m in debt to the bravery it took to write a book that was dangerous, but necessary. I’m thankful, forever, that she did.