A Literary Evening Followed by a Realization

What could be better than sleeping in a guest room laden with my hostess’s novels?

Attending said hostess’s book party and then watching the first presidential debate with her and her gang afterwards. (Talk about hitting my pillow that night with a full brain!)

I met Elizabeth Engstrom over the course of four Maui Writers Retreats, but, interestingly, we didn’t become friends until after the fourth retreat. And I can say that: “friend”. Which is cool, because she’s fun, smart, and full of insight about the biz. In fact, over the course of dogwalking and lunching on Saturday, I received many a food for thought regarding literary-agent relations, self-publishing, and possible next steps. I count myself lucky.

One lesson: It’s okay to disagree with our agents. They aren’t always correct. Elizabeth told me a story about a reputable agent who counseled a client that, as a career choice, her latest novel wasn’t the way to go at that time. She disagreed. She sold it on her own and ended up with great reviews.

(And speaking of great reviews, Elizabeth’s latest, The Northwoods Chronicles, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly! It should be a creepy-fun-great read. It’s a novel in linked short stories, which I find doubly intriguing.)

As Elizabeth and I continued talking about agents, I realized that I fear being dumped by mine. As a result, I don’t talk to my agent enough, as if by doing so I’ll come off as too bothersome or assertive or demanding. However, I’m allowed to bounce ideas off her, ask for advice and help, tell her what I really think, disagree with her. Right? Right.

And if she decides she doesn’t want to work with me anymore? I find another agent. Elizabeth bouyed me up with her certitude: I’ll land other agents as necessary. Right? Right.

0 comments on “A Literary Evening Followed by a Realization

  • Greetings from a fellow Portlander. Listen to your gut regarding your agent … often writers are so grateful just to get an agent that they stay in the literary equivalent of a bad relationship. I had a good agent who pitched my book the wrong way to six major houses, and due to the incorrect pitch, it’s now impossible to sell … unfortunately she chose to emphasize the fact that it was a highly literate psychological study, rather than emphasizing that it was full of Victorian IV drug-addicted lesbian whores in corsets.

    Because we know which of those two pitches would have sold, don’t we? Yes, indeed we do.

    A member of my writers’ group had fantastic success self-publishing; she believed in her project, which did so well that it was picked up by a conventional house, and one of the short stories in that book has been optioned twice for a screenplay. But the trick was her ability to self-promote.


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