By Jennie Jarvis
Earlier today, I was fortunate enough to have one of those golden conversations that beginning writers everywhere dream of having. I had a meeting with an agent, and she LOVES my first novel.
As an aspiring screenwriter, I worked for years on script after script, submitting them to agents, writing competitions and producers. It was very disheartening to receive rejection after rejection. Sure, some of my scripts got made into shoe-string budget indie films (something that many screenwriters would desperately love to be able to say themselves), but I never really felt like I broke through that glass ceiling. I never really felt like I had someone on my team who wanted to fight for me because they believed in my work as much as I did. Sure, I had many people who thought that I was a good writer or who wanted to work on my film crews, but when it came to climbing into that ring and fighting for my career, I always went into that battle alone.
The last script that I was dedicating 100% of my writing time to really helped me make the transition mentally from writing for film to writing novels. The script had two young protagonists (one graduates from high school in the opening scene and her brother is only two years older than her), and their journey is one that deals with leaving the past behind and looking forward to the future. I was in conversation with a producer about the script for quite a while. Finally, however, he told me that he couldn’t make it – yet. If I turned it into a YA (young adult) novel, and the novel did well, then he could find a way to make the movie.
It was a very weird sensation to be told that my story was fantastic, but that it wouldn’t sell, that I was talented but not marketable. Honestly, I thought that this was a load of crap.
Call me innocent and naïve, but I believe that, if a story is strong enough, then there is an audience out there for it. And for one of the first times in my life, I genuinely felt like I had a story that would do great. It was the best that I had ever felt about any script that I had ever written. And yet still I was faced with that brick wall. I couldn’t get in to that secret inner club that existed somewhere east of the 405.
But I took the advice, all the same, and I began transitioning into the world of writing for the YA market. I knew very little about it, and most of what I did know wasn’t very positive. My brain immediately defaulted to thinking about Twilight, a book series that I think promotes the idea that psychologically unhealthy and codependent relationships are okay. Being a past victim of mentally, emotionally and, yes, physically abusive relationships, the topic is too close to home to sit well with me. Because Twilight was the most popular YA book that I knew, I automatically and stupidly assumed that the rest of the books must be something in the same ballpark.
However, once I did my research, I discovered how wrong I was. Books like Divergent, Across the Universe, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Hunger Games were also in that list. These were books that explored the inner strength that a young girl (usually) can have as she hits her formative mid to late teenager years. And that wasn’t so far off from what I was writing.
When I attended my first YA writing conference, I tried to talk to a few agents about that script that the producer had wanted me to adapt, and I was told that the idea was “behind the trend,” that it couldn’t be sold. The very idea closed all doors to me before I could show them a page of manuscript. As you can imagine, this was pretty disheartening.
But I’m a firm believer in the idea that, if you fall asleep with imaginary characters talking to each other inside your head, you are either crazy or a writer. And I prefer to call myself a writer – for now, at least.
So I moved forward with another book idea that had come to me out of the blue, and the words flowed from me like I was born to write them. I revised the book, working under a tight deadline and a promise to pay a friend $10 for every day that I didn’t write (thanks Eric). I never had to pay him a dime, but the motivation worked for me. The book was ready quicker than I could have imagined, and I was able to pitch it to four separate agents at a conference that I attended in October.
And all four agents requested it.
Yesterday, I got an email from one agent who happened to be in the same city as me (although the main branch of the agency is in NYC), and we met today for coffee. When a meeting with a potential agent lasts three hours, you know that it went well. And it really did. Not only does she want to represent me, but she seemed to be in line with all of my hopes for what I would like to see happen with the book. And that’s a pretty awesome place for me to be.
It took me most of the day to really process that this golden conversation had really happened, and that it wasn’t just one of those fun daydreams that I like to have from time to time. From my years of working, not only in film but in writing groups and in other critique heavy environments, I was used to being told what wasn’t work in my writing. I had gotten used to hearing what I needed to fix. To be complimented and hear words like “book awards”, “contracts”, “series” and “subsidiary rights” was almost too hard to fathom. I don’t disagree with anything that was said – like I said, I’m a person who really believes in my work – but it was hard to imagine it being said by someone other my imagination.
Fortunately, I had hoped for the best before receiving the message saying that this agent wanted to meet up, and I was a good girl and did my research. I knew that my job as a writer wasn’t to just sit there and listen to her gush about my book. My job was to interview her (and not the other way around). My job was to make sure that she was the absolute best fit for my book. And something about that was remarkably freeing. She loved my work. She was volunteering to get into the ring with me, to wear the boxing gloves and take all the heavy hits. It was my job now to make the decision about whether or not I wanted her to be there with me.
Because, thanks to my research, I knew that a writer who really cares about building a career should never just take the first offer that comes along. I need to make sure that I chose the person that I feel the most comfortable with, who I think has the most influence and passion to stick in the fight for the long haul. And I still have several more agents to consider.
To be honest, the woman that I met with today is such a wonderful person that, regardless of whether or not I go with her as my agent, I want to find a way to keep our paths moving in the same direction. But at the end of the day, I can only have one agent, and so I have a tough choice ahead.
After sending out emails today letting the other agents know that I have a pending offer of representation, I’ve already heard back from a 2nd agent. So things are looking good. Now my job is to keep a level head, keep asking the right questions, and find a good home for my writing career.
Today has been a day of a lot of emotion, and surprisingly it wasn’t mostly happiness. Yes, this was a happy day, but I have more gratitude and humility flowing through me than anything else. And I really wish that all writers out there reading this have the opportunity to feel this way as well.