My friend Chana always asks people, “would you rather have a friend who’s mean but fun, or a friend who’s nice but boring?”
The correct answer, in Chana’s opinion, is that a fun bitch is better than a nice bore any day.
“Can’t somebody be nice and fun?” I ask.
“Nope,” Chana says. “That’s not an option.”
Recently I’ve been researching literary agents, mostly by reading online interviews and Twitter. I keep track of agents who are looking for the type of writing I do and who seem professional and nice.
“You don’t want a nice agent,” my mentor told me. “You want a tough bitch who will go out there and sell your book.”
Can’t I have both? Someone who is nice and good at business?
* * *
A woman in my writing workshop suggested I read the blog query shark, written by super-star agent Janet Reid, and talk about fun but mean… Her site is scary and awesome and helpful and you should read it right now! Wannabe writers submit their query letters, and Ms. Reid rips them apart with unforgiving honesty. Before submitting your letter, she insists that you read the archives (all of them) so as to avoid the dumb mistakes previous schmucks have made. If you decide to send her your letter, put on a bullet-proof emotional vest, because she can be pretty brutal.
But it’s good to get her feedback, devastating as it may be. She’s been in the publishing business for fifteen years, and she knows what she’s talking about. She’s a no-nonsense, tough-loving gal who doesn’t have time for anything that isn’t just right. And she’s the type of agent who can probably sell the shit out of your book.
But still… I want someone who’s nice. I want an agent who will hold my hand (at least a little) through the confusing process of publishing my first book. Of course, I also want someone well-connected and savvy who I can trust to navigate the business side of things.
For a long time I was focused on “getting an agent.” Any agent. Just, dear god, let me get an agent ASAP so that I can feel a little more legitimate in my writing career! So I submitted to a lot of agents. I got a lot of manuscript requests, but ultimately no one chose to represent me.
“I’m sort of surprised you don’t have an agent yet,” my mentor told me. (Oh, how she flatters me!)
But maybe it’s good that I didn’t get one when I was in my mad querying phase. Because now I know it’s not just about getting an agent. I want the right agent. I want someone who “gets” my writing and wants to work with me for the long haul — for this novel and for all of the others to come. It’s about finding someone I work well with, and I worry that if I get an agent like the query shark, she might make me cry on a regular basis. I don’t mind tough love and constructive criticism, but I also want some kindness and morale-boosting.
I want a friend who is nice and fun. And I want an agent who is nice and can sell the shit out of my novel.
Is that too much to ask?