I recently read the book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Initially I had no interest in reading the book. It’s about a dog’s life, his family and in particular, the racing career of the father. I’m not into car racing at all. I figured I wouldn’t like it. But the book kept popping up: in conversations, in front of my face at the bookstore, on Goodreads. So I figured if the universe was hitting me over the head with it I may as well give it a read. I loved it. I read it in two days. It made me happy and sad and thankful. I then went and bought his newest book, A Sudden Light, and read that in a few days.
I saw that Garth was doing a speaking event near me and decided to attend. I didn’t know what to expect from the talk and tried to keep my expectations low.
Let me tell you that when Garth showed up in Chuck Taylors I texted my friend asking if it would be weird to beg him to be my best friend. The guy has nerdy-cool on lockdown. I only have nerdy horse-girl on lockdown.
And then his talk got me all choked up and now he has a fan for life.
He told the story of writing Racing and how excited he was to send it to his agent (he had already published two books) and even more so, how exited he was to get a call back and hear how the agent liked the story. He got a call, but it wasn’t what he expected. The agent was not a fan of the story. The agent actually said no publisher would like the book. And that nobody would buy the book. No one would read a story narrated by a dog. So Garth and the agent parted ways.
Now Garth had to send the book to anonymous agents trying to get them to represent him. They all said he had a great talent for writing, but they didn’t like the story. Said they couldn’t sell it because it was narrated by a dog.
Eventually he found himself sitting around a table of fellow authors. He shared his frustration over not being able to find an agent. One particular author perked up and told Garth to contact his agent. That author was Layne Maheu who wrote Song of the Crow. Layne figured if his agent could sell his book narrated by a crow, that perhaps he could assist with Garth’s book.
Four million copies later, sell he did. Four million copies. That’s a little more than the entire population of the state of Oregon.
Those words spoke directly to my worried, doubtful mind. Because while my heart loves my book, my mind worries about what this is all for, worries what I will do if no agent represents my book, worries the story is not as good as I think it is. Of course I have plan B, and a plan C, and even a plan Z. But the treadmill of rejection requires hope. And that is what this generous author’s talk gave me. The entire publishing process is not easy for anyone. Even a man who went on to sell 4 million copies of his book. I stifled my weepy, thankful tears.
Now you might find this hard to believe, but I am actually an introvert. Waiting in line for the book signing I had to talk myself into telling him that I am currently in the query trenches and was thankful for his kind words on querying. I got up in front of him, thanked him for his story and told him where I was at in my own journey.
He asked me if my story was good. I said of course it’s good. I think it’s great. And he replied, that’s good, that’s what you should say. I told him how many queries I’d sent out, how many rejections I’d received (25 queries sent out, 12 13 rejections back so far) and that I planned to just keep going until I hit about 100. He chuckled. It was a knowing chuckle. He wrote a name on a book mark and put it in my book. He said it was the name of an agent in California who he liked and told me to look him up. I said I would. As I was thanking him and backing away, he said, “tell him you met me at this event and I told you to contact him.”
That? Right there? That’s called a referral. It is meaningful in the publishing industry because it gets you a notch above the anonymous (and enormous) slush pile of email query letters. I’m not going to lie to you. When I got to my car I let a couple of those stifled tears go. For many reasons. For hope. For kindness. For finding one more breadcrumb on this long and confusing journey.
Now, the not so great news is that I looked up the agent and I just, and I mean JUST, queried another agent at the same agency last week. There are rules against simultaneously querying agents within the same agency. And sometimes if you get a rejection from one agent, that’s considered a rejection from the agency as a whole. So that’s not ideal. But I’ll wait to hear from the first agent, and if I get a rejection, I’ll still reach out to the recommended agent and let him know I previously queried one of his colleagues.
Garth said during his talk that there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. The business of writing is about making connections. So who knows what connection might be made by reaching out to that other agent. And even more so, I love the concept of making connections. Because the business of writing is not just about making business connections, it’s about making an emotional connection with readers.
If you have the chance to hear Garth Stein speak, I highly recommend you go. It’s not just for writers. It’s for anyone who would like to hear some good, funny, touching stories. And really, isn’t that what any of us want?
Have you been to an author talk you found inspiring? Who was the author and why was it meaningful to you?
If you like what I have to say, never miss a word. Follow me on Facebook.
PS: Alternative title for this post was suggested by my husband as GS, I Love You. I thought my stalker status might be too high with that one.
PPS: Photo credit to my good friend Melissa Coloma (@melsue81) for the main image because you know I don’t actually own a pair of Chucks.