Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What I Know and Changing Expectations

Last night I went to a talk at a local writers' organization. It was their monthly meeting and the guest speaker this month was a literary agent. She was slated to talk about why we writers still need agents, even in the current publishing climate.

Two writer/editors I highly respect recommended I go. I often meet with a writing friend on Tuesdays and I proposed that we go to the meeting this week after having dinner. So we made a plan.

I know that publishing has changed and is continuing to change. And I know it will continue to change and evolve. It may never again go back to what it was because, well, everything has changed. How we read, what we read, how we write, what is published and how it's published and who publishes. Change. That I know.

I know that this agent has a lot of experience, is good, is respected.

I know that this organization has been around for a long time and has a lot of members. I know they have a big conference here every year. I know they have different chapters. I know some of the primary members; well, I know who they are, have been to workshops or talks with them, have bought some of their books.

Back stairs to Mt Tabor Park. photo by Dot.

I went to this meeting with some expectations. The expectations were based on the write-up for the meeting. On the good recommendations for the speaker. On what I thought I would hear based on what I wanted to hear and what was promoted as being in her presentation.

Leaving the Grand Canyon 2010. photo by Dot.

I left the meeting feeling disappointed.
I wasn't disappointed in the agent. She was delightful and strong and well-spoken. She knows what she likes and she knows what she's doing; that was very clear.
But I was disappointed because I felt like I didn't learn anything new.

Even though she gave a kind of Ten Things To Not Do When Querying/Approaching An Agent, there was nothing new. For me. I realize this may have been new to others. I don't know. I didn't ask. I had to leave and go straight to work. (Oh, and my friend wasn't with me. We had dinner and she wasn't feeling well so didn't go.)

So I left disappointed that I didn't get new information. There were no insights. No golden lights illuminating a path to publication or to finding just the right agent. I didn't even feel I gained anything about why I would need an agent. I'm not saying that I'm against agents or that I don't see the need - no; I want an agent (someday) and I think they're still important and serve a great function in the publication realm. I just didn't learn anything I didn't already know. Not that I've thought a lot about what I do or don't know about agents.

As I wrote an email to my friend who didn't go, I realized that the disappointment I felt wasn't really about the speaker. It wasn't about the information she shared. It wasn't even really about what she didn't share. I realized that the disappointment was more -

Narrative Non-Fiction Editing in Process. photo by Dot.

Wait! Another insight even as I type this. The disappointment was in me not knowing what I know; in doubting my knowledge and the information I've learned from books and Poets & Writers, The Writer, Writer's Digest, other writers, editors, agents.

Narrative Non-Fiction Editing Notes. photo by Dot.

Back to my story. As I typed the email to my friend I knew that my disappointment was not in the agent. It was about no new information. And as I typed I knew that my expectations were, perhaps, a little off. What can one person tell me in an hour? Especially when the first 15 minutes were talking about "her books" and "her authors"; followed by 20-25 minutes of her talking about publishing and agents (the Ten Things); and then a Q&A. Not bad. None of it was bad. But it didn't fulfill my expectations.

My friend wrote back to me. And as I read her response and thought more about the meeting and the agent I realized that I really like the agent. Her "energy" was awesome. She is confident and clear. Her submission guidelines and what she does and doesn't represent were clear and well thought out. I love her approach and philosophy.

I was not disappointed in the agent. And if she reps the type of book I'm writing, I'd love to have her on my side. I was very impressed with her as an agent, a person, and like what she had to say about approaching publishers. She even gave us a succinct version of the author's platform, in a no-nonsense, if you want it then this is what you have to do, kind of way.

What I need is to gain confidence in what I know. I need to use more of what I know and trust that I do know quite a lot. I'm not bragging and I'm not an expert - but I have a lot of information.

And I did learn something at the meeting. I learned who this agent is and what she likes and doesn't like. I learned her perspective on publishing. I learned what works for her and a little bit about how she works. I learned that I like her and that there are people in the publishing world who know how to play the game and still feel honest and believe in their visions and goals.

I also learned, or re-remembered, that going into a situation with too many expectations clouds the possibility of discovery. And that a disappointment in other may mask a lack of confidence in self.

Time well spent last night.

I'm off now to search for my confidence in the land of dreaming.

Twin Rocks Sunset, Day Two; April 2012. photo by Dot.