A few months ago I had a very exciting moment in my career, as I finished a book proposal and was shopping it around to agents. A colleague introduced me to several, two of whom asked to work with me. If you’re not familiar with the publishing world, this is a really wonderful, flattering position to be in. For all kinds of reasons, and often for no reason at all, really great books have a very hard time selling, and finding your first agent can be a grueling and painful process. After all, writers tend to be sensitive folks, putting our art and hearts out to the world, asking for acceptance and love, often finding rejection and heartache.
So, two very excellent agent offers was a surprising and fortunate position to find myself in.
Over English muffins one morning around that time, my precocious daughter Helena cocked her head and perkily asked, “So mom! What’s new in business?” — question she knows delights me each time she poses it.
Me: “Well, I have a good problem — two book agents want to work with me. It’s like having two nice guys want to marry you.”
Helena: “Maybe you can marry both of them.”
Lucas, 6: “Maybe you can be fair and not marry either one, so they don’t get their feelings hurt. ”
Helena: “Then they’d both have to find other hot chicks.”
Me: “Eat your grapefruit.”
Sorting through this very good, very First World problem was enormously stressful. A book, after all, would be one of the biggest projects I would tackle in my career. The potential to elevate my career and life was enormous, and the possibilities and consequence of failure huge. This decision felt like one of the biggest of my life.
“Why are you so stressed out about this?” my good friend asked over cocktails.
“It’s a huge decision! A relationship with an agent could easily last longer than my marriage!”
We laughed, then drank more.
Finally, I had to decide. On the eve of the self-imposed deadline I’d shared with both agents, I did what I always do on the cusp of a difficult decision: Before going to sleep, I sorted through the pros and cons of both outcomes, and promised myself my first instinct upon waking would be the correct one.
And so I did that.
So relieved to be done with arduous decision process, I emailed both agents at 6:30 a.m., told one I was sorry to decline is offer, and giddily accepted the other’s. Fast forward a few months, and decision was clearly a good one, as she cultivated three offers, and the book sold to a wonderful, single mom editor at TarcherPerigee in a three-way auction.
[Read all about it here: I GOT AN AWESOME BOOK DEAL!]
But before that success would reveal itself, the night my agent and I agreed to work together I had a dream, which is unusual for me to remember.
In the dream, my agent called me, and said, “Emma, you are really great, I like you a lot. But I realized that I already have a single-mom client and working with you would be a conflict of interest. I’m afraid I can’t partner with you after all.”
In the dream, I was devastated. Primal-level devastation.
And there it was, the root of my angst and anxiety, both in this professional episode, as well as larger, romantic themes in my life. The big, terrifying fear that looms large over both spheres of my life:
I was afraid to commit. I committed, the was rejected.
There it was, no explaining or denying it away. Those were my issues, right up in my grill, brought to me by my work success.
And while I write away I can tell you: Good things happen when you face your fears (though I’m bracing myself for some quality fear-of-rejection-anxiety for the book launch.
Issues, you know, don’t work themselves out overnight.