04-20-19 – In Praise of a “Bad Pick” by Linda Lovely and Robin Weaver

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Breakups - Difficult, But Sometimes Necessary

Hi everyone! 

I am YA, and now MG author Barbara Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for adolescents and teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them.  My newest book, Courage, is fiction for kids in grades third through seventh coming out July 31, 2018 from Harper Collins.

I just got an agent. Again.

The writer-agent relationship has been compared to a marriage or business partnership. And, just like either, the relationship can hit the skids if communication stops.

It happened to me, resulting in the end of a long-term relationship, the kind I once thought would last forever and left me feeling like I walked on clouds. I signed with Andrea Somberg in 2009. She sold my first YA novel, Pull to Westside Books (unfortunately now defunct).

She and I kept up a steady stream of conversation in those days. Like newlyweds, we hated being apart from each other too long. The publisher was readying the manuscript, I was working on a new story, and we both remained close. But then...

I sent her another YA manuscript, and then another. She was unable to find homes for either of them among the publishers she knew. Like a marriage where one spouse is having job issues, our conversations faltered. Months passed, while bad news became no news.

As a change of pace, I sent her my 2009 Golden Heart finaling manuscript, an adult, interracial romance the judges had loved. That response was short and unsweetened, she had no interest.  I self-published the two YA manuscripts she had not been able to find homes for: Being God, about a teen alcoholic, and Minority Of One about a gay black youth. Somehow, that act, designed to at least make the stories available to young people, led her to think I wanted to become a self-published author. She sent me information on self-publishing, most of which I already knew. To me, that act felt like she was telling me my first book had been a fluke. That my writing was no longer good enough for her.
I have always been a sucker for this.

Still, I continued writing. In 2015, six years and multiple manuscripts after Pull, I switched genres. I sent Andrea a MG novel I titled Courage. She sold that story to Harper Collins. Surely, I thought then, our relationship was back on track.

Only, my agent and I still weren't communicating.

Because I was chose to attend the 2016 SCBWI conference in New York, I arranged to meet both my agent and editor for lunch. They both proved to be wonderful women. For the brief time we were together we actually talked and shared.  Surely, I thought, my agent and I are back on track.

But after that meeting...nothing. My agent was happy to forward me copies of emails from the editor. But she never initiated conversation with me. I sent her another manuscript, a YA again, I admit. She sent it to a few places and forwarded me the rejections. Even when I asked her what she thought might be wrong with the book, even though I was searching for some kind of guidance or feedback, her response was noncommittal. For better or for worse, the silence left me thinking she felt I was just not good enough.

In December of 2017 I sent her an email, once again seeking guidance, this time on what kind of story I should work on next. We were supposed to be partners, I reminded myself. I could ask for direction. I told her about some ideas I was considering working on.  I got one piece of feedback, a comment that another MG might be easier to sell.

Two months ago, I attended a writers conference where I was a speaker on diversity in writing. There, someone who  learned about the growing rift between me and my agent sat me down and lectured me. She told me I needed to let the relationship end. I hated her for saying that. I literally could not squelch my tears of anger as I protested, arguing with her that I could not ask for a "divorce."  I was afraid to be agentless. She told me no agent was better than one who left me feeling this ineffective.

The advice was harsh, yet sounded all too familiar.

In college, I once tried to hold onto a guy who had lost interest in me. He wasn't a bad man, I was simply no longer important to him, and other women were. I fought against leaving him. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life. And now I was doing exactly the same thing, holding onto another relationship that wasn't doing me any favors. And shedding angry tears over advice I really needed to pay attention to.

I wiped away those tears and wrote to my agent to say goodbye. She was honestly surprised.  She hadn't been trying to shove me away, she said she honestly thought I wanted to be a self-published author, even thought she had never asked me what I did want. I should have told her how I felt earlier, she said. I will give her that point. I should not have let things continue deteriorating for so long. I should have stopped holding on so tight much sooner. Communication on both our parts could have made a huge difference in our relationship.

I will remember that with my new agent, Emily Sylvan Kim of Prospect Literary. I met her at that same conference. Instead of making me cry, she expressed genuine interest when I mentioned one of my unpublished YA manuscripts. So here's to a new long-term relationship. One where we won't spend months at a time without a word, email or text.


Judith Ashley said...

B.A., so glad you have a new agent. In reading your post it is like a marriage or close friendship where people begin to drift apart and no one steps up to clarify what's happening. Great lessons you've imparted, not just to writers but to everyone who is in any kind of relationship - including the one we have with ourselves.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Thanks for sharing your story, B.A. I hope this new agent-author relationship will be a great one!

Sarah Raplee said...

I can't imagine how hard that must have been, B.A. I admire your integrity and courage. Thank God for friends that tell us the honest truth!