“Hi Diana,” the e-mail titled with the subject “book” read. “My name is Big Time New York City Book Agent [ed. note: obviously, this is not the person’s real name] and I am the Big Time Person at the Big Time Literary Agency [ed. note: again, obviously changing]. I love your site and believe it could be the basis for a great book series. In my [decades] as an agent, I have worked on hundreds of New York Times bestsellers, and have represented a wide array of celebrity and public figure clients, as well as Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners. All that to say, if I am not too late to the party, and you haven’t signed with anyone else, I would love to speak with you about possible literary projects.”
That was August 27, 2014. One year ago.
The e-mail had popped up in my phone as I walked through the sticky jungle heat to work in Chiang Mai. As soon as the words unfolded and solidified in my mind, I froze mid-step. Around me, the smell of Nag Champa hung in the thick air as monks clad in orange robes and barefoot plodded along the rain-soaked roads around the Old City.
What was this? A joke?
As soon as I got to work, I messaged my friend, Lauren, who had just signed a book deal for her travel memoir, “How Not to Travel the World.”
“Is this legit?” I quickly typed, desperate to find out if someone was just pulling a nasty joke on me.
A few minutes later, she responded.
“No, he is legit,” she wrote. And then, she sent me a few links to reviews of him from others who he had represented. The stories of other people’s experiences with him hadn’t been great, and there was a scandal back in the 90s which he had been involved with.
But, things change. People change, I reasoned.
Heart-racing, I sent him an e-mail back, letting him know I was not being represented by another agent, and I would be more than happy to speak with him about working together.
Dreams are made of these?
A week later, we finally Skyped and he explained he had read my blog and that he thought there were stories to be told.
“Have you ever written a book?” he had asked.
Once upon a time, I dreamed of publishing a book. I could imagine it in my mind. I could see my byline. I could smell the freshly printed pages. I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pen. In grade school, I would go through notebook after notebook, feverishly penning stories of a girl around the same age as myself and the adventures she experienced.
Then, when I had to start writing for school, the stories switched to angsty teen poems influenced by smoking cheap pot and fueled by being an insecure high schooler. I distinctly remember a friend of mine turning to me one day and saying she wanted to be a writer.
“Why on earth would you want to write?” I had asked. The words I used to love forming into stories retired long ago. Writing as a career wasn’t something I could fathom.
Until it was.
A year later, I found myself reinvigorated by the power of the pen and launched into a journalism career. Sports journalism to be exact. At 16, I was likely the youngest reporter to step foot into the Capitals locker room, and the following year, I continued on the sports reporting path, heading to a school in the midwest to write for a small hockey newspaper.
Fast forward to 2010. After realizing hockey reporting wasn’t what I really wanted to do, I started a career in PR. Then, I fell out of love with it and started my blog, simply as an avenue for me to write again. When I quit my job for some solo female travel in 2010, I proudly told my parents I was going to take my adventures traveling and turn it into a book.
In 2012, I wrapped more than 100,000 words, thanks to a writing challenge started by a friend of mine. We had to write 3,000 words a day for a month. I loved it so much, I continued well past the month and until my story was finished.
“Yes,” I answered, giving him the condensed version: there was a manuscript which I never did anything with. It was based on my travels in 2010 and the experiences I had during that time — from dealing with depression to being sexually assaulted, to a near-death paragliding experience, and culminating in the death of my grandmother during my last days abroad. It was a story I loved, because it was mine. I had grown a lot during those seven months, and creating that manuscript was a labor of love. But, only for myself.
When I first completed the manuscript, I had every intention of sending queries to agents with the hopes of getting a book deal. But then, I fell in love with elephants and headed to Chiang Mai. The arrival in SE Asia meant the book and that dream were put on indefinite hold.
Until the Big Time Agent’s (henceforth known as BTA) e-mail and Skype chat.
“Well, I’d love to read it,” BTA said. “Your story reminds me of my daughter, and I’d like to give it a look and see if we can go somewhere with it.”
I hung up our call and sat on my couch.
Did that just really happen? Did BTA really want to read my work?
I hurriedly pulled up the draft I had on my laptop, reviewed it for any glaring errors (at more than 150,000 words, it was a quick scan more than a re-read) and sent it off to him with a remark that this was a very rough draft and I had never gone through it again to make it readable to anyone’s critical eyes. I also added that there were many parts of the story I would like to go back and re-write or cut out entirely, but this was a draft, and I hoped he understood.
Two weeks later, I received an e-mail from BTA.
“I like to get a couple of people to read a project that I like,” he had written. Then, below his message, he pasted an analysis from a male perspective of my manuscript. Seeing the title of what would be my book written in the e-mail made my heart flutter as I nervously scrolled down to read what the man thought of my writing.
“The story runs smoothly, detailing her travels through different countries, focusing predominantly on the people she meets and the things she sees … This book would resonate with a lot of working people because of the shared feeling of being trapped at a job you hate and the desire to run away and explore the world … The travel guide aspect of this book is superb. She has a great memory for the places she visited and the amazing sights, smells, and sounds of each city. Her trials in finding hostels, flying to different areas, and putting up with locals add a wonderful realism to her adventures and works well as backpacking advice also.”
There were also critical pieces to the review, namely that it was long and read like an extended travel blog (because, at that time, it was largely based on my blog) and that the reader would have liked me to talk more about my feelings.
But, overall, it seemed promising. I held my breath while I waited another week for a female perspective of my manuscript.
Finally, it came.
“I found the memoir to be interesting and it did work for me. Right now, it still needs a couple of drafts and revisions, but it still a compelling story. The book has a strong voice and a great story, but the plot line needs to be more connected.”
She had the same comments as the male did — the story needed more reflection and character development. But, BTA seemed happy with the reviews, informing me he would give it some thought and figure out how to get the presentation in tip-top shape.
It was time to sign a contract.
Sign here …
For once in my life, there were absolutely no words to describe how I felt. Me? Getting a Big Time Agent? The chance of getting a book deal? Five years ago, that would have never seemed like a reality. But now? It was.
I teetered for a few days, and ultimately realized this fell into my lap. I would be insane not to accept the offer.
So, I did.
The night I flew to London — in ultimately what would be the trip which changed my current path — I signed the contract with BTA and his agency.
For weeks, I was on this indescribable high. Diana Edelman, the writer with a book agent. I hadn’t felt that good since I had a manager for acting in high school. This was my dream. The culmination of years worth of writing and tears and passion …
I held my head higher. I felt incredibly confident. Above all, I felt validated. My words meant something. There was a talent that others noticed. As someone who struggled for nearly an entire lifetime not feeling like I was good enough, here was BTA telling me I was … and I could make my dream of publishing a book come true.
And then it all came crashing down.
Worse than a real relationship ending?
I noticed something was wrong a few weeks later, after my requests to Skype went unanswered and then were followed by a myriad of excuses. When I got an e-mail from BTA asking if I had written a book proposal (no, I hadn’t, since he found me and getting an agent at that time wasn’t a reality), I knew something was wrong.
Two days after Thanksgiving, as I sat at a bar in Baltimore, I got the break-up e-mail from BTA.
Yes. Dumped by BTA.
“I’ve reread everything and asked for opinions from a couple of others. I underestimated just how much work it would take to get into sellable shape. I’m afraid that this is going to take too much work for me to take on at this time and at this distance — the process is even more time-consuming than I had anticipated. I apologize for this response, but it is my honest evaluation. I appreciate the opportunity.”
That was it.
Dumped by BTA.
I sat at the bar, holding my phone in my hand until it got sweaty.
What just happened? How did that happen?
He and I had gone back and forth for months. He had seemed excited about working with me. He believed in my book. And then, in an instant, the tide changed and he no longer wanted to work with me.
Tears started to fill my eyes as the people around me took notice.
“You OK?” a man sitting next to me had asked.
“Um, yeah,” I said, trying to nonchalantly wipe the tears brimming in my eyes.
I stepped outside and took a breath, letting go of the hopes I had for the manuscript. Letting go of how I defined myself for a month.
That afternoon in November, after months of being on a high, I hit a low.
Furious at the change in mind and frustrated that, despite all of the conversations we had engaged and understandings I had tried to convey in regards to the state of my manuscript, I was now sans BTA.
I waited a few days to respond to him, too upset and angry to craft anything that would be professional and courteous.
Finally, I responded, expressing my disappointment and frustration at the entire process.
“I believed you were confident in the review and optimistic about moving forward since we signed a contract,” I had written. “You can understand my surprise when I read that you have since changed your mind about the book and working with me. I believe that it is important to be certain that you want to represent an author before offering a contract. It is the professional and appropriate way to proceed into a partnership and I falsely believed this belief was shared.”
A week later, I was informed my contract was null and void.
Now, it is a year later. I’ve since shelved the manuscript which originally landed me BTA and have written a new one. But … the experience left a sour taste in my mouth. However, it also taught me a lot about believing in myself. About realizing that I am talented. That I can write. Regardless of whether BTA or anyone else in the literary world thinks so.
It’s not every day someone gets a Big Time NYC Agent, signs a contract and then gets fired. But, hell. It does make a story though, right?