A few days ago, I signed a new client—a scientist and researcher who studies dreams, who is writing a smart, heady novel that draws upon the neuroscience of dreaming and pushes it just beyond the threshold of the possible. Think David Mitchell, the film Inception, with a dash of DaVinci Code. The novel is built like a mystery and set against a dreamscape backdrop that beggars Freud. The author interleaves both the science and the mythology of dreaming in a tale that is inventive, original and utterly spellbinding. All this is by way of introduction to the idea that I love my job. It’s like grad school, but this time without papers, politics or adjunct teaching. Agenting offers exposure to big ideas and the folks who think them, and the opportunity to keep learning pretty much all of the time across a dizzying range of subjects.
Since part of my job is to act as a stand in for a curious, bright-but-not expert reader, I get to ask innumerable questions, request clarifications, and read like mad–sometimes even an actual, published, bound-in-paper book. Other parts of my job are just as satisfying, but in different ways—matchmaking, negotiating, advocating, advising… and the gerunds continue. Of course, there are plenty of downsides to this business, too; rejection is a constant, there are disappointing sales, difficult people and the always fragile ecosystem of publishers, but I’ll save the grim bits for another post. On balance, I love the work I do.
And what does that work look like on a day to day basis? My lived version is not especially glamorous. I was a rank disappointment to a client visiting New York for the first time, who imagined me kitted out in Louboutins and Armani, climbing in red-soled stilettos over the bodies of tourists. Happily, she forgave me for my lack of resemblance to Anna Wintour or even Annie Hall. As I’m writing this on Thursday, I’m dashing in sensible flats between meetings with editors from three different imprints, all in midtown. This evening I have two author events, novelist Beth Hahn, author of THE SINGING BONE, doing a reading at the terrific Spine Out series and Mychal Denzel Smith, author of INVISIBLE MAN, GOT THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHING in conversation with Melissa Harris Perry at B&N. Assuming the subways and my legs are functioning, I’ll attend both; the first on the lower east side, the second on the upper west.
Wednesday was a staff meeting in which all the agents in our office go over the projects presently on or near submission. With more than a dozen agents in attendance, it’s lengthy but informative. This is always followed by an ideas meeting where we pitch potential book concepts. In the interstices, I edited a proposal, responded to countless e-mails, set up author meetings/phone calls for a project on submission, and conducted gently harassing follow-ups on behalf of other projects out in the world. Earlier in the week I learned a great deal about ground scanning radar technology on a conference call with an archeologist client, conferred with a film co-agent shopping the adaptation of a forthcoming work of narrative history, had a long editorial conversation with client/co-authors about a novel in progress, and requested several projects from queries. I also tried to glance at social media, the newspaper and the weather. I managed two thirds of these, hence was umbrella-less on Wednesday when the skies opened up.
The downpour was actually useful. Trapped until the rain slackened with a rapidly draining iPhone battery and no computer, I did something I rarely do in the space of a work day; I cracked open a book and read—which to me, is living the dream.