Never Quit on a Hill

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On Monday, Karol Nielsen, author of Black Elephants, wrote about the inefficiency of writing. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

A friend met an aspiring agent who had worked in publishing and recommended me to her. She submitted the manuscript to an editor who handled first books with film potential. We waited and waited. Word never came. She wondered if I had any suggestions about where to send the book. I didn’t. Not even a clue. She soon bagged the agenting business and went to graduate school. I saw her a few years later, and she said she often thought of a line in my memoir when she runs. “Never quit on a hill.”

She wasn’t the first agent to see the book. A friend from the University of Pennsylvania had become a screenwriter with a strong review of his satirical film in The New York Times. He wrote novels, too, and kept trying to find an agent without success. Nobody reads books anymore, he said, so stop fussing over the manuscript and send it out. He suggested that I send it to a classmate who worked for a book packaging agency. I left my baby in her sister’s lobby and hoped.

Within days, she left a beautiful message about how she loved the story but had never sold anything like it before. The everyman, woman, and child memoir was still new, and only select agents took a risk on it. I typed up the message and saved it because her words of encouragement were precious to me. She recommended other agents–good agents, one at a time–but none of them took me on during this time when I was still trying to dig below the surface of the facts, still trying to find my voice as a writer, still waiting for my genre to find its legs. Every no meant that I had to make it better.

I dreamed of a big book advance while I was working long hours as a journalist, but I had no real urgency to publish the memoir until a steady freelance gig dried up just before the Iraq War was about to begin. I mass queried agents listed online at Publisher’s Marketplace and quickly found an agent who represented action and adventure novelists, as well as history and current affairs authors. She wrote two pages of advice about how to edit my memoir, mostly asking me to take out the reflection and stick to the action.

Posted on November 16, 2011
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