By Laura Zats
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m Type A.
Like, very, very Type A.
I never lose my car keys, I’m ALWAYS early, and if I had to choose one word that is important to my work process, it would be precision.
I have lived with an anxiety disorder since my early teenage years, and the rigidity of my self-imposed structures and timelines has always gone a long way to relieve that little extra bit of panic that seeps through when my anxiety isn’t fully managed by medication, therapy, and other techniques.
Being a literary agent has shot all that careful planning to hell.
Right now, I have 304 unanswered emails in my inbox, a competition to judge, an interview to give, an oh-goodness-I-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-it number of partials and fulls to read, fall manuscripts to send out, a contract to negotiate, and an author to court.
And today is a good day.
Before I was an agent, I was addicted to that little thrill of an inbox icon flashing zero. When I said I was going to get back to someone on xyz date, I responded to them the day before.
Now, I am happy if I can keep my inbox down to 4 pages, respond to emails within three months, and am fully aware that I am perpetuating the stereotype that “tomorrow” in publishing means “next week.” If we’re lucky.
Being so busy (hello, 80-hour work weeks) is no longer a panic-inducing mistake or flaw in my work ethic. It is now just a way of life. I do my absolute to not let writers flounder in the trenches too long, but I’m also aware that sometimes I have to pick and choose a quality response over a fast response. For me, quality still wins.
When I started at Red Sofa, it was my goal to be as educational as possible about the agenting and publishing processes, because it fits in with our values as an agency. It’s why I do #500queries and #askagent and give every single partial and full an explanation of why I passed (even if it was because I just wasn’t that into it).
Ultimately, though, something’s gotta give. Whether it’s a manuscript that falls through the cracks (so sorry) or a competition I have to say no to (but please still query me if I seem like a good fit), I know I’m always going to be behind in something.
For someone like me, behind is not always a comfortable place to be. But over the years, it’s gotten familiar. I am lucky I am in a position health-wise to be able to continue to be behind so that I can teach classes, go to cons, and write blogs like this one.
In some ways, it’s freeing to have so many people need your attention. There’s not one single pinpoint of shame pricking at your consciousness when you just can’t today. Instead, the unanswered emails are like the quiet background noise of a turned-down radio, buzzing in the background. It allows me to take some time to watch Star Wars and drink a cup of perfectly brewed English Breakfast. But it also keeps a fire lit under me to go go go and make some dreams come true.
I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that yes, it sucks that agents are slow. But there are reasons for it. And we try. We really do. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s not because we think we’re above you, or uninterested. It’s just because it’s the way it is. My anxiety and my resulting/companion type-A-ness will never go away, nor do I have no plans in the foreseeable future to stop being an agent. I, like the rest of you lovely, lovely people, will just have to settle for me being behind.
After all, good things come to those wait, right?