“Yvette,” Delilah shoves my manuscript across her large oak desk to me, “we’ve known each other for years, and I’ve been a literary agent with Pages of Worth for twice as long. You know I love you, but I have to be blunt now. There is absolutely no way this will ever sell.”
My toes curl under and a strange feeling of dull needles engulfs my head. I tighten my grip on the plush arms of the large green chair she had plopped me in.
“What do you mean?” I clear my throat and wish I had accepted the glass of water Delilah offered me before we sat down.
“It’s nice, but it’s not realistic.”
I find myself struck completely dumb. How many times had she asked me for every detail of the book without once saying anything even hinting at negative? “I don’t understand. What isn’t realistic?”
“Your characters aren’t something anyone will believe. You’re not writing for a Christian audience, and I understand, but your work isn’t shocking or sexual enough for secular fare. Yet your characters aren’t angelic enough for Christians to want to read either. They simply aren’t realistic in either realm. You need to trash this thing and try again.”
“Delilah, may I ask you a question?”
She laughs. “You just did, but I’ll answer another.”
“What Christian has ever been without flaws? If you ask me, a Christina who never says a negative word or makes a mistake is what’s unrealistic. It’s true I’m not writing for a Christian audience, and I might not fit into any box, but my book is for anyone who wants to read it. My characters love, they’ve been hurt, they say the wrong thing at the wrong time for the right reason, and sometimes they do things that are just stupid like I seem to do on a daily basis. I’m not saying I’m a perfect writer. Heck, I’m not even saying I’m the best writer in this room or that I understand this business, but I do believe in these characters, even with as flawed as you may think they are.”
Leaning back, she laces her fingers and rests her hands on her desk. “Okay, let’s pretend you’re right. You’re writing is still too confusing. I know this isn’t popular to say out loud, and if anyone ever heard me I’d be dragged by my hair down Main Street, but you have to write for the dumbest person reading your book. The popular saying is not to underestimate your reader’s intelligence, and I can tell that’s been your guiding light, but it’s just not true, or possible. Your book will never sell.”
I shove down the ball lodged in my throat long enough to take my manuscript and stand. “I’m assuming this means you’re no longer interested in signing me.”
“Throw that thing in the garbage, bring me something different, and I’ll consider it.”
Turning on my heel, I thank God for shutting a door I never should have knocked on.
When I get home my cat Cheshire winds around my legs purring as loudly as he can. How does he always know when I’m ready to break in half?
I walk to the fireplace of my parents’ house and hold my manuscript just away from the flames. On the drive home it had seemed like every word Delilah had said to me cut a little deeper into my flesh. Begin a novelist is all I’ve ever wanted and she’d been with me every step of the way it seemed. What had changed? I watch the flames as they leap and try to grab the cover page and in my imagination each flame takes on Delilah’s form and face.
I pull my hand back, hug the book, and go to my room. Sitting down at my desk I turn on my laptop. “If she wants different, then I’ll show her something that’s different from anything she’s used to can still sell.” I stroke the cover page. “I refuse to believe my readers are stupid. And you and I, little book, we’re going to prove to her they’re not.”
For the next three months I pour over every page, reading it in detail and adding sensory information until it’s as if the words live before my eyes. I make my characters bleed more and love deeper. If anything I make them messier than even I imagined they could ever be. My mind swings back and forth between believing in each word I write and wondering if Delilah was correct, but I keep writing.
When I’ve finished my final edit I hit save and print out my resume and sample chapters.
The next morning my mom gives me a tight squeeze, and wishes me luck, before I head to my first writing conference, New Faces.
As soon as I step inside Delilah looms into view and all I want to do is run.
“Honey, where have you been hiding?” She smiles, reaching to hug me.
“I’ve been working.” I return her hug, trying not to be cold.
“What’s this manuscript titled?”
I hand her my sample chapters and the edges of her mouth turn down.
“Honey, I warned you about this thing. If you walk in there you will be ripped to bits and I don’t want to see you hurt.”
When I look in her eyes, somehow I know she’s being honest. I squeeze her shoulder and thank her before taking back my chapters and heading to my first appointment.
The rest of the day passes in a blur with more names and information exchanged than I ever thought possible for a human mind to deal with. By the end of it I revert mentally to my ten year old self and call my mom to pick me up. My legs and arms have turned to cooked pasta from stress. Dad drives her over and she and I ride home in my car.
It’s another barrage of questions from my parents over dinner and to each the answer is either, “I think it went well,” “I have no clue,” or “I’ll have to wait to see if I get a call from them.”
I don’t even remember getting into my bed when I wake up in my room the next morning.
Months pass without word and I begin working on the second book from my series. With every passing day the temptation to agree with Delilah challenges me, but somehow I know I have to stay true to my work. Finally, my phone vibrates with an email from one of the agents I’d spoken with.
With my heart feeling like it’s wrapped around my neck I open the email and read over the form letter. With every word it’s as if my goals for life are chopped into smaller bits. The letter ends simply, “We regret to inform you we are uninterested at this time,” with a side note someone’s secretary forgot to erase of “Who put this crap on my desk?”
Closing my laptop, I take a deep breath. People always talk about choices in life, and this is one, I guess. I can either keep trying, or I can commit literary suicide.
Cheshire jumps up onto my desk and paws at my manuscript with a purr.
Closing my eyes, I pray what I’ve always prayed. For God to open the right door, in His time keeping every wrong door and window locked tight. I scratch Cheshire’s head and wipe a tear from my eye. “I can always submit to other places. If they didn’t like my book, then they simply weren’t meant for me.”
My phone rings and I’m tempted not to answer it. My friends have been begging me to come out of my writing stupor, but I’m not interested. Halfheartedly, I answer.
“Is this Yvette Allison?”
I sit up a little straighter. “Yes, sir, it is. May I ask whose calling?”
“Richard Value I—”
“Oh my gosh, you’re the owner of Pages of Worth.”
He chuckles and I realize I just cut him off.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just shocked, you’re quite literally the last person on the planet I expected to hear from.”
“So I could tell, and don’t worry, I’ve never heard my company name said with such enthusiasm. I enjoyed it.”
“What can I do for you?”
“It’s come to my attention, via my niece who is quite a fan of your blog, that you have a book you’re trying to find representation for. Is that correct?”
I practically leap from my seat. “Yes, sir.”
He clears his throat. “Through the clichéd grapevine I’ve heard we turned it down. Is that true?”
“Who turned it down?”
I cough. “I can’t really say I remember.”
“It was Delilah Hernandez, and I know you remember, Yvette. I appreciate you loyalty, though. I also know you were at the New Faces conference a few months ago. Is there any reason one of my other agents wasn’t on your appointment docket?”
“I didn’t think I was what you were looking for.” I trip over Cheshire.
“I’ve gotten hold of your resume and it has me wanting to take a look at your book myself. Perhaps you could meet me and my niece for a work dinner at the Castle Guard later today? Lunch would be on the agency, of course, and if it’s any extra incentive, I know my niece would love to meet you.”
“I can have an updated, full copy of the manuscript ready in about two hours.”
“Okay, then we’ll see you there in three hours.”
Dropping the phone, I thank God for keeping the wrong doors closed.
Thank you all so much for reading my first story of 2016. I’m so glad you chose to come back and spend some more time in my imagination and I look forward to all the stories to come. Have a question you’d like to “ask” Yevette? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be happy to include it in my next character interview. Please remember that all stories poster here are my own and fictional.