Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Agent Game, by Lisa Lickel

I had to give back the engagement ring the other week. We'd actually gotten to the altar, smelled the roses, Mr. Annerson and I, but I had chilly feet and asked for a pre-nup at the last second. Didn't go over too well, and the love died before we even considered consummation. At least we hadn't bought a dog or had any kids. Small favors.

I should feel worse. I've been divorced twice: once I left him and the other time she dumped me. Supposed to get easier every time it happens, isn't it? Ah, there's the rub. With each exciting new love affair, we lose a little piece of our soul. Every ad in the singles page reveals a little more of our vulnerability, our desperation. Along with the constant blood loss, a body wears thin.

Scared ya with that last one, didn't I? But you authors know it-that's real crimson hemoglobin, salty sweat and gummy tears on every page we crank out. Every jot, every word, each sentence, scene, story arc, personality, theme-all groaning for an audience.

A hundred years ago, insurance was a kind-hearted in-law. Twenty years ago, literary agents were held in high disdain. "Go wrangle over yer supper check with a lawyer, ya horse thief" the mobs would jeer. Today? The author who can't sell a million on Smashwords and has her sights set on one of the big seven-oops, make that six-publishers crawls on her belly the lowest. You can't even bribe 'em. Now where's the righteousness in that?

I started my authorial career doing pretty well. Top ten finisher in Jerry Jenkins' first CWG First Novel contest. Sold an article to Writer's Digest. Three years later sold my first novel to one of the larger Inspy houses and signed with an agent at the same time.

And then, nothing happened. Nada.

Until I stretched out my little hands to the mid-level independent traditional royalty-paying publishers. No, I was not overwhelmingly welcomed. It's a business, people. With real dollars invested during a messy downturn in the economy and ink media drying up and children in the workforce who must tweet instead of read whole words. But I have sold novels, won awards, attracted a few followers and stuck to them like Velcro. I try my level best to reach out and haul other newbie writers after me, and warn them that they're about to enter ... a nuptial horror show.

The real pity is that I didn't even really want the Matrix Agency that Mr. Annerson was attached to. And when Mr. Annerson held me dangling for three months, hemming and hawing and asking me to revise this, and put a picture on it and tie it with a bow and douse it in smelling salts, I went along with it. When he mailed me the real company contract I was pretty thrilled. Sure. Another notch on the belt. I had two questions that weren't even that hard to answer: 1. Who else can control my fate if I sign with the agency rather than you personally? 2. What if none of the agents wants to send out a manuscript, but I do, and I sell it? You really think I'm still going to give you fifteen percent of that?

Before we started dating, Mr. Annerson and I, I asked him how he felt about the machine world. He was curious, he said, and would get permission to visit. Good, I said.

Apparently not. For two weeks after my questions, Mr. Annerson pulled the plug saying the machine world didn't really exist. At least, not for him. Look! Over there! Another bridal boutique has business for you! he said. 'Ta.”

So, dear newbie friend: If you open the door to the sound of wedding bells, wave back at the tentacles for me, K? And plug me back in, please. I'm going in for another trip up the rose-petaled carpet first chance I git.

Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and sixty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction. Her novels include mystery and romance, all with a twist of grace. She has penned dozens of feature newspaper stories, short stories, magazine articles and radio theater. She is the editor in chief of Creative Wisconsin Magazine and of OtherSheep, a Christian spec fiction/nonfiction magazine. She loves to encourage new authors. Find her and all her connections, books, and resources at
Now available: Meander Scar, A Summer in Oakville (with Shellie Neumeier), Lavender Dreams, and coming in April 2012, The Map Quilt.
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  1. Hi, Lisa,
    Thanks for your post at AuthorCulture!

    I have a question - as a Wisconsin author, what benefits does membership in the Wisconsin Writers Association carry for somebody like me?

  2. This post is lots of fun! Thanks for sharing with us, Lisa. The experiences of authors who have been there, done that are always valuable to the rest of the writing community.

  3. Lisa, this post was brilliant. As a MATRIX fanatic (I seriously think it might be my favorite movie of all time) I caught every one of your subtle nuances.
    I just recently signed with an agent, so time will tell if your post becomes a message from the 'oracle' ....

  4. Thanks for sharing with us today, Lisa. The agenting game is certainly a perilous one... finding that life-mate... not so easy, and I'm not so sure it is necessary, anymore.

    Oh look! A white rabbit...

  5. Hi, all, thanks for the comments. I was just putting Creative Wisconsin to bed--love that magazine! Phy, WWA does have a lot to offer. If you visit the webs site,, you'll see that the dues are pretty inexpensive. We can help you find writers near you, there are two conferences and contests a year and the magazine I publish twice a year that will get your name in front of a lot of people. You can email me for more information.

    When I first started having interesting experiences, I wondered if I was the only one, since I never heard anything like my experiences coming from other authors. I promised I'd keep telling my stories so others wouldn't come into this life with rose-colored glasses.

    I hope your experience goes well, Trace-I'm in negotiations again... eek. And I wish the agents weren't necessary. I can do okay at the level I'm at, but if I want to move higher, to the bigger publishers, I have to have good representation. Even at conferences, most agents and editors tell almost everyone to send them something as a token, and rarely take anyone.

    Thanks for having me here, friends.

    Lisa Lickel