Meet Cute #7: The Agent and the Manuscript

Yolanda the literary agent sat on the bus, staring at her inert smartphone.

Her thumb trembled over the screen. She simply couldn’t bring herself to check her email.

She was actually afraid of her inbox now, the endless uptick of New Messages she’d encounter each time. Was there a term for that? A fear of correspondence?

It was the need of the senders that overwhelmed her. Each message came to her overstuffed with hope and insecurity and ego. Choose me! No, me! Over here, me! Dozens a day, hundreds a week, each one representing a book-in-waiting. Millions of words that would probably never make their way between two covers.

“East 72nd Street,” enunciated the recorded female announcer, half human and half robot. Yolanda loved that voice. So soothing.

Yolanda lifted her eyes enough to peer at the smartphone of the young businesswoman beside her. The businesswoman did not appear to suffer from Yolanda’s communication block. She was texting and typing away.

“Don’t you ever get tired of doing that?” Yolanda asked, impulsively.

The businesswoman looked up, surprised. “What?”

“Answering emails. Catering to all those needs and fears and requirements –”

The businesswoman stared at her. “It’s my job.”

Yes, a job. Just as being an agent was a job. A rewarding one, up until six months ago, when her paralysis had begun. It seemed to start after she’d had a string of bad luck with manuscripts she was representing. She’d loved those books, one a gut-wrenching memoir about being a single black mother in the 1970s, one a lyric travelogue about New Guinea. But she’d gotten nary a bite from editors despite her best efforts. She wondered if she’d lost her touch, or if maybe she cared too much. Her older colleagues had warned her about that, getting attached…

The businesswoman was a little older than Yolanda, who was still in her late 20s. She turned toward Yolanda and took off her reading glasses.

“Look,” the businesswoman said. “You just need to prioritize. A system. That’s what I do.”

Oh boy. Of all the people she could have sought out in her desperation, she’d landed on a time management fanatic.

“Deal with the ones that take the least time to answer first,” the woman was saying. “Then block out some time to handle the ones that need more concentration –”

“East 66th Street,” announced the female voice.

“Crap, this is me,” the businesswoman said, collecting her things. “Good luck. Remember: Prioritize.”

“Good advice,” Yolanda said, smiling politely. “Thanks.”

The businesswoman pounded, high-heeled, down the bus stairs.

Prioritize. All well and good if you had the kind of job where you had to deal with crises and emergencies. But Yolanda didn’t have that kind of job. Each query called out equally for her attention. It didn’t help that her submissions guidelines instructed authors to put the title of their book in all capital letters in the subject line, giving each message the look of a scream. She’d have to change that.

The bus roared to life again, and Yolanda’s thumb returned to hovering. How about she’d check the hourly weather forecast? That’d be good. And useful, too, because then she’d know what the commute home would be like, whether she could expect to make yoga…

She opened a browser window and began to navigate.

“Next stop, East 59th Street,” the bus-voice intoned.

And that’s when it occurred to her: Here was her system! She’d start with email number 59. No, it wasn’t the hyper-logical, orderly system of the businesswoman. It was random and a little silly. But it would get her started, wouldn’t it? She’d skim through and respond to query number 59 and then, by the time they got to the next stop at East 49th, she’d move to email number 49, then 42 and on down until she reached her office at East 14th.

Excitedly, she clicked out of and opened her email. The counter ticked upward at an alarming rate, reaching 1,211. But now she was barely fazed! Now she had a system!

She scrolled through to query 59, counting down from the most recent emails.

“Dear Yolanda,” it said. “My name is Edward Fren –”

Delete. Easy. “My name is” queries were an immediate turn-off.

Heck, at this rate, she didn’t even need to wait for the next stop. They were stuck at a stoplight at East 57th, and she opened that email next.

“Dear Ms. Silverson, What if a fetus could send its mother subliminal messages inducing her to become a serial killer?”

What if it couldn’t? Delete.

Oh, she was on a roll now, back to her old self! Maybe she could dispatch all 1,211 messages by the time she arrived at her office —

Except they were still at East 57th. What did she do in this case? Her system needed a new rule.

She’d go to number 58, the one she’d skipped over. It had been sent two days ago.

Come on, number 58. Bring me your teen vampires and your cozy old-lady detectives and your recovery memoirs and your —

“Dear Ms. Silverson,” it read. “I am the surviving twin from a pair of conjoined twins born in 1982. My brother died of heart failure five years ago, at the age of 27, and I’ve written a memoir of our shared life, in voices alternating between mine and diaries he left behind.”

On the query went, and on she read, unable to stop. The writer had won a large fellowship, worked as a journalist, won a poetry prize. She read the query and went on to the sample pages. She devoured those, found herself crying at the beauty of the story and language.

Once again she was in love.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *