“Your book title tells me nothing about your book,” says the literary agent.
She sits across from me at a table in the far corner of an empty room. She flips through the pages of my book, Five Minutes For France, with nonchalant abandon.
I assume she’s a nice lady in real life. She probably packs her kids’ lunches with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with brightly-colored Post-it notes reading: “You’re awesome!”
But at writers conferences~agents who sit behind tables in far corners can morph into Cruella Devilles.
Not that they’re intentionally mean. But they don’t want you to get your hopes high without equipping yourself with some nice, hard truth. And there’s a lot of hard truth for a writer to swallow.
“What would you call it?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I haven’t read your book.”
She slaps my book on the table indicating she has no plans of reading it either.
I guess I asked for honesty, but her honesty didn’t make sense. Since when does a title of a book tell the reader what the story is about? Does the Grapes of Wrath spin a narrative about angry grapes? Does For Whom the Bell Tolls explain who the bell tolls for? The Avon lady perhaps?
I didn’t approach the agent in the hope of her taking my book on as one of her projects. Actually I didn’t plan on chatting with her at all. She represents children’s books, not memoirs. I changed my mind at the registration desk when a cheerful lady with a full head of curly hair, the kind of hair that prompts envy feelings for thin-haired types like me, said, “This might be a good chance for you to get some tips on marketing your book. I’ll put you down for an appointment with an agent.”
It seemed like a good idea then.
Little did I realize the agent would tell me right off to change the title of my book. That’s hardly possible. The title is registered with the Library of Congress, it’s copyrighted, it’s on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other bookselling sites. It’s on my business cards after all. I’m not changing.
I thanked her for her time and she smiled warmly and then flung her head back as she took a gulp from her water bottle. She did seem to want to help me. I think she comes from the school of Blunt Honesty For Your Own Good.
As I headed for the door, she called after me while twisting the cap back on to her water bottle, “Tell your potential audience what your story is about. You’re a survivor!”
She’s right. I didn’t only survive the long traffic commute to get to the conference and the greasy fried chicken sandwich served at lunch, but I survived an anxiety disorder that lasted over thirty years.
And I’m not alone. Anyone who has traversed the dark caverns of anxiety, depression, loss of a loved one, a debilitating illness, or any other painful roadblock thrown in their path and still stands, can count themselves as survivors.
Until that moment, I considered myself a recovered anxious person. Now I knew. It’s not about recovery as much as survival.
The agent may have not realized it, but she made the conference worth the trip.