One day Deb goes to a romance writer’s convention, where at a high-powered dinner of authors and agents, she tells an amusing anecdote about her Wacky Artist Friend.
She is sitting next to a very nice woman* named Helen, who, after the laughter dies down, says something in passing like “Artist, eh? Does she do graphic novels? That’s what everybody’s asking me for right now…”
Deb wracks her brain, remembers something about a wombat, and says “I think so. I’ll send you a link to her website when I get home…”
A couple of weeks go by, and Deb calls me up as I am in the middle of packing the house to move and says “Ursula, do you want a literary agent?”
I said–-and I know I said this, because Deb has never once let me forget it–-”Huh. Sure. What the hell.”
Deb facepalmed on the other end of the line and said “Ursula, when somebody offers to get you an agent, you do not say “Sure, what the hell.” You say “Wow, Deb, that would be amazing! Thank you so much!”
I repeated this dutifully, and then asked “What do I do with an agent?”
“We’ll worry about that later,” said Deb. “You do that webcomic, right? Have you won any awards?”
It had. I named them.
I wracked my brain and said “Uh…it was mentioned in the New York Times?”
There was the sound of another facepalm. “The New York–-you never told me–-that’s huge!”
“So I’m told,” I said, another line which Deb (who tells this story given any shred of opportunity, and has much better delivery) has never, ever let me forget. (Look, I was trying to pack at the time!)
“I’ll put all this in the e-mail,” she said, and hung up.
I thought “Huh,” and went back to work and thought no more about it, because what was I going to do with a literary agent? What did they do, anyway? Also, as I said, I was packing, and you have to wrap each of the plates in newspaper, and you KNOW what that’s like…
A few weeks slid by, we moved into the new house, we did a lot of re-painting and one day I got an e-mail from Helen saying “I have been to your website, I love your art, the little descriptions are so zany, can I call you, do you have an agent?”
I sent back a polite e-mail saying “I’ve never even spoken to an agent, but here’s my number.”
About thirty seconds later, the phone rang, and when I picked it up, she said “You are now speaking to an agent.”
“I will update my resume!” I said brightly.
There was a brief pause while she down-shifted her expectations of my intelligence.
Then she explained that she really really liked the art, she particularly liked the weird little stories, they were vastly entertaining and quirky, and had I written anything longer and could I send her samples?
So we went back and forth for a bit, and I sent her Digger and I think Irrational Fears. She found them interesting. She would call while flipping through my gallery and throw out random questions involving what we could do with this or that idea in the way of turning it into a book of some sort.
This was all very flattering, and it was an exciting couple of conversations, but I had no real idea what to make of it.
She was particularly interested, however, in the painting I did ages ago of Nurk the shrew, though, and I’d said I was going to write a children’s book about it someday–-had I?
“Sure!” I said, with the optimism of the completely ignorant. I still had no idea what you DID with an agent, but this woman seemed extremely excited and she had called THREE TIMES and had a very forceful personality and was also extremely complimentary and I hated to disappoint her, since apparently there was a chance she could be my agent, and I had picked up from Deb that this was probably a good thing even though I still wasn’t real clear on what they did.
“How soon can you have it?” she asked.
I panicked. Um. What was a good time frame? How long did it take to write a book? Oh god, what if I asked for too long and she got bored or got hit by a truck or I proved that I was some kind of irrational prima donna with no work ethic?
“Can I have six weeks?” I asked finally.
There was an unidentifiable noise from the other end of the phone, and she said, very generously, “Take eight.”
I wrote it in six weeks, and then spent the next week having neurotic fits about it, and then finally sent it out at seven weeks, in case she wanted to make any revisions, because that’s what you do in the illustration biz, which I was used to–-optimally you send it in before the actual deadline so that the revisions also come in under deadline. (This was really not that super-human a feat–-Nurk is a VERY short book. I wouldn’t try to do a regular novel in that time frame. Probably. Well, if Helen asked, I might try.)
Then I fretted for about two days, and she called say that it was great and she was very happy with it and would send it out and I plucked up my courage and asked “Does this mean you’re my agent now?”
There was a splutter on the other end of the line and she said “Yes! Of course I’m–-WHY? Did another agent contact you?” (I think that’s the tone she uses on recalcitrant editors. It is alarming.)
“No–-no, I’m just–-I wasn’t sure…I mean…is this how it works?”
There was another pause while Helen again down-shifted her notion of my intelligence. “Yes,” she said. “I am your agent. If anybody asks if you have representation, you send them to me. I can write up a contract if you want, although generally I don’t, since we both know it.”
“Cool!” I said.
…and that is how I got an agent, without having actually written a book