Sunday, August 23, 2009

When real life gets in the way of agenting...and why it should.

The plan: spend all weekend finishing a copyedit for a client's book, and get caught up on queries from the open submission period in August.

The reality: spend all night Friday moving my belongings out of my room, which was in the process of being flooded. (For the fifth time since December, by the way. Because of the roof that our landlord refuses to fix. Much like he refused to turn on the heat in December until we threatened to withhold rent.) So, like yesterday, today will mostly be spent on documenting and throwing away the waterlogged books and papers, then multiple trips to the laundromat to rid my clothes and bedding of the disturbingly brown water that came through the roof. Then trying to clean the room. Which will most likely flood again next week, so really a Sisyphean endeavor at best.

(I did read and respond to more than 100 queries last night, by the way, so the night wasn't a total wash.)

Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes - a lot of the time, frankly - new writers seem to think that an agent's job is a 24/7 occupation. That we should be reading queries and partials to the exclusion of all else in our lives. That we should not have outside hobbies. That we should not blog or Twitter. That we should not write our OWN books. (Quite a few agents I know are successful authors.) That we should not see movies or read books for fun. That we should not have husbands or wives or kids or pets or personal lives. That we should not take sick days or personal days or vacation time. That we should not work other jobs in order to be able to pay the rent while we try to build up a client list for a career that does not include a salary or health benefits. That we should not take time off when we have a personal emergency like, say, your roof opening up and dumping gallons of rainwater on your head.

Well, guess what? An agent's job is just that: a job. One that s/he is really only obligated to spend 40 hours a week on. But the reality is that for most agents, 40 hours a week working on agenting is considered a part-time job. Most of us - myself included - spend about 70-80 hours a week doing our job. And unless we are lucky enough to have an employed spouse or partner, we also work other jobs to pay the rent. (My good friend and agent colleague Diana Fox has an excellent blog post about this, by the way. You should read it.)

Somewhere in there we need to find time to do things that the rest of you may take for granted: do the laundry, buying groceries, paying our bills, taking the pets to the vet, going to the doctor, seeing friends and family, and - yes - move books and furniture out of a flooded bedroom.

The fact is? Real life - friends, family, pets, one's own mental and physical well-being - always comes first. As it should for everyone, no matter what your occupation.

Just so we're clear.


DebraLSchubert said...

And I thought agents were made of asteroid-rocks, steel, and other super-human components. WHAT a disappointment. Seriously, thanks for this post. We writers can be a tad obnoxious from time to time in our expectations of agents.

When I saw you at Backspace in May, I got how dedicated you are and how tough it is to take the path of being a literary agent. I think I can speak on behalf of all writers when I say, "thank you."

writermomof5 said...

Excellent post and one all writers should read.

There must be balance for agents, writers and even editors. ; ) Work is work and life should be lived. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there has to be down time so I do have something to give.

That said I'm sorry your life intrusion was a soggy roof and not something a little more pleasant. Let's home the city does something about that now.

Book Maven said...

Heartbreaking to lose books and papers at all let alone so often. And the cats must have hated it. Much sympathy and I'm glad you have a job that engages you so much that when doing it you can get relief from the roof problems (even if only by coping with other problems).

ladysmith said...

Oh, eek!

If you can find any in your neck of the woods, get some Damp Rid (We get ours at Lowes). It will help get the dampness out of your bedroom before things get too fusty.

Sorry about the books. That's terrible. Can you deduct the value from your rent?

Dana said...

I swear agents and teachers are really in the same profession. :) I've had that same conversation with students and parents about how it is not in my job description to spend 30+ hours on the weekend grading papers just because they want to know a grade immediately.

So sorry about your roof! :( I hope that it cleans up relatively easily. And thank you for all of your hard work and your wonderful blog!

elissa said...

ah, I can totally relate--not as an agent but as a teacher/writer/mother, etc. I mean, you get into these types of jobs knowing that the work will bleed over into those hours beyond the actual workday, but when others assume that your work should be your actual life, it gets really frustrating.

also, ack! about your roof! that's so not okay. I think your landlord should wake up with a painful case of boils tomorrow.

Deb Salisbury said...

Agents seem to try to complete an eighty-hour job in a forty-hour week. I don't envy you!

Are apartments so hard to find in NY that you can't move? You sound like you live in a dreadful place. Shudder.

domynoe said...

I think in most states, if the landlord refuses to fix something, you can fix it then take it out of the rent. Check on that. We're in the same place with our landlord, except insulating the walls, replacing the windows with storm windows, and replacing the doors so they actually fit and not have holes is WAY beyond our budget. Thus we spend a fortune in utilities every month instead. *sigh* At any rate, something for you to look into.

Debbie Hodge said...

oh! as a small-business owner, the minute I saw the title of your post I had to read it. the problem with being perpetually overextended is . . . when there's a snag, it not easy getting caught up . . . or just to the point where you're not TOTALLY behind. i know that I feel guilty blogging when i'm owing many folks work. good luck and thanks for the post.

Michele Lee said...

I really, really hope that you find a way to get into a better apartment soon. What you've put up with is completely ridiculous.

ciarcullen said...

That's a good reminder that everyone has things on their plate--groceries and vets and shitty landlords--and that they can be agents too. And writers, editors, and publishers. We're all just working slobs, and some of us get to do cooler things than digging ditches in 100 degree weather. I think we're all on our last nerve in this economy and I hope you get some respite soon.

And I appreciate a nice timely rejection on my manuscript--so much so I didn't even write back to thank you. Doh! Guess I just did. ;o) Hang in, these things tend to run in waves.

stephanie said...

I very much like this post. Entitlement seems to be seeping into so many aspects of our lives these days, and it's good to have a reality check every now and again.

You aren't alone either. As a professor, I once had a student pop in to "chat" via Gmail at midnight. "Hi! Is what you said in class today important? I mean, is it going to be on the exam?" Uh... It's midnight. This is not your time, and if I said my favorite color is purple, it's subject to being on the exam.

Work-life balance is almost impossible to achieve with the current technologies we have. I say kudos to anyone who can unplug, deal with floods, families, and work. Thanks again for posting this.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I've heard other writers say the same thing, even about other unagented/unpublished writers. "You went to the grocery store? How could you?!"

But I agree with you, we all have lives outside of our jobs (or hobbies, if we're still amateurs). It's inevitable and, frankly, healthy.

I applaud your use of the word "Sisyphean". It's so rarely used or recognized!

clindsay said...

Ciar -

Feel free to query again with another project. That one just didn't feel like it was right for me.

DocPammyDC said...

I'm with you, sister. Two weeks ago was 'Cat Hell' week. Back and forth to the vet. Two weeks before that was 'Plumbing hell' week, where every in the house decided to come out of the drains instead of going down them. Yuk. I'm self-employed, and I totally get it.

Good luck with the apartment. Sorry for the icky interruption.

suzie said...


That sucks about the roof - maybe if it ever stops raining you'll get a break! Your apartment and my car should be friends.

ciarcullen said...

You're the bomb, lady. I'm still working on the chops, and maybe some day I'll hit the right note!

Cathy in AK said...

(I did read and respond to more than 100 queries last night, by the way, so the night wasn't a total wash.)

Not sure if that was intentional, coming on the heels of a reference to flooding, but it made me snort.

Good luck with your roof/housing issues. Follow ladysmith's suggestion of DampRid. We use the hanging version in our vehicles here in the Soggy North to cut down on interior condensation. Amazing stuff.

As for the "stunning" concept that agents have lives, I can't understand how one could think otherwise. No one should be expected to be "on" 24/7/365. It's not good for anyone, ever.

Karen Beeching said...

Thanks for this post. Clearly your landlord does not read your blog or your tweets. He should.

I did send a response to your email today. Hopefully spam or firewall didn't grab it again.

Sorry about the ruined books. Awful.

~Jamie said...

You want us to stage a protest? I've kind of always wanted to be part of a sit in... but back in college I didn't really care enough about causes to actually make one happen :)

I'm sorry about your books... and your other stuff too--but REALLY the books. :(

annarkie said...

Great post! It is something many writers should realize. And as for reading and deciding on 100 queries in a single day, you ARE superwoman!

I tried to read and comment on all the queries on a contest blog and my head got fuzzy after ten. I think the same would happen if an agent had to do it 24/7. S/he wouldn't be able to be clear-headed enough to give an author's work sufficient concentration to give it a fair judgement.

Your landlord deserves to be drowned in his living quarters. Wishing you good karma.

Disgruntled said...

You should invest in umbrellas for your book storage. Ruined books is the worst thing ever.

Kenny Celican said...

Anyone who thinks you should ignore life and work 24/7/365 needs a smacked-upside-the-head encounter with the Trout of Cluefulness (a relative of the Mackeral of Truth). I agree with the folks who have said that without down-time or self-time, you've got nothing to bring to work. Just as true is that if you've got nothing but disaster-recovery in your down-time, what you bring to work isn't a fresh outlook, but exhaustion. Take a break, recharge your batteries, and come back strong rather than limping along.

That said, it does rather seem your roof is perpetually putting you in that 'personal crises wiping out professional go-juice' on a regular basis. I'm assuming you've already looked into moving, and that your landlord is for whatever reason not going to help. With that in mind, would your landlord let YOU fix the roof, or arrange for it to be fixed?

I ask 'cause I'm between jobs at the moment, and worked my way through college doing general contracting work. I'd be willing to lend a hand and donate my time if you want to give it a go.

clindsay said...

Hi Kenny -

Can't afford to move or fix the roof. (See above re agents not getting a salary of any kind.)

Trust me, if I could afford to get out of this pit of an apartment, I'd do it.


TereLiz said...

Thanks for reminding us prospective writers that it's not all about us all the time. I'm so sorry about your apartment, and if it had been me, I'm not sure if I could have powered through so many queries, much less updated my progress on my blog.

Have you been nominated for sainthood yet? ;)

clindsay said...

Hi all -

I'm deleting the comments that have specifically to do with my roof or apartment; that's not what this post is about and I am frankly tired of people who don't know me make assumptions about how easy or inexpensive the roof would be to fix. To be plain: The entire roof of a two-bedroom house plus one entire wall need replacing. Not within my budget nor should it be.

But I'd prefer to stick to the topic at hand which is work/life balance, so any more comments addressing my roof will be deleted.

EVERY ONE - no matter what you do for a living - should give your personal life priority over your work life.

TereLiz -

Not nearly a saint, trust me.


Heather Long said...

Thank you for this Colleen. Sometimes, I feel that way about writing. I absolutely love it and I want to write, but when you have to spend your whole day running errands from one end of town to the other or looking for a loan because a tree that didn't belong to you took out your fence, you do what you have to do. Family and life come first. As for the roof -- I got nothing pithy to say about that other than sorry to hear of your troubles and wildly impressed with what you got done in spite of of them.

Joanne Sher said...

I don't think I'd want an "unbalanced" agent reading my query anyway - or a grumpy one. If/when I send you something, can you reserve it for a time when you're feeling hearts and flowers? ;)

This is an excellent reminder for ALL of us. Family absolutely needs to come first. And I'm sorry that you get responses from folks that would make you feel like this post was necessary.

Praying for your situation, and thank you.

ChristaCarol said...

Well said. Sorry about the reoccurring roof issues. Your landlord really sucks butt. And I do believe that's the understatement of the year.

kathleenpeacock said...

Your job is to represent a set of authors. To do that, you need to attract authors. Several people (myself among them) will query you in large part due to your blog and twitter. Therefore, you could argue that blogging and twitter are part of your job.

As for the rest, I'd rather have an agent who had some semblance of a work/life balance than one who was burnt out.

Jean said...

Ummmmmm...I'm amazed at the sheer HOURS and HOURS y'all spend working during your "personal" time.

And it stinks you have to deal with that leak problem continuously. My NY landlord was pretty much like that, too, but I was on the second floor of a 7 or 8 story building, so I was less affected by stuff like that.