Three months ago the San Francisco company my husband worked for was dissolved, and now we live in Seattle. In that insanely brief amount of time we had to sell our house in California and buy a new one in Seattle, which we did, but we’ve all narrowly escaped nervous breakdowns in the process. During that time I was also deep in revisions on my book to get it ready for copy editing, which I finished the day the movers came. They were boxing stuff up around me as I sat on the floor with my laptop. Ridiculous. But holy moly did it make me see how very much selling real estate and selling a book have in common. We are all emotionally attached to our books and homes. A book is a house for your heart! Hooray for books and having a place to live! But we’re trying to sell these things. It is scary. Observe:
1. Finding an agent to sell your book/house means finding someone who sees the same potential and beauty in it that you, the author/homeowner, does. The agent must obviously be one you trust, because potential is the key word. An agent will agree to represent the author/homeowner often on the basis of the great potential they see in the book/house. They will help whip that book/house into shape so editors/homebuyers will also see the beauty. This means revisions great and small (Get rid of that character! Clean up the cussing! What’s up with all the descriptions of current weather conditions?) and like our house, improvements great and small. (Move that rug! Take all your family photos down! Repair the dry rot and for God’s sake, renovate that kitchen!) These revisions/renovations may take months. They may feel all janky and get you all whiny and ‘I thought you liked it the way it was!’ But unless the agent is telling you to turn your romance into a sci-fi mystery and your cottage into a three-story McMansion, it is time to get over the precious emotional grip the book/house has on your heart. I mean, never be afraid to speak up when alarm bells ring (This book is NOT set in 1940’s Antigua, what the hell?!?) but remember you signed with said agent because you trust them. A good agent is not interested in destroying yours or your book’s artistic integrity or bankrupting your down-payment savings. A good agent wants to sell your book, your house, and let’s remember YOU do too, that’s why you hired the agent in the first place. Be a good writer. Listen. Stick to what essentially, truly matters and then trust and be brave with revisions/renovations. When they’re done, if you’ve listened to your heart and gut and your agent, you will have an even better book/house than you could have imagined. And now your agent will put that book/house on the market.
2. Buyers may come around. Editors may take a look. Some will turn down the book/house for subjective reasons reflecting personal taste. (That paint is ridiculous. I don’t read books set in graveyards.) Whatev. Other editors/homebuyers will pass for objective reasons. Structural reasons. (Um, there is a ginormous crack in your foundation. Your book has No Plot.) Maybe you don’t mind the crack in the foundation, maybe you and your agent enjoy a plot-les book. But if weeks and months go by and these same issues keep coming up as reasons there are no buyers for your book/house, if you are in fact interested in selling said book/house, it may be time to listen to these objective objections. Maybe editors/homebuyers do see the great potential in your book/house, but for these very serious foundation and plot misgivings are unwilling to pull the trigger. Now you must decide, where do you bend? Will you try making a plot for your characters to live in? Will you get bids on repairing the crack in the foundation, adorable as you may think it is? I’m not saying surrender every artistic/homeownership scruple you may lay claim to, I’m saying listen. Try some stuff out.
I was lucky enough to have agents for both my book and my house whose desire to sell said book and house were tempered with firm love of what the book/house were at their cores: A 750 square foot beach cottage. A book about a kid in a graveyard.
Yes, said my real estate agent, we will fix the crack in the foundation, however we will NOT add a second bathroom and hire a stager for three thousand dollars who will bring in crap from Home Goods when the stuff already in here is lovely and people need to get over it and look past their personal taste in paint color, my God! The end result? We sold the house for nearly asking in two weeks without spending $20,000 we don’t even have (Hello, that’s why we’re selling the G.D. thing!) on pointless renovations. Thank GOD.
My book agent listened to the editors who wanted my book on the condition that a laundry list of revisions were tended to first – she stuck to my guns and gave it to me straight up – No, we will not change this graveyard book into a romance set in a dystopian landscape wherein the undead walk the graveyard every other page. However – I needed to attempt a plot. * The end result? We kept the heart and soul of the book intact and it turned out even heart-ier and soul-ier with a plot. Who knew? Well. The editor who bought it knew. My agent knew. Thank GOD.
The take-away? Any time commerce and art or commerce and homes combine, things get dicey fast. Finding a smart agent you trust, who loves the book/house for itself and it’s potential, may be the only thing standing between you and never selling your house and never selling your book. Which again, if keeping the crack in the foundation and not having a plot means everything in the world to you, by all means, do not surrender. If a plot-less narrative was your entire point in the first place, do not give in. Selling be damned, you will not sleep if you give up the thing that means anything to you, there are plenty of things my agent and I refused to move an inch on, things I’d rather the book live in a drawer than contain, and we were right. The right editor came along and mine and the book’s soul remain intact.
If, on the other hand, you maybe just sort of got lost in the story and …forgot…to write a plot* and are willing to take a look-see at how your characters may grow if they’re allowed to live in a series of events with rising action and conflict and a climactic event so awesome and funny even you are surprised and tickled pink by it, and if you never thought about the foundation crack much at all so what the hell let’s get some bids to fix it ? Then be brave. Sign wisely then trust your agents - don’t just say you do. Do it. Trust. Listen. Be honest, express your concerns. A good agent will listen, give you the straight dope and not make you feel stupid, even if the revisions make you cry really loud in Peet’s coffee and you make a scene with lots of paper napkins and nose-blowing and due to the resulting humiliation you can never write there again but it doesn’t matter anyway because you’ve moved to Seattle so whatever, Peet’s.*
The copy edits on my book come back next week. I will be furiously tending to them for two weeks or so. We are in escrow on this house in Seattle and the next two weeks are all about getting bids on replacing carpet, painting walls, doing something about the asbestos-filled popcorn ceilings. And every second I do this stuff I am driven nearly to distraction by gratitude. For being employed, having a home to live in, for being able to make repairs so it is safe and comfortable. I am still amazed my agent signed me, let alone how she made the book so much better and sold it to an editor who made even better. Fortune full, I tell you. Oh. And how we got the house? We were out-bid in the competitive, ridonkulous Seattle housing market. But the sellers so kindheartedly went with our lower bid, because they liked the letter I wrote them. Because they love this house, and in the letter I promised we would love it as much as they do. They stuck to their guns. They didn’t give in what mattered most to them just to sell. They wanted a caring family to pass their home on to, but they needed to sell. They got both.
See you after copy edits!
*Okay, it’s not like my book had no plot at all. It just…okay. It didn’t have one. But it does now and it is awesome. **Only one time did this happen and the revisions were really, really hard but I did them so shut up.