Submitting to agents is much like being thrown on the Marriage Mart.
My last two novels being Regency romances, I couldn’t help but make this comparison when I went through the grueling process of submitting my manuscript to agents. And after feeling terribly sorry for myself, and eating myself out of chocolate, it occurred to me that at least I had it better than those poor girls! At least I have other things I can do with my life, and my mortification is entirely private. They were all so young, most still in their teens, and foisted onto the public stage to make a creditable (if not brilliant) match, or go home in disgrace.
If any of you have submitted to agents, you know what I’m saying here. For those who haven’t, well, you spend countless hours, days, months creating and polishing a work of art that fills you with excitement, and that your readers love and assure you must be on the shelves of every bookstore without delay. So you decide it’s time to submit, and begin to research agents who are interested in your type of storytelling, only to learn how pointless and ridiculous are all your dreams, because agents are only interested in perfection of a certain kind, that exudes uniqueness and spark while addressing the world’s problems in a subtle yet powerful voice, all in language that would fall from the lips of angels.
But you must submit. So, somehow, you scoop the dribbling remnants of your self-esteem up off the floor and present your life’s work, in the forlorn hope that perhaps one of these gods of the publishing world will see past all its failings to the diamond at its heart. Agent after fastidious agent you importune, bowing to their every submission guideline whim, walking the fine line of appearing interesting and confident without being pushy or weird, and re-inventing the wheel of your approach with almost every agent, because they have already established themselves in the industry and can be as quirky as they like.
It was some comfort to me to realize that it must have been much the same on the Marriage Mart. Each young lady between the ages of seventeen and twenty (and sometimes younger), having been fortified for success with a steady diet of strict etiquette, maidenly gentility, and feminine accomplishments, made their come out into Society with starry-eyed dreams and aspirations, and very little true understanding of what awaited them. Some were better prepared than others, but all were subjected to the close scrutiny of everyone from the censurious matron, to the loose screw, to the reigning beauty, to the exacting Corinthian. Every young lady was publicly weighed in the balance time and again, and very often publicly found wanting, in one way or another, despite their careful training and individual strengths.
It was as much of a polite cat fight as us poor writers are engaged in, smiling and batting our eyes at those who could give us an entre’ to the world of which we so desperately wish to be part, while sinking our claws into any opportunity that might forward our cause. The sheer inhumanity of it can be depressing.
But we must not forget the Lizzie Bennetts of the Regency world, who never gave themselves up to falsity or imposture, no matter the pressure they endured to be what others thought they should be, who humbled themselves when necessary, and who persevered through snubs and even outright persecution. These were the strong women of their age, who blazed their way through and around the strictures and expectations of their world to find true happiness, and captured the imaginations of millions a century and more later.
It has been said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” (Pretty sure Nietze said that) And so, just as those intrepid maidens of two hundred years ago did what it took to reach their dreams and remain human, so can we, and we will not only live to tell the tale, but may just inspire future generations to gird up their loins and do hard things as well.