I don't know how to be cool when it comes to pitching a novel.
I'm good at writing books. Once I've settled into the writing process I'm relatively free of self doubt and reliably chug along, producing a certain number of words every day. I retain my composure over the editing process. I don't think I'm unique in this. It's a wonderful time of gestation, where the words you are working on could become absolutely anything. And let's be honest, you could be destined for absolutely anything. It is far less complicated and more glamorous to announce at a dinner party, "I am writing a novel," than to say, "I have written a novel."
Because once that novel is written, the expectation kicks in. Will you get an agent? Will you get published? The first time I submitted to an agent I really wanted to work with, I stalked them on Twitter several times a day, half hoping for a tweet saying "Just read the BEST submission I've seen in years #cryingwithjoy" and half expecting a tweet saying, "God the shit writers send in these days! #zomg #lordhelpme #talentlessfucksabound." She never mentioned anything and all I got for my efforts was insight into her obsession with Beyonce.
I don't hold myself entirely accountable for my stalking habits. For an industry so swamped in submissions and highly competitive, there is relatively little information on what actually happens during the submission process in agencies or publishers. Do the agents form a circle around your opening chapters, humming in unison until a dark voice whispers "YES" or "NO"? Why are they so slow sometimes? Other times, why are they so fast?
Of course, now that I am all grown up and trying to pitch a second book internationally, I am actually starting to hold conversations with some of these agents. They have emerged from behind their form rejections and, far from the jeering literary snobs I was expecting, they have revealed themselves as bookish, kind and most of all, really passionate about reading and writing.
This is all very lovely, but it doesn't mean I have found representation yet. I have a fistful of lovely exchanges, positive rejections and "very best wishes, really" but no golden ticket to literary greatness. Such a ticket would be welcome right now, as the fear and sense of failure begins to creep in. Yes, I have an incredible circle of wonderful friends and family who urge me to keep trying, but my immature little brain zones in on those friends who have stopped asking me how my writing is going. It focusses on the faraway look in people's eyes when they ask me who my publisher is and I launch into a drawn out explanation of what I'm doing, and how it's a long process and how they can find me in a list of anthologies they've never heard of.
Yet through my pitching process I hope I am becoming more wise. I have learnt that there are some things that I am prepared to change about my book, and other things I won't compromise on. There is a gut feeling that kicks in when someone else talks about your work that lets you know whether what they are saying holds any truth to you.
I also came across this passage from Pema Chodron,
"The truth is, things don't get solved. They come together and they fall apart. They come together again and they fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
My life won't become perfect when I get published. The state of 'being published' is not an end in itself. There is far more interesting work to be done in being a better writer, in making sense of the world around me, of interrogating my gaze.
I have contacted every relevant agent in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and will leave it at that. There is a far more interesting, magical and controllable task ahead of me: my next work.