Saturday, August 7, 2010

A shrine to Michael Harriot

Since writing my memoir three years ago, what have I done to promote my book and get myself out there as a writer?

Have I joined a writing competition or slipped my manuscript (with a Ferrero Rocher attached) into the pigeonhole of my colleague whose sister is a published writer? Did I attend that writers’ conference which Eat Pray Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert was meant to speak at (and which we both pulled out of for personal reasons)? Have I started a sensational new “Vote my novel” website for aspiring authors or condensed my 450-page book into a five-minute musical for YouTube?

No, I have not employed any of these excellent tactics! I have, however, queried a lot of literary agents and changed a lot of diapers. It’s hard to say which is more pleasant.

Pitching yourself to an agent is a bit like writing a love note in your biology class to the most popular boy in the school. Against all good reason and with a hammering heart and trembling pencil, you somehow psyche yourself up enough to write: “I’m Heddi, the girl in the corner by the petri dishes. (Please don’t throw this note in the garbage before you get to the end.) You’ve probably never noticed me or heard of me before, but I am the co-editor of the school literary journal. I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re a really special person. I almost feel like we’ve met before. Like in a previous life. Maybe we could talk sometime after class and find out if we really do have the cool connection I think we might be fortunate enough to have. Thank you for reading this. I hope you have an awesome day.” And then you fold it up, write “Jeremy” on top, whisper a little prayer and entrust it to the chain of hands that passes it up to the front row, inwardly pleading it won’t get intercepted by Ms. Hoffman.

Afterwards, of course, you kick yourself for being so impulsive and over-the-top and signing off with “have an awesome day”. Then you become convinced you misspelled Jeremy. Or maybe even your own name. And then, during the long and dark wait for a reply, you do what any respectable writer would do to keep up their spirits: you build him a shrine.

Of course, the shrine is purely mental: I’m not organized enough to put together a real one complete with a photo, offering bowls with water and rice, incense, flowers and candles. Besides, shrines aren’t child-friendly.

My latest shrine is to a certain Mr. Michael Harriot, who I sent a query email to seventeen and a half days ago. He’s a literary agent from a big New York agency and from his online profile photo I can see he wears a suit and tie and has an office on an upper floor. Clearly, he’s out of my league. But I can’t help but feel that somehow we are kindred spirits. First of all, we both like to read. Secondly, we are both suckers for memoirs. Never mind that it appears, upon closer inspection, that his list mainly comprises memoirs by famous baseball players. These are unimportant details.

I carry this imaginary shrine to Michael Harriot around with me all day, in the hopes that, through my uncanny powers of telepathy, I can keep our connection alive despite the physical distance that separates us. I visualize the photo of him wearing that slightly self-conscious smile of his. Before class, basking in the glow of the photocopier, I think kind thoughts for him over there in postmeridian New York, hoping he’s not too tired after a long day at the office. And in the evening while I’m frying up some cumin-carrot hamburgers for my boys, I wish him a good night’s sleep so in the morning he can look through all those query letters with an open mind.

Often I find myself using his name. For example, I’ll be writing a particularly good turn of phrase and I’ll think, “Michael Harriot would like that!” (It’s never “Michael”, that would be overly familiar. It’s always “Michael Harriot”, partly because I like how his last name reminds me of the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets at the Marriott Hotel.)

Sometimes I even address him directly (still an internal dialogue, mind you). “Michael Harriot, just wait till you get to the end of my book; you’re going to be blown away!” At times I invoke him for advice: “Michael Harriot, do you think I should cut this chapter? You know I trust your professional expertise.”

Lately I’ve been asking him a lot more questions. “Michael Harriot, didn’t you say that your response time was from one minute to six weeks? Is the fact that you haven’t replied yet a sign that you are still mulling over whether you want to take the risk on an unknown writer, or a sign that you were so unmoved by my query letter that you couldn’t even be bothered answering?"

I admit that several times over the past few days I’ve caught myself imploring him. “Please, Michael Harriot, you just have to give me a shot! I can’t handle another rejection, especially not from you!”

What I won’t do, however, is pray. I’m not a Christian and I’m not desperate.

My sincere hope is that I don’t get to the point with Michael Harriot that I reached with all the others. I don’t like cursing, in any language, especially in front of my son. Yet if I have truly misjudged him and overestimated his ability to discern a bestseller, and thus receive a standard rejection email – or worse yet, one from his assistant – then I will just have to do what’s necessary to move on: burn down his shrine and find another god.


  1. What a brilliant analogy. It's exactly like that. Don't know if you came across this post of mine, but when I was querying I said pretty much the same thing!

    Thanks so much for your comment - it does sound like we have a lot in common!

    Andrea xx

  2. Thanks for your reply! I've just read your hilarious post on querying and fully agree with 'Auntie June's' wisdom: yes, the right person will love us unreservedly!

    Of course, I have only had one 'close call' with an agent who liked my first chapters, felt that the 'characters' rang true (it's a memoir, so of course they were true!) but wasn't grabbed enough to take a chance. However, I wouldn't mind a few more close calls to keep up my spirits, even if they do end rejection!

    Take care, heddi.

  3. I hope Michael Harriot is in the habit of Googling his own name - I reckon that nice man would like this :-)

  4. I am going through the same! LOL. Love your post!

  5. Thanks, Annabel! If he googles his name, my blog comes up first - hilarious and ironic!

  6. Thanks, Alana - good luck to you too :)

  7. Hilarious! I know MH from college. He does seem to love famous-baseball player memoirs, you're right, though that hasn't stopped me from pitching myriad ideas/proposals/sell sheets whatever to him over the years. He's never caught any. (Is that what you do with a pitch that you accept?) But he's always very sweet. Great last name, I agree. What ended up happening?

  8. Hi Rachel, how cool that you know Michael Harriot. I wonder if he too has read this post, because at least for a while it was coming up as the first hit when you google his name. If so, I hope it gave him something to chuckle about - like it did for you - and he doesn't actually think I'm a freak.

    I must say that I queried him very early on and it was a bit of a stab in the dark. Clearly I wasn't his "type", and that's cool! I'm a bit better at targetting agents now, but am hoping that two recent connections I've made will be more useful. Anything has got to be a better shot that this slush-pile thing!

    And you, any luck with another agent?