Wednesday, September 5, 2012
A Magical Place
It seems clichéd to describe any place as "enchanted," but when I first entered the offices of Sentinel of the West Literary Agency I was hard-pressed to find a more fitting word. Mahogany bookshelves lined the walls, filled with titles the storied group had sold. A huge fireplace covered one wall, ready to roar on cold winter days beneath a huge oil portrait of the agency's founder. From the cinematic front window, which you can see above, the office looked down upon rolling hills and the Sentinel Bay. And then, of course, sitting in the center of the room looking like a duchess-turned-business-executive, was La Reine.
I originally introduced her here as Queen Agent, but I've decided to change it to La Reine, the French term for "the Queen."
She was, for one thing, the most impeccably dressed person I'd ever seen. Beyond that, she was a Francophile who spent half the year living in France, a fact that likely gave her aristocratic accent its vaguely foreign flavor.
"BB!" she said, grabbing my palm with her soft, delicate fingers. "So good of you to come out."
As if I'd popped in from down the street.
"Let's sit down, shall we?"
It is a testament to La Reine's great social graces that I felt comfortable around her within twenty minutes. Given the situation, I should have been much more ill-at-ease; I walked in, overdressed in a sports shirt and khakis amidst the women in their tasteful business-casual clothing, and suddenly realized with due gravity that I was sitting across a coffee table from one of the most influential individuals in publishing, a socialite-agent whose reputation was already towering before I was born.
"Hi," I answered with a lame attempt at a smile.
"So, you'll already know Agentess," La Reine gestured with her hand. "And this is Intern Woman, another of our interns."
"Hello," I nodded.
La Reine brushed through the formalities quickly.
"I want you to know that we've been very reluctant to bring people on in the past," she said, her voice almost stern. "We have a reputation we've worked hard to build and work harder to maintain. Because of that we must be very selective about whose name we put next to ours. It's essential for any new agent to be a team player."
Rather than trying to ham up La Reine with some slick professional act I probably couldn't have pulled off anyway, I decided to just go with pure honesty.
"That's kind of how I think it should be," I said. "You know, Agentess went out of her way to get me paid work while I was still an intern. And you've given me this huge opportunity, and neither of you had to do any of that. When someone goes out on a limb that for you it's not hard to want to help them back. And I would want that. I would want to do right by the agency."
I meant every word of it.
La Reine seemed satisfied with my answer, as she smiled and asked, "What kind of literature will you be looking for?"
"Oh, everything in the world," I said, a little too earnestly. "But mostly YA. Lots of YA. And historical non-fiction. And...other stuff."
La Reine smiled again.
"I think lunch would be the perfect venue to discuss this further. Let me call Le Garcon. He's on his lunch break."
La Reine probably couldn't have any more effectively made me feel welcome than by including me at a lunch with her 27-year-old son. The young man and I chatted while La Reine and Agentess grabbed drinks, and by the time the appetizers came La Reine felt less like a publishing-industry powerhouse and more like a friendly older neighbor.
A good way, I thought, to start off our professional relationship.
We arrived back at the office and when La Reine offered me coffee, then stepped in and made my drink because I couldn't figure out how to operate her expensive espresso machine, I was reminded of something that my late grandmother used to say: "If you really want to know the character of a man, BB, look not at how he treats his equals but at how he treats those who are beneath him."
La Reine was one of the biggest names in publishing. And she was asking me if I wanted cream and sugar.
Later that afternoon we discussed how to represent my first manuscript, with La Reine informing me we'd sell it "together" and split the royalties. What this means, of course, is that I will observe, La Reine will do the actual work, and I'll be allowed half of the credit and money. I was struck once again by how gracious my new employer was.
Beyond the job itself and the fact that I had quite possibly the coolest boss who had ever existed, I was thrilled with our physical office. Now, you must understand that the term "office" is a bit of a stretch in this case: La Reine, upon gaining control of Sentinel of the West Literary Agency, decided she wanted a new space and so literally built a house on a hill overlooking Sentinel Bay.
On my second day in Pacific State, Agentess and I walked into the office at around nine in the morning (quite briskly, too, considering that we had a night of tequila shots behind us) and I began rummaging through a cabinet looking for sugar to sweeten my coffee.
The item that caught my eye made me laugh just because it fit in so well.
"Agentess," I grinned, walking into the main room brandishing a coffee mug with a golden, diamond-studded handle. "If fabulous were a person, that person would be La Reine."
"I know," Agentess chuckled. "I have marveled over that cup many a time."
Before long my Pacific State trip was over and I was climbing on a plane headed east. Agenting, as I said in a previous post, is a commission-based job, and seeing as I won't make any money until my royalties begin to come in I'm staying put in Southern State for the time being.
I will, however, begin certain aspects of the job right away. My e-mail account is set up, I've already started receiving queries, and sometime this coming spring I will attend my first writers' conference (so to all of you bloggers who go them--get ready).
I'm excited and eager--and nervous. That trust fund won't last forever, after all. But whatever my reservations, I now have no choice but to press forward. It is at least a thrilling passage.