Agent #1 loved my first book. This is wrong, and it shouldn't happen, ever. I shouldn't have sent my first book out. I shouldn't have sent my first three, four, maybe five books out. But I had first-book-itis, and off it went. Agent #1 signed me. Two weeks later, Agent #1 went out of business. Ah, well.
Agent #2 loved my seventh book. I liked it, too, and felt good about this agent. Agent #2 got fired two weeks later.
Agent #3 did not love my seventh book. Agent #3 was Agent #2's boss. Can you say "bad sign?" I knew you could. Book number seven got handed upstairs to Agent #3, and Agent #3 was Not Amused. He told me to send along my next book and "we'll see."
Note that about this time I was having an unusual reaction to Agent #3. His name was familiar and I didn't know why. This was pre-Internet and pre-Google. Turns out that Agent #3 was also a writer. A writer in my genre. A writer whose work I had read in college. A writer whose work had won pretty much any award in the genre that you'd care to mention. I worked very hard on book eight.
Agent #3 was run over by and SUV on Fifth Avenue on the day I mailed off book eight. His assistant called to break the bad news a week later. Agent #3 was off work for six months. He came back to work and the assistant called to say they had lost book eight. Could I re-send?
I mailed book eight to Agent #3 on a Monday. On Friday I got the rejection letter. The first line was "I think you are an extraordinary writer." I don't remember anything after that. Some part of my will to live is still lying in a puddle on the floor of a 628-square-foot apartment in Goleta, California.
Agent #3 rejected novels nine through eleven, as well. The usual pattern was sending the novel, doing some rewrites, and then him saying "well, I don't know. It's different from the other things I'm seeing. I'm not sure where I'd send it. Let's put this one aside and see what happens with the next." So I did.
I wrote the first thousand words of novel number twelve at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1997. Actually, I wrote most of it on a crappy Sun Country DC-10 on the way there from Hawaii. When I got home I sent the opening to Agent #3. His reaction? "There already is a science fiction book with a plastic surgeon main character. I think you should move along."
Picture me lying on the floor again. Yes, I was entirely aware of K. W. Jeter's _Doctor Adder._ I love it. Published in the early 1980s, I believe. But I couldn't quite believe that science fiction has room for only one story about a plastic surgeon. There would seem to be an abundance of starship captains.
Two weeks later Agent #3 was fired. I wrote to his boss. Were they still interested in me as a client? I never heard back. I took that as a no, and wrote novel number twelve.
Agent #4 was in the same firm as my mother's agent. She gave me some terrific notes and I did a substantive rewrite of number twelve. And then timing intervened. I started film school and she started directing plays. I put novel number twelve away and started writing screenplays. Until last week, I was a writer with twelve novels, twenty-one screenplays, four teleplays, and one stage play, and nobody wanted any of them.
None of my agents ever sent one of my novels to a single editor.