Left-Swipe a Literary Agent? I Did
February 14, 2019 § 20 Comments
I scroll through Bumble, left-swiping men who haven’t bothered to write their “About” sections. My fingers itch to fix profiles, the adolescent: “Fun Guy 4 U” and “Kiss U in my Dreams.” I want to copyedit: Your “U” is lonely, it’s missing it’s “YO.” But Bumble won’t let me make corrections. I can’t even change my mind. A left-swipe permanently removes a profile from my bank of possible matches. After weeks of committed swiping, I haven’t seen one profile that mentions anything even vaguely literary. Apparently my future partners are mud-splattered men crossing Triathlon finish lines or standing on piers cradling enormous fish or dressed as if to enter the Tour de France. I’m also frequently introduced to mustachioed men in leather chaps who pose confidently next to Harleys. If they love to read or do anything that isn’t drenched in machismo, it’s not part of their public persona.
The truth is I secretly hoped to meet my soul mate at a literary event, but men are rare at the writers’ conferences, book fairs, and craft workshops I’ve attended. The few I met were either already in a relationship or far too young for me. Online dating seemed promising. Men always expressed lots of interest in meeting, although minutes after discovering that I spend my free time reading and writing, it was clear we didn’t click. “Sitting is the new smoking,” one man told me. I stood up, but only to leave. “I’ll never kick the habit,” I replied, wondering whether it was time to give up my dream of sharing a literary life with a man and just look for a nice guy.
I’m about to left swipe on the next profile because he’s five inches shorter than me. But his face—middle-aged with a charming impish grin and grey hair—have I seen it on a book jacket? His profile says he will only date women in his zip code. Job title: literary agent.
While I sprawled in bed at night scrolling through dating profiles with my Labrador snoring beside me, most days were spent hunched over my laptop researching literary agents and sending queries. For more than 22 years, I’ve written a relationship advice column for an alternative weekly newspaper and my experiences coaching the broken-hearted inspired a book proposal. Along the way I’ve developed a strong dislike for the practice of describing a literary business partnership as if it’s a modern romance. We “speed date” with agents at writers’ conferences or hope that our email is “The One” that attracts an agent. It’s no wonder writers often think of books as precious babies rather than products.
That said, finding an agent on Bumble would be a heck of a “meet cute” story.
I stared at his face again and my memory cracked open: He once taught a nonfiction book proposal class that nearly convinced me to give up on becoming a published author.
“I wouldn’t sign any writer who had fewer Twitter followers than I have,” he told our class.
Shoulders slumped around the table. I raised my hand. “How many followers do you have?”
“Five thousand,” he said.
We all groaned.
That night after class I searched popular literary Twitter accounts and discovered many had hundreds, even thousands of fake followers, the kind that can be bulk purchased for less than a coffee date. The fakes were easy to spot: automated retweets; no interaction with other users; a low number of followers (or none at all) themselves; thousands of tweets; no bio; and no photo or an obviously strange one. I was surprised that engagement—the measure of the number of comments, shares or likes—wasn’t more important that followers. Bots don’t buy books.
I reread the agent’s profile, my index finger poised above my cell phone’s screen, tempted to make a pitch.
Left swipe. I live outside of his zip code. In dating or in the book business, it’s important to follow an agent’s guidelines.
Joey Garcia is the founder of The Belize Writers’ Conference and the author of When Your Heart Breaks, It’s Opening to Love: Healing and finding love after an affair, heartbreak or divorce. Her poems and short stories have been published in Calyx, The Caribbean Writer, and are forthcoming from POUi.