It’s Who You Know

It’s funny how life works. I’ve been planning for some months now to get back on track with this newsletter and update you on all the wonderful things that have been happening with my books, and I was going to do that by talking about every agonizing (and yet educational) step in the publishing process. One of those steps, perhaps the most critical for many authors, is securing an agent to represent you to publishers, to sell your books to them, to speak and advocate for you, to mentor you and be your friend.

I signed with my agent four years ago, during that first, ugly year of the pandemic. I was lucky to get her. The search for literary agents is not for those prone to fainting spells. It’s often a full-blown horror flick. Many authors can recount dozens and dozens or even hundreds of rejection letters from agents, and many quit trying as a result. My agent almost fell in my lap. Because I had had the good sense to invest in a quality private editor ahead of my submissions, I was able to leverage that relationship in my agent quest. My editor had worked at publishing houses, still maintained relationships with many people in the industry, and allowed me to use her name when sending out query letters.

When Janet Reid contacted me at the beginning of November, 2020, she did so with a caveat: “Give me three months to read your manuscript,” she said. “I’m swamped.” Her estimate turned out to be way off—she emailed me three weeks later and told me she had already finished the book. “I have to represent you,” she said. “I have to.” Then on our first real phone call, she said the greatest thing to me: “I’m only going to say this once, and then you’ll never hear me say it again. I think you’re a great writer. But it’s not my job to keep telling you that. My job is to stand over you with a whip and make you write.”

She was telling me not what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear. She was true to her word. In the three-and-a-half years since, she’s never spent time stroking my ego. Her infrequent compliments are more to relate what important book reviewers and other people in the industry are saying about my work. She is more concerned with focusing on how she can help me better understand what is coming down the pike and on how to become a better writer. She sends me books of every fashion, from established and promising authors, especially if she believes we share a certain style. I’ve never walked away from a check-in with her feeling anything less than a sense of tremendous relief in the knowledge that I was in her capable hands.

Janet dispenses psychology like Lucy at her booth in the Peanuts cartoon, with blunt honesty, extreme confidence, and sardonic humor, though she never charges the five cents Lucy does. She gives of her very valuable time, blogging to would-be authors on how to navigate the minefield of the Big Five, the lords of traditional publishing. She coaches aspiring novelists on how to effectively approach people like her with a single page pitch about their books. She has helped thousands.

She died this week.

It was a brief illness. I don’t know the details. She was a private person. Though we spoke regularly on the phone, we never had the chance to meet face-to-face. It might seem odd that I could feel this close to someone I never met, but I do. I did. The only thing I can liken it to is talking to God, which I’m often reminded by some very close friends carries that same sense of peace and complete trust.

We all know the tired trope—it’s who you know, not what you know that’s important. And every year that goes by, running on a treadmill that only speeds up and watching those important to me fall away, I’m reminded how true that is and of just how precious time can be. I have learned so much from Janet that I could probably fill another book with Reid-isms, advice for conquering the universe and prophetic pearls, none of which are fit to print. If, however, we find ourselves having a beer or two in some hotel bar someday, I will be happy to share them with you. She would like that, I think.

This is my update. She made it all possible.

Rest in peace, my dear friend. And thank you.

22 thoughts on “It’s Who You Know”

  1. B D MacCullough

    Bruce, I read this with a solid, mournful echo through my literary life, unfulfilled but inspired by this dear shark, reveling in any enriching interaction over the miles & years. How rich we are with her presence.

    Mac MacCullough

  2. This is devastating. Janet Reid made everything possible for me in publishing. She spoke so highly of her clients, always positive and true. Publishing will never be the same. I met her several times, at writer’s conferences. She was so generous and so good to me.

  3. The last written note I have from Janet was included in a book of yours (THE BITTER PAST) that I won in one of her flash fiction contests last year. She was a dear friend to me and many others both inside and outside of publishing. This news was deeply saddening for me, but I can only imagine how hard this is for those closest to her. My heart goes out to you Bruce. Ms. Shark leaves us all the poorer for our loss, but so much richer for having known her.

    1. Colin, oh Colin, how will we live in a world without Janet Reid? I know how much she appreciated everything you did for her and for the blog. There is a gaping hole in my heart.

  4. Janet was a wonderful agent – I was lucky enough to meet face to face a couple times at conferences, and when she and I signed, and she was a huge influence on my editing career as well as my writing. Thank you for this.

    1. Thanks, Allison. Did you know there are like ZERO photos of her on the Internet? I wish I could have made it to NY and taken her to dinner or something. She was just wonderful, and I feel awful!

  5. Bruce,

    I only knew Janet through many years of email correspondence regarding writing and whatnot – she was as good a person as they come. I am terribly sorry for the loss felt by all who knew her well. I’m so grateful to have known her in the limited capacity I did.

    There was a time I promised her “an ode” in the acknowledgments if I ever published. I soon realized how unlikely that might be, so I sent her a bundle of fuchsia pens as an interim thank you instead.

    But I did publish, just this month. And the ode to Janet is there. I sent her a copy today, not knowing she’d passed away until just about an hour ago.

    We were all so fortunate to have known, in any capacity, such a generous soul.

    Thank you for your post. Janet will be missed.

    1. Kelly, I read your story to my wife, and I thought she was going to burst into tears! Janet would be very proud of you for sticking it out!

  6. I am crying. Crying over someone I never met. I have gotten two agents as a result of her blogs, and I exchanged numerous emails with her since my agent search began in 2016. Her last email to me was to congratulate me for getting an agent for my MG mystery series, and she signed it, “Your fan.” I will treasure that. I truly feel like I’ve lost a friend.
    One of the saddest things I have ever read was her memoriam to the Duchess of Yowl. It started like her usual humorous kitty asides, which made it all the more devastating when one realized what she was saying.
    I’m going to imagine that someone came and got Janet’s steamer trunks and took her off to meet the Duchess.
    I am sobbing.

    Here is what Janet wrote at the time:

    Early morning, chez Yowl.
    All is quiet.
    A brisk ratatattat on the door rouses Thumbs, who stumbles from her hammock to peer through the spyhole.
    “Pickup for Her Grace.”
    “Pickup for Her Grace and Sleekness the Duchess of Yowl.”
    Thumbs opens the door to find a uniformed man with a rolling trolley like those used by hotel bellmen. His name patch reads “Picu Andropov.”
    “What are you picking up?”
    He consults a work order.
    “Two steamer trunks, misc. cans of tuna, and an aquarium.”
    Thumbs is befuddled, so she simply opens the door and stands aside.
    Clunking and huffing ensues. Water splashing. Muffled curses.
    Soon Picu returns pushing the cart, now laden with two steamer trunks, a tuna-scented Saks shopping
    bag, and an aquarium full of fish looking seasick as their watery home is now suitable for surfing.
    “I left a copy of the work order on your dining room table.”
    “Ok, thanks.”
    Picu clanks and splashes all the way to the elevator.
    Thumbs checks the work order.
    Sure enough, two steamer trunks, cans of tuna and an aquarium. Pickup address
    Chez Yowl, but the destination ….is blank?
    What the dogfearing heck is this?
    A note at the bottom:
    Dear Thumbs,
    I have gone on ahead to my next life.
    I took the tuna. I left the cannoli.

  7. Jerry Thompson

    so sorry to hear… What a thunderclap. I know how much she meant to you, so very sorry to hear my friend.

  8. I was one of the minnows that swam at The Reef. Janet was one of those people that you can’t help but have a fierce devotion to. I’m so sorry for your loss of a trusted creative partner, a fierce defender of your work, and of a true friend. Some people are not replaceable.
    Swim in Power, Janet.

    1. Anne, thanks for this very sweet note. She was all of those things, and we are all better for knowing her.

  9. Great tribute. I was just a reader of her blog, but feeling much the same.
    “It might seem odd that I could feel this close to someone I never met, but I do.” Al Stewart had a line about that: “I never met him, so it may seem strange, / But don’t some people just affect you that way.” Especially when they’re like Janet.

  10. I’m so sorry to hear about Janet Reid’s passing. She sounds like the very definition of author advocate. I’m glad your professional relationship blossomed into friendship. What a gift. Hang in there.

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