Monday, January 28, 2013

My First Time: Claire Bidwell Smith

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Claire Bidwell Smith, author of the memoir The Rules of Inheritance, which has just been released in paperback.  The Rules of Inheritance describes how, when she was still a young adult, Smith lost both of her parents to cancer.  Caroline Leavitt praised the book by saying, “Forget everything you think you know about grief.  Smith’s memoir is the most honest book I've ever read about how loss unmoors, challenges and changes you, written in prose so exquisite it could be poetry.  Dazzlingly brave and absolutely true.”  Smith lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two daughters where she is an experienced therapist specializing in grief counseling.  She has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University in Manhattan and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles.  Click here to visit her website.

My First Agent

My first agent found me.  A dream come true, right?  Not exactly.  My first agent found me when I was twenty-five years old.  I hadn’t been out of college for all that long and I’d begun a blog just to keep my writing flowing.  A few months into it, my blog was included in a list the Sydney Morning Herald ran: The 20 Best Blogs in the World.  Within days, I had thousands of new readers and an email in my inbox from a well-known literary agent.

She soon had me working on a book proposal and visions of becoming a published author before I was thirty were swimming before my eyes.  After a couple of months, the proposal was complete and was circulating with publishers.  I was on constant edge with anticipation and only a couple of weeks passed before I was chatting on the phone to an editor at Random House.

Ultimately though, every single publisher passed and the agent who had been so on fire to work with me had begun ignoring my emails.  My heart was officially broken, dreams crushed.

Ten years have since passed and I can confidently tell you that I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience, and grateful for all of those rejections.  The book proposal I put together with that agent wasn’t one I was ready to write.  Had I sold it, I never would have written the book that I am now so proud of.

It was almost exactly six years after that first agent when I landed my second one, and it was a completely different experience.  This time around, I carefully researched agents and then queried them one after another.  Whereas the first one had fallen into my lap, the second proved much more elusive.  Although I knew I finally had a book I was ready to sell, I received many rejections.  More than half of the agents I contacted asked to see my proposal, and then turned me down.  A couple of them taunted me by asking for more material, and then turned me down.

Finally, on the verge of giving up, I went back through my list and noticed that there was one agent with whom I hadn’t followed up after sending her my proposal.  I shot her an email and received a response right away from her saying she would read it that night.  The next morning when I woke up there was a note waiting for me in my inbox.  She had read my proposal and loved it.  Following a lengthy phone conversation, Wendy Sherman signed me that very day.

Just three weeks later she sold my book to Penguin, forever cementing one of the best days of life.

I think a lot about that first agent, about how young and na├»ve I was, about how glad I am that things never worked out with her, how happy I am that I never sold a book I wasn’t ready to write, and about how much more exciting the occasion was with Wendy because of all the work I put into it.

Now, whenever I find myself disappointed that something I want isn’t falling in my lap, I remind myself of this experience.  It was a hard lesson, but one of the best I’ve ever had.


  1. This is wonderful to read. It's always encouraging to be reminded that hard work doesn't always pay off, but it's usually the way to get anywhere you want to go