The Year Deborah Schneider Was My Agent

I’ve been reminiscing a bunch lately. And, since I keep seeing top literary agent Deborah Schneider’s name showing up in GalleyCat, I figure, why not? It’s time to break into the Levi Asher memory vault and tell the story of the year Deborah Schneider was my agent.

I bet she’ll remember me, though she won’t remember my name because I went by a different name back then (that’s a whole nother story). Anyway, the year was 1989 (yeah, I am that old), and I had just written a novel called My Dark Ages, which my writing teacher at the New School, the wonderful late Richard P. Brickner, thought highly enough of that he introduced me to one agent after another. I never really felt comfortable with the whole meet-the-agent routine. This was a time when Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney were the two hottest names in town, and I knew I didn’t have the right clothes. I knew my novel was a damn good one, though (and I still think it is).

I had one awkward meeting with an agent Brickner recommended me to, but she was a super-top agent with many celebrity clients and I didn’t feel like she understood why Brickner had sent me to her and our conversation just didn’t click. Another agent said she liked my writing but couldn’t stand my use of present tense, so I switched to past tense, and then she never sent out my book anyway. I was finding the whole get-an-agent routine very unpleasant.

But then I met Deborah Schneider, who simply liked me. She was a junior agent at the John Farquharson agency, and I felt more comfortable with her than most of the other agents I met because she had a more casual and street-smart style. I guess I’d had my fill of “haughty” and of pearl necklaces. Deborah liked My Dark Ages and signed me on as her client, and I felt absolutely great.

Before Deborah sent the book out we had several conversations in her office and on the phone, and she told me a lot of inside info on the “biz”. At this time she was just starting to make her name in literary fiction, and her hottest author was Carolyn Chute, whose book The Beans of Egypt Maine I liked a lot. Deborah also represented Madison Smartt Bell, who I didn’t like as much since he was the kind of writer who tried to look smart by naming his books after Talking Heads and Elvis Costello songs. But I pretended to like him, because I wanted Deborah Schneider to keep liking me.

And she did. She sent My Dark Ages to Ticknor and Fields, where it got a very nice rejection letter of the “we can’t wait to see his next manuscript and he’s a promising young” whatever-whatever type of variety. She then sent it to Viking Penguin, where it got yet another nice letter asking about my next manuscript, which apparently they were all itching to see even though I thought this current manuscript was just fine. Then she sent it to, I think, Simon and Schuster, and this time the letter wasn’t even that nice. She called me up and told me the bad news. Three strikes and I was out. She wanted to see my next novel too.

I have nothing but good things to say about the way she treated me, and I’m very happy that her career has blossomed. I’m sure I’ll run into her at a book party someday, and I’m sure she’ll be confused about why I’m going by a completely different name. The last time I talked to her was in 1993. I was now married with two kids and working a high-stress Wall Street job, and my follow-up novels weren’t working out. I had written a coming-of-age story called Summer of the Mets that I knew had great potential, but I was still figuring out the formula. Then, perhaps under the influence of too much David Lynch and Paul Auster, I tried to write a mystery, though unfortunately I couldn’t take the genre completely seriously and was only able to write a comedy-mystery (a combination that really doesn’t mix).

Like the first draft of Summer of the Mets, The Grisly Game was a baseball novel, this time about a fictional major league baseball team called the Buffalo Captains. It featured an insecure local with a painfully short stature and youthful looks who was forced to infiltrate the team as a batboy (despite the fact that he was in his late twenties) to help solve a murder. If I just made this novel sound good, I promise you that’s an illusion. My heart wasn’t in it, and my mind was on other things. But even though I knew it was a bad book, I sent the completed manuscript to Deborah Schneider. About a week later it came back in the mail with a “sorry” letter.

But I still remember how welcoming she always was when she picked up the phone before I sent the manuscript — “Hi! Is this my old friend?” This kind of agent makes a writer feel good, even when the sale doesn’t get made. And I didn’t care by now, because in 1993 I had a short story accepted by a very innovative internet publication called Intertext and I had plans for a little project called Literary Kicks. I made a decision to dwell in the electronic underground and never send another manuscript out again, and years later I don’t regret that decision one bit.

On September 25 2001, still bleary from the September 11 attacks, I made an impulsive decision to publish a finished version of Summer of the Mets as a free e-book on LitKicks. It was pretty much a family-and-friends kind of offering. But I got some nice comments about it, so I put the book out in paperback under the LitKicks imprint. I did no publicity for it and pretty much blew it as far as marketing goes, but I still think someday somebody’s going to open up this book and appreciate it.

Then maybe someday I’ll publish My Dark Ages, which (truth be told) is a hell of a book. Well, hey, Deborah Schneider liked it. Even though none of those other stiffs figured it out.

9 Responses

  1. Half the BattleHey, at least
    Half the Battle

    Hey, at least you got an agent! That’s something.

    About 10 years ago, when I was trying to get an agent for my first novel (a YA called ‘A Wealthy Soul of San Blas Island’, which has never been published) I received an encouraging letter from an agent in California who had read the manuscript. “Great story”, she’d said. “Strong writing and storytelling. Make blah blah changes.”

    So I spend about 2 months making the changes and sent it off with high hopes. The agent wrote back a one sentence letter saying she showed it to her partner who summarily dismissed it as not being strong enough writing for New York houses. Huh?

    I knew right then they’d never let me in the door, so like you, I opened my own. Hopefully one day independent publishing will reach the zenith of acceptance that independent filmmaking has. That’s what I’d like to see.

    Websites like Litkicks are a big push toward that goal.

  2. Speaking of the Summer of the
    Speaking of the Summer of the Mets

    I just had the pleasure of lending it to a 35 year old volunteer who came by to comb through my bookshelves.

    This, I showed her proudly, is a book by a friend of mine. A good book. “I’ll take it,” she said. And she did.

    I’ll come back with comments when they come.

  3. How Do I Get a Copy?Summer of
    How Do I Get a Copy?

    Summer of the Mets. I like the title. I like basbeball. I like books about baseball. I’ll add it to my summer reading list, and pick it up after I’ve finished the new Chabon. (I’ll even cure you up before Bolano, pal!)

    An agent with a human head. We don’t have those in LA. Out here, agents (even literary ones) they feed on young actors and whore out young authors to studios in order to pay for their cosmetic surgery. Agents rank high on the predator pyramid in this jungle. If I met one as nice as you describe Deborah Schneider, I’d be very paranoid and worry that I was being enticed into some weird Hollywood cult thing. “My Agent the Cult Leader.”

  4. I still havemy copy signed by
    I still have

    my copy signed by the author himself.

    Your marketing may suck, but your book did not.

    It made me feel again that school-age pain of misunderstanding and fitting in and not fitting in and being in love and freaking out in general.

    Great book. I am going to re-read it as part of my summer reading sked.

    Thank you,
    and bless you

  5. I still havemy copy
    I still have

    my copy personally signed by the author himself.

    Your marketing may suck, but your book did not.

    It made me feel again that school-age pain of misunderstanding and fitting in and not fitting in and being in love and freaking out in general.

    Great book. I am going to re-read it as part of my summer reading sked.

    Thank you,
    and bless you

  6. Cal, email me your address
    Cal, email me your address and I’ll mail you one. That’s interesting about the difference between LA and NY agents, but I bet it’s more the difference between one particular agent’s personality and another’s.

  7. Us. Them.How does one respond
    Us. Them.

    How does one respond to this. To these black waves that rage at so many shores; some with grace (this has that). Most just rage (mine included). I have always said there are two kinds of people in the world and that goes double (pun intended) for the Writing World. There is: us and them. I am told every stupid day that: we are them. And I fight that and kick at it and scream blood and hate and spit and once destroyed all the furniture in a publisher’s apartment and wish I hadn’t done that and find even less justice or retribution writing about it here. Or anywhere. Now. Expecting. Less than nothing. From. Any. Of. Them.

  8. Correcting my own memories!If
    Correcting my own memories!

    If you read an earlier version of this article, you may notice that I got the chronology screwed up before. I have now corroborated my (flawed) memories with my notebooks and dated manuscripts of the time, and have corrected the above chronology. In the earlier version I said that Deborah Schneider represented my novel Summer of the Mets, but in fact she represented my novel My Dark Ages. I know this detail doesn’t matter to anybody but myself (and I’m the only one who noticed it) but I hate to be inaccurate so I am explaining the change.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!