A Brief History of Sex Education Goes to Boot Camp (or, How to Whip a Manuscript into Even Better Shape)

May 7, 2010

So yes, the meeting with the agent for my manuscript, A Brief History of Sex Education, went pretty well and there will be a second date but as I’ve been around this block before, I know what I need to do before meeting her again. Other times I’ve been asked out more than once, I’ve made the mistake of showing up on the second date with a flabby manuscript, a book requiring patience and vision on behalf of its reader, a book demanding too much work to discover the beauty within. Oh, I was so naïve.

Beauty may only run cover-deep, but you can bet this time I’m going to have a sexy cover (and not just a sexy title). Before any subsequent meetings, I must put the manuscript through one of those exercise boot camps for a little toning and sculpting after which I will whisk it off to the salon for a cut and style, some eyebrow shaping, and yes, perhaps a little color to cover the gray. Our last stop will be at Neiman’s in the mall for a makeover by the girls in white coats at the Clinique counter who, after they work their wonders, turn a little scary when they discover I will be purchasing just one lipstick (High Impact Lip Colour in “Red-y To Wear,” which I later admit is not for the manuscript but actually for me).

The reason the book has to be even more beautiful? Because it will be sitting in-between the agent and me at this second date like that vase of flowers on the restaurant table that’s just a little too tall for comfortable conversation.

The agent and I won’t be able to pretend it isn’t there, quietly staring us down, and it will be impossible not to consider how that modest pile of pages might somehow be like our child.

I know what you’re saying—“BABIES? You’re thinking of BABIES already? It’s ONLY the second date!”—But don’t worry. This is pretty standard in the low stakes, high pressure world of literary publishing—the agent and I both know that clock is always ticking, ticking, ticking.

So at this next encounter the agent and I will be hoping that, at its best, this baby of a book will need only a little firm discipline, a little smoothing of rough edges, a little makeover by the scary girls in white coats at the Neiman’s Clinique counter, and we’ll be able to simply stand back and bask in its success.

But at its worst, the book will behave like devil spawn and no matter how good our intentions it will end up looking like those strange hodgepodged baby pictures second tier celebrity magazines morph together using photos of movie stars who have been dating mere minutes—photos so bizarre and disturbing it’s no surprise when those celebrity magazines trumpet the big breakup of those same movie stars just a few weeks later.

The agent will slink away, denying any part in the book’s parentage, and yet again I will have to scoop up all those pages and carry them off in my arms, whispering, “It’s not your fault, honey. I just loved you too much to edit you properly. I’ll do better next time, I promise. . . now let’s go home and eat some ice cream straight from the carton. We’ll get back on that treadmill tomorrow.”

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