In this episode of the Feel Good Effect, we’re talking about setting goals and doing meaningful work when the future is uncertain with Laura Lee. We talk about how to find motivation and work on things that matter to you by focusing on the now.
How to Set Goals When the Future is Uncertain with Laura Lee Mattingly
The literary agency, Present Perfect, is made up of Laura Lee and her partner Kate Woodrow, who founded the agency in 2015.
They are small but mighty.
As former colleagues at Chronicle Books, where they worked as editors for almost a decade, Laura and Kate were always on the other side of the desk, never thinking that they would become agents.
Working in a publishing house has some limitations, and over time Laura felt burnt out from it.
She was looking to stay in publishing but while finding more personal satisfaction, which brought her to her role as an agent at Present Perfect.
The role of an agent
An agent is somebody who can really be a guide through the publishing process, which tends to be opaque to many.
Agents have deep expertise in the publishing industry and solid relationships with publishing houses, which helps authors increase the likelihood of having their work looked at by editors.
On top of getting an author’s book on the top of an editor’s pile, an agent makes sure that the author is getting a fair deal and that the contract is industry-standard.
As Robyn’s agent, Laura Lee also guided her through the process of picking a publishing house.
Publishers differ in the types, look, design, and overall feel of books that are published, which agents can really speak to.
Working toward a goal without knowing the outcome
Work toward something while still allowing what it is.
If you hold too tightly to your goals, there isn’t the flexibility to be open to what is and actually eliminate opportunities.
In a nutshell, working on a project without knowing the outcome is an agent’s role.
So much of it is just believing in an idea and the person behind it, seeing why the book is necessary, and having a sense of which publisher might be able to make the vision a reality, but the ultimate outcome is out of one’s control.
Relinquishing a sense of control
There is always the possibility that no publishers will want to read a submitted proposal, but if they do, a meeting is set up.
The meetings are often very much like buying a house or a sorority rush where both sides talk about how much they love the other, but then over the next couple of weeks, only some of them (or none of them) will call back and want it.
Laura is always transparent and manages expectations with her clients, reminding them that so much of the outcome is beyond their control.
It’s not a matter of whether the book is good or not, or whether you are a worthy author or not, but an editor’s choice is affected by a number of things that are out of our control.
What I am doing is worthy and valuable and if it doesn’t work out at this moment, it doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong.
This applies to wellness goals, too; it’s hard to know if what we’re doing is wrong or if the timing just isn’t right.
Relinquish the sense of control and just be in the process.
Getting a bunch of offers is a bonus, but the process itself should be something that is reinforcing what they are doing and why.
Sometimes the rejections and stumbling blocks are a valuable opportunity for feedback and learning.
For one publisher, Robyn’s book got to the top before being rejected for being “anti-wellness”.
Being a book on small shifts for big change and promoting mental wellness and health, that feedback was an insight as to where we still are in the industry and how far we have to go.
You can work hard and put in the effort every single day, but sometimes you can do all of those things and it doesn’t go the way that you want.
Reclaim and redefine success
Publishing a book is one part of success, but it’s not the only thing.
How are you defining success?
Are you putting all of your energy into one version of success at the cost of everything else?
Robyn is thrilled about a physical copy of The Feel Good Effect that people can hold and an audiobook people can listen to, but it lives within the whole infrastructure that she has been building for 15 years.
Literature as a powerful form of resistance
A book is one way to have a voice.
For Laura, thinking about the voices she wants to amplify is a huge responsibility and requires a lot of intention.
It’s an avenue for activism, for social justice, and a way to help people explore new perspectives and inspire change.
A powerful ripple effect can start from a page.
For Laura, there was a spark when she first came across the idea of The Feel Good Effect.
A lot of the time, Laura’s personal experience goes into the projects she is assessing, and the gentle wellness approach really resonated with her.
After digging more into Robyn’s work, Laura saw all of the research from over a decade of work that had gone into it as well as a growing following as evidence that it was working.
There is a freshness to opening a new lane that isn’t all research or all lived experience, but a mixture of both.
While publishers want to see similar books that did well, agents want to build on that while also bringing something fresh at the same time.
The Feel Good Effect did that, distilling science-backed ideas in a voice and style that speaks to the everyday reader.
If you don’t feel like other people are doing what you’re doing, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, you might just be creating a new path
A new normal
Laura is a new mama during the pandemic, and despite the challenge, she’s making it work.
This is the reality of our lives now, regardless of it not being what many of us would have liked.
There is some comfort in the collective experience in that so many people are in the same boat right now, there is a lot of compassion for limitations around parenting and working.
Publishing books during this era
The Feel Good Effect, among other books coming out from Present Perfect, is even more relevant now at a time when people are seeking tools to find balance and health in a new world.
Publishing is a long process, 18-months to two-years; so much can happen during that time.
It’s just having that faith and finding new ways to market.
The need for books won’t go away.
We never had control of the outcome, but we can reframe what success looks like.
Laura is excited about a book that is coming out on August 25th called Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig.
It is a beautiful collection of essays on her experiences in a disabled body and Laura is excited for others to discover Rebekah’s voice.
On what it really means to be healthy
Being healthy is really about being okay with yourself… that doesn’t mean you don’t do the work to grow and change and improve, but you’re doing that from a place of being okay, not from a place of wanting to be something different… living from a place of equanimity and being your own calm in the center of any storm… you always have that center or anchor that you can live from and there is so much power and freedom in that… real health sprouts from that.
Laura Lee Mattingly is a literary agent and partner at Present Perfect Literary, where she specializes in the categories of wellness, self-help, social justice, spirituality, narrative nonfiction, essay collections, and career/business. Her passion is developing books that help readers discover more purpose, awareness, and fulfillment in life. Before becoming an agent, she worked in-house at major publishing houses including Hyperion Books, Random House, HarperCollins, and Chronicle Books. She’s collaborated with notable activists, wellness experts, licensed therapists, spiritual thought-leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs to turn their book visions into printed reality. Some notable titles she’s worked on include Lalah Delia’s Vibrate Higher Daily, Ashley Neese’s How to Breathe, the forthcoming Feel Good Effect by Robyn Conley Downs, and the upcoming essay collection Sitting Pretty by disability advocate Rebekah Taussig. As an agent on the frontlines of the publishing industry, she takes seriously her responsibility to discover and amplify underrepresented voices. Born and raised in the Bay Area, she’s a devoted Californian.
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