Monday, February 25, 2019

How I Found My Agent

Recently, I attended a Carteret County Writers Network luncheon and listened to a delightful author talk about her writing process and publishing. One of the questions she fielded was, “Is it true it’s impossible to get an agent unless you know someone?”

Obviously frustrated by agent rejections, he was implying that ‘the fix was in’ and that it was impossible to get an agent to represent you purely on the merits of your writing.

That wasn’t the case for me. Back in 2001, I found an agent in New York who, upon reading my second book, Pieces of Jake, signed me to a contract. I won’t tell you his name, but frankly, he was awful. He spent no time talking with me, had an editor suggest some minor edits to the manuscript, and shopped the book to only the top publishing houses in Manhattan. He never took my phone calls and never kept me informed about the publishers’ responses.

Nine months after we signed the initial contract, I got an email telling me he’d snail-mail the publishers’ rejections and that he was giving his notice that he was dropping me like a bad habit.

I was so depressed that I didn’t write another word for nearly a year. Ugh.

But a writer’s gotta’ write, so I went on and authored two more books garnering an impressive collection of agent rejections. Ugh.

But I knew Random Road was different. I loved the characters. I loved the story line. And I loved the first line of first chapter. “Last night Hieronymus Bosch met the rich and famous.”

Okay, that’s all well and good. How did I find my agent?

Confident that Random Road was ready (after untold number of edits and rewrites) I Googled: Literary agents, debut writers, mysteries. A fairly lengthy list popped up.

Now, my past efforts at writing queries were admittedly slapdash at best. Find the name of an agent, send an introductory email (a form letter I'd created that was the same for all submissions…just changing the name of the recipient), attach a synopsis and a few chapters. As I said, rejections. Or worse, no response at all.

But with Random Road, I painstakingly researched the agents and their clients. What were they looking for? What was their style? Were they REALLY looking for debut authors? What authors do they represent?

Then, when I queried, it was unique to each agent. I was meticulous in sending them what they specified in the ‘submissions’ page of their website. Some wanted sample pages, some wanted first chapters, some wanted the first fifty pages.

Four agents asked to see the complete manuscript. That had never happened before. I sent them the manuscript and then really did my research on them. What was it they were looking for in their clients? It wasn’t always just a good story (although I can’t stress how important that is), but some wanted their clients to be easy to work with. I understand, after all, if they take you on as a client, they’re taking a chance with their time and reputation.

Let me take a moment to talk about why I wanted to work with a good agent and not try to reach out to publishers on my own. Many publishers simply won’t look at unagented manuscripts. Agents act as the gatekeepers. Plus, they know the business. I don't.

They have the up-to-date contacts and the knowledge of what publishing houses are looking for.

The agent I signed with (I thank her in the acknowledgments of my published books if you’re curious about her name) gets over a hundred submissions a day. Every. Single. Day.

I attended a panel discussion she chaired at a mystery conference a few years ago and she talked about how important it is to grab a reader right from the very first sentence. Knowing I was in the audience, she asked me to stand and quote my first line. It was what had stopped her from moving on to the next submission.

I knew she was the right agent for me when she initially emailed me and told me to have a hard copy printed of Random Road and we’d talk about it over the phone. Then over the course of a few hours, we went over the book page by page, making revisions along the way.

She knew my book as well as I did. She was passionate about it.

Once we were both happy with the revisions, she began submitting the manuscript to publishing houses. As we received responses, she shared them with me. None were negative. Some were very positive. But publishing houses, just like agents, are nervous about working with a debut author.

She was always reassuring. "We'll find the right publisher for this," she said. "I have no doubt."

Then came the phone call. She’d gotten an offer from Poisoned Pen Press. Needless to say, I was elated. I have a terrific agent and a fantastic publisher. I’m also happy to say that my third mystery, Graveyard Bay, is scheduled to be released in July.

Yeah, it was worth all the effort.

1 comment:

Annie said...

Can't wait, Tom Kies! And that's an excellent description of what it takes. (Helps to have as great a story as Random Road.)