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How I Got My Agent: Alison Espach

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns.

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Alison is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Jen won.)


      

Alison Espach‘s debut novel is The Adults (Feb. 2011,
Scribner), a story
People called “one great book …
smart,” while
Publishers Weekly said “Espach perfects
the snarky, post-ironic deadpan of the 1990s and
teenagers everywhere.”
Alison received her MFA in
Fiction from Washington University in St. Louis.
Her short fiction has appeared in
McSweeney’s, Five
Chapters, and Sentence. She teaches in New York City.

 

HOW DID I GET MY AGENT?

I am actually still wondering that. Not only did I query Molly Friedrich at two in the morning, via e-mail, with a glass of red wine in hand; not only was she one of the two dream agents I impulsively queried that night, frequently listed on top agent lists and representing Pulitzer Prize-winning authors who had made me want to be one (Frank McCourt, Jane Smiley, Elizabeth Strout); not only had nobody ever heard of me besides a few friends and my parents, but I addressed her as Mrs. Friedrich in the query. Then, I hit SEND. I blame the wine.

I woke up the next morning with a headache, and somehow, a response from Molly Friedrich. She wanted to read the manuscript. I sent it, and after a few weeks of silence, she called.

WINE DID PLAY A FACTOR

The first thing she told me was that she never would have responded to my query if it hadn’t been for her associate agent who actually liked something about it: the title, The Adults. She, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that someone in the new millennium, I, unknown writer, had written an e-mail to a successful business woman and had the nerve to imply that she was married. She also wanted me to know that she wasn’t fond of my first paragraph in the query either.

At this point, I considered it was possible she had called just to yell at me. What, I wondered, did this agent like about me? “I liked the second paragraph,” she said. “And the book.”

I apologized for the salutation, and told her about the red wine, and how I had sat on that query for months, revised it to death, put my “voice” into it like some blogs suggested, and then took my “voice” out of it like some other blogs suggested. Ultimately, the query was a beaten to death product of too much indecision, and too much blog advice; it was somehow voice-driven and annoying, yet formal and boring, over-confident and yet full of self-doubt. I had researched, and thought about the query so much, but I didn’t once think about the greeting. I told her it was not nerve that wrote Mrs., it was Merlot.

JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

It was a late night haze that confused me into believing an agent like Molly Friedrich would want to represent me. It was impatience. I was fed up with myself, with over thinking. Of writing, and never sending. On an impulse to purely act, to not think, and just start my career, I took the plunge  I jumped off the cliff, but with my shitty, offensive query.

Molly laughed. She forgave me. She said that if we were going to work together, she just had to get that off her chest. That was two years ago.  We’ve been working together ever since, happily, I might add. She sold my debut novel The Adults, which was published by Scribner in February 2011, and is a constant source of support and guidance.

Note: I do not suggest sending drunk queries, or personally offending the agent to get his or her attention. I do not suggest hitting the SEND button at two in the morning, when reason and good judgment tell you to wait. But if it has been months of relentless and sober editing, perhaps a year of constant doubt, if you have read the query so many times you can recite it on stage by memory, maybe it is time to pour yourself that glass of wine, turn off the internal critic that is always calculating the odds, and just hit send. There are queries of perfection, of good judgment and perseverance, and then there are other kinds of queries. Mine was an impulsive one-night stand kind of query.  Definitely not recommended, but every so often, it works out.

Alison is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Jen won.)



Need to sharpen the beginning of your novel/memoir?
Check out the great resource Hooked, which is
all about writing an excellent Chapter 1.

 

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24 Responses to How I Got My Agent: Alison Espach

  1. Your work ethic is inspiring and one day I hope to get success as yours! It will be an inspiration and educational help to all writers everywhere!

  2. Sheilagh Lee says:

    Congratulations Alison and thanks for sharing your journey.

  3. Olivia Ghafoerkhan says:

    Awesome, so very very relatable…not that I’ve sent queries drunk, but I’ve sat on them, rewritten them, undid the rewrites…I want to say "I write better than I query, I promise!"

  4. And here I’ve been querying under the influence of Cabernet. Ding bust it!

  5. Aimee says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I love blaming the wine!

  6. This is pretty funny–and though you broke the rules, I like that you actually followed the rules, and found your agent. You queried (albeit offensively), you sent, you got the call. Excellent! I was curious to read the first paragraph, but I suppose I will have to live with disappointment.

  7. Chris says:

    Very funny. Your book’s title is so intriguing.

  8. Tiffany D. says:

    Hilarious! I can’t wait to read your book. I am adding it to my must-read list right now.

  9. Jen Zeman says:

    Laugh-out-loud funny! I needed to read this – today. Having sent off my query last weekend to about 40 agents and having received a few rejections, my mind is whirling with the same type of thoughts. Although for me, wine was not involved. Might have to try that for the next round. Congrats though on snagging the top agent you really wanted! Best of luck!

  10. Roxanne says:

    I’m totally going to get drunk & starting emailing agents. Great idea!

    (Just kidding. Kind of.)

  11. Jamie says:

    Your blog post made me smile…and even though I am no where near ready for submission for the MS that I am currently working on, you have given me some insight that I need when I do become ready for submissions :o) So, thanks for that!

    Jamie

  12. This has to be one of the best "How I Got My Agent" stories ever!!!

  13. Kristan says:

    Lol. All’s well that ends well, eh? Loved this How I Got My Agent, because it’s a great reminder that neither we, nor our queries, have to be *perfect*.

  14. Great story! I also love how you point out that a query CAN be beaten to death. Yes, it’s good to take the time to get it right, but then you have to let it go. Eventually. All the best to you~

  15. Valerie Norris says:

    Wow, great story. I suffer "sender’s remorse" whenever I hit the send button on a query. Usually go to the sent file and see if I’ve done anything glaringly stupid in my nervousness.

    Congratulations! Looking forward to reading your book!

  16. Julie Sykora says:

    Sometimes impulse is a good thing…sometimes. Recently, I made a similar move with an email to the CEO of a large organization where I’ve wanted to work for years. In my case, I was sleep-deprived, but as soon as I hit the "send" button, I scrambled to re-read the email, cringed from head to toe and took a nap. I woke to a feeling of relief and a sense of accomplishment with an underying current of trepidation. However, that night, the CEO phoned and scheduled an interview.

  17. Narda says:

    How great to get a great agent, and your dream agent, too!

  18. What a fun agent story! Wow, no worries here, I won’t be trying that any time soon. ;) But it’s nice to know that her agent was understanding and saw past what she didn’t like into what she did like! That speaks volumes about how great the agent is.

  19. Theresa Schultz says:

    Fun story. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Teresa Rhyne says:

    That was hilarious and definitely makes me want to read Alison’s book. Thank you!! And, um, Cheers!

  21. Maria Rohde says:

    Wow! I loved the story of how you found your agent. Funny and honest at the same time! Your book sounds great and I wish you nothing but the best for the future!

  22. Bob Martinez says:

    Alison, congratulations on getting your book published. That is quite an accomplishment. It seems to me that you give yourself too little credit. Your query (offenses aside) must have been outstanding to get Ms. Molly Friedrich’s attention. Well done!

  23. Arr Ell Ess says:

    Thank you, Alison, for your funny and poignant and honest tale of query fishing. While reading along, my insecure, overly-confident fraidy-cat genius writer’s spirit nodded emphatically virtually unto spiritual whiplash (which is what you get when you dream you’re in a car accident and wake up with a sore neck). Your book looks intriguing, and CONGRATULATIONS on your determination and bravery, Merlot-induced as it may have been (it WORKED, didn’t it?!!). Cheers!

  24. That was a very encouraging story! Thank you for sharing it. I wish you the best with your book release!

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